A group of parents who want to “save” their children from the academic pressure of mainstream schooling and bullying are urging the authorities to allow home education.
“Those of us who send their children to school have experienced the effect of this pressure, including tantrums throughout winter, eating problems and behaviour that goes against the values they are taught at home. Such parents then spend summer trying to get their children back to square one,” Abigail Giuffrè told this newspaper, flanked by fellow parent Melissa Bugeja.
The two, who two years ago joined forces with other parents pushing for homeschooling, were speaking to this newspaper following a recent study by the World Health Organisation which found that, out of all nationalities, Maltese 11 to 15-year-olds were the most stressed as a result of the amount of academic work they had to do.
They believe homeschooling should be an option for parents who want to take teaching beyond the academic curriculum and turn learning into a 24/7 experience.
In a letter addressed to Education Minister Evarist Bartolo in February 2014, the mothers noted that homeschooling had been an option for years in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand and the UK. There, the percentage of homeschoolers attending university exceeded public school students, they said. The parents noted that, while foreign families had actually put off moving to Malta as homeschooling was not allowed here, there were Maltese families considering moving abroad.
The letter was handed over with a petition signed by more than 500 people and they were “promised” the inclusion of home education in the new education law. However, two years on it was still not legal to homeschool children, they note with regret.
In 2013, Mr Bartolo had told a consultation meeting about changes to the Education Act that the government was looking into the possibility of introducing homeschooling.
Asked whether the option has been included in the revised Education Act, a ministry spokesman told this newspaper provisions on homeschooling would be included in the public consultation document on the new law.
The document would be published later this year but there was no specific date as yet, he said.
The parents pushing for home education have drawn up summer education plans, linked up with overseas homeschooling networks, set up a lending library and mapped themselves geographically so they can meet up regularly with their children. Ms Giuffrè noted that, in reality, at school children were made to sit in rows and not allowed to speak to each other. They bottled up their energy, which they released during break time, some of them screaming their heads off.
Homeschooled children did not live in a bubble and they interacted when outdoors, whether at the beach or in the garden.
Ms Giuffrè, whose children, aged three and five, are home taught, sits down with her sons for a couple of hours of maths, reading and writing, among others. “After that, they have all day to explore, watch documentaries, go out for walks and learn about plants hands on. To learn about the world, they need to learn in the world,” she said, as her son ran up to her after coming across a new seed and wanted to look up its name.
The parents understand that homeschooling is not for everyone and pointed out that, abroad, families were kept in check through yearly records. In Italy, homeschooling parents still enrolled their children with the closest mainstream school while a financial assessment was carried out to check whether they were able to keep up with homeschooling expenses.
• Instruction tailored to children’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses.
• Can move through coursework at their own pace.
• Allows for parents to be more involved in their children’s learning.
• Allows quicker adjustment to university setting as they are already familiar with independent study techniques.