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Homeschooling - Redefining Education Using Information Technology in the Twentyfirst Century

© Bob Collier

I don't believe that what I can see from my doorstep at least is an issue about the prevalence or otherwise of homeschooling or unschooling. I don't 'homeschool'. I don't really 'unschool'. I also hate hot-housing. The underlying issue is educational efficiency. The key consideration is delivery.

Let's suppose my son decides that he wants to visit France and wants to be conversant enough with the language to socialise comfortably with the natives, because he knows it will enhance his experience. This is a self-motivated decision, not a curriculum-driven one. I could suggest to my son that, at a set time each day from Monday to Friday, he spends exactly one hour sitting in a dingy room (that we have to travel to get to each time) alongside thirty other people (most of whom he won't like) while somebody teaches him the French language in small carefully controlled chunks (but not for all of the hour, because some of it will be taken up with managing the behaviour of the group or engaging in rituals unrelated to learning); I could suggest that he does that for forty weeks of the year (he can take a break from time to time, especially for six weeks in the summer, so that he has ample opportunity to forget what he's been taught) and if he's willing to do all this for three years, he'll hopefully reach the required standard of competency. That's how I learned French. That's how most schools still teach it.

Or, I could suggest that, at a set time each day from Monday to Friday, my son spends exactly one hour sitting at our convenient dining room table while *I* teach him the French language in small chunks that at least will be in our control. If we work one-to-one for fifty-two weeks a year, only the weekends off, less opportunity to forget what's been taught, etc, it would probably take only two years to reach the required standard of competency - maybe we could even get it down to one year.

Unfortunately (apart from other considerations), my son is planning to visit France two months from now. So I could suggest that we use a portion of the money we've saved on school fees and school uniforms to invest in some videos or, better still, some online technology that incorporates the latest accelerated learning techniques - here's one: "Socialise comfortably with the natives. Requires only 30-45 hours of tuition over 4-5 weeks sitting at your computer in the comfort of your own home." That'll do it. (Maybe this is me being a cynical 50-something, but, if you mention accelerated learning to a school teacher, they're less likely to ask "How can I use it in the classroom?" than "Are you trying to put me out of a job?" Such are the real concerns of the school system these days.)

Certainly people still read newspapers. I do. I still read 'real' books, as well as ebooks, and I usually print out ebooks to read rather than read them online. Do I go to the bookstore to buy my 'real' books? Well, I sometimes drop into a bookstore when I'm in town, but usually I go to a website. I often buy books on the internet that I wouldn't find in any bookstore where I live. I'm a baseball fan. Do I take out a subscription to USA Today and have it sent over to me so I can read reports of matches that were played three days ago? Heck, no. I go to mlb.com and get today's stories, updated stats and standings and, if I want, I can watch the home run of the day on streaming video. Five years ago, I couldn't have done that. Now I can. What will I be doing in five years time? Not reading USA Today, that's for sure, but it'll probably still be available to me.

I don't think I know anyone who *doesn't* have a mobile phone these days, but you can still find public telephone boxes if you look hard enough. But it's a 'second class' option. My 19-year old daughter has had a mobile phone since she was sixteen. She wouldn't dream of using a public phone. For my daughter's generation, a mobile phone is an 'essential'. When I first became aware of mobile phones about ten years ago (they were called car phones then), they were the size and weight of a house brick. Now they're about the size and weight of a box of matches. Not only that, but, with the latest generation of mobiles, you'll be lucky if you can find one that just makes phone calls. You can do all sorts of things with them and most of those things come as standard. It's all about delivery.

When it comes to information, knowledge and learning, the internet - and private enterprise - can deliver what the school system can't. Right now. Even plonking a computer on every pupil's desk won't change that. It will simply make the inadequacies of the methodology more high-tech. Homeschoolers and unschoolers, as such, may always be in the minority, but people who need a good education won't be. They never have been. Ask any politician. And tomorrow's parents, whether politicians like it or not, are the children who are growing up with the internet, videogames and communications technology as 'natural' - and dominant - components of their every day lifestyle.

The discrepancy between what's currently required of these children in the classroom and what most of them are capable of achieving at home is already obvious to many of this generation. (My son was bored at school and he was far from alone. He went to a Catholic school, by the way.) By the time these children need to make decisions about their own children's education, when our society will be even more complicated than it is now, the discrepancy between what the Industrial Revolution has to offer them and what the IT Revolution has to offer them will be in everybody's face, homeschooler or not.

There's nothing about all this that necessarily implies that our children should spend their days with a set of headphones clamped to their head listening to 'Genius SuperMath' audiotapes while simultaneously reading 'Ultra Success in Biotechnology' on one computer screen and playing a game of electronic chess on another. It can just as easily be, and will more likely be, something like, "This neat little program about fractions will take ten seconds to download, half an hour to learn through the latest version of BrainBox3000 and then we can go out and play footy all afternoon."

It won't be homeschooling. It won't be unschooling. It won't be alternative education. It'll just be education. Twenty-first century, not nineteenth. And, as I say, the question all sensible parents ask themselves will probably be "Do we want our child to have an education or do we just want to send them to school?"

What lies ahead from my viewpoint is not simply an educational equivalent of Coke vs Pepsi or Apple vs Microsoft. Which one do you prefer? It's horse vs car. Go with the flow or get left behind.

Education will *be* consumerism.

Whatever they once believed about the necessity of school, parents will have to look for the 'best deal' for their children precisely because of that need to make sure they get the piece of paper or the job. Schools won't be providing the best deal. The internet will be. The courses. The tutors. The learning systems. The exams. The qualifications. The lot. The cost of the technology will take care of itself. How expensive were colour TVs when they first came onto the market compared to how much they cost today? VCRs were an arm and a leg then, cheap as chips  now. Desktop printers are so cheap these days, most people don't even bother to get them repaired when they break down - they chuck them away and buy another one. CDs? People give them away for free. We'll only know for sure when these things happen (or not), but I reckon ten years from now we'll find that the 'new reality' of education is an accepted part of our daily lives.

Maybe the school system can be redesigned to accommodate the needs of the emerging society, but I'm not convinced that it could do much except become an agency for the internet education providers. Perhaps an agency that some people might prefer, but, nonetheless, an agency that nobody will actually need.

Bob Collier is the publisher of Parental Intelligence, a free online newsletter

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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