It is discriminatory to tell parents they can only educate their children at home if they have a teaching warrant, prospective home-schooling parents say.

According to proposed changes to the Education Act, open for public consultation until last week, a home educator would need a teaching warrant.

However, for the Home Educators’ Malta Association, such definition of home education reinforces a negative and misinformed perception of this educational option.

They believe it is discriminatory to insist that children given an education at home need someone with a warrant to do so. The word ‘warrant’, they note, should be replaced with ‘licence’.

It would seem home education in Malta has moved from illegal to impossible.- Gina Borg

The association insists there is no cooperation between policymakers and those most affected by such legislation and this was unacceptable.

When contacted, the Education Ministry said that, throughout the consultation, it has maintained that homeschooling must always provide the same quality of education as traditional schools.

“One of the main elements of a positive educational experience is quality teaching, which can only be provided by a trained individual. That is the basis of the need for a warrant,” a spokeswoman said.

Quality teaching can only be provided by a trained individual

Gina Borg, a licensed home educator in Australia, has been following the local discussion on homeschooling for the past six years. She has four children, three of whom are of school age. They have never been to a traditional school and the family of Maltese descent plans on relocating here next year.

“I am excited that Malta is at a crossroads and this law marks a progressive future for the climate of educational choices… However, based on my experience of a decade as a licensed Australian home educator I must most strongly urge a revision of the definition of ‘home educator’.”

Ms Borg “strongly disagrees” with the definition, which includes a reference to ‘warranting’ parents and ‘duty of State’ but does not mention that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education for their children, she says.

“It would seem home education in Malta has moved from illegal to impossible. If I were a new mother in Malta, I would need to be enrolled in four to six years of study before even falling pregnant to fulfil the requirements suggested by the law before my child turned five, “MS Borg adds.

Research has proven that the level of educational attainment of parents is not the key factor in the success of home educating families. Warranting is not a solution, she insists.

Jack Cotita, whose five children were homeschooled over the past 30 years, also believes that while most of the wording in the proposal is well reasoned, the definition of home educator is “overly restrictive”.

“Like most parents in countries with reasonable home education laws, neither of us were warranted or certified to teach.”

The available curricula de-signed for homeschooling have accompanying teacher guides that help lead the parent through the process.

“It seems reasonable that anyone who has received a full education in all of the basic subjects should, with some guidance, be able to teach those to others,” he says, noting that homeschool parents often employed private tutors for advanced or special studies.

Gina and Zara BorgGina and Zara Borg

For Zara Borg, 14, traditional education overworks middle school students and when they graduate, they will have no more interest in studying or learning.

“Home education is a positive way that encourages learning and motivates you to learn more in your free time. It has its challenges too. You can’t expect to always be told what to do, you need to be self-motivated.”

What about socialising?

Ms Borg has made several friends her age through acting classes and other activities including athletics, swimming, science workshops, a Bible youth group, a writers’ club, Maltese language classes and a volunteer leadership programme, among others.

“Home education isn’t just for people who are having a hard time at school, it is for everyone who’s eager to learn,” she notes.

What is a warrant?

A warrant aims at ensuring that all those of compulsory education age receive quality teaching, according to Lawrence Azzopardi, secretary of the Council for the Teaching Profession.

Under the current Education Act, all people who want to teach in compulsory schools need a teacher’s warrant.

A permanent warrant is given to someone who has a Bachelors in education (Honours), a postgraduate certificate in education awarded by the University of Malta or a teaching qualification recognised by the council plus two years’ satisfactory experience in a licensed school.

People lacking the two-year experience can apply for a temporary warrant, which is renewed every year.

What students say:

Zhenya CotitaZhenya Cotita

Zhenya Cotita, a 22-year-old homeschool graduate, believes homeschooling comes without the shame of being left behind when you are struggling or the frustration of being held back when you would like to move forward faster.

Her education was carefully tailored to meet her needs and left in her the passion and tools to continue learning for the rest of her life.

Still, homeschooling is not for everyone. Some children learn very well in a conventional system while some parents lack the motivation needed to be responsible for their children’s education.

Asked about socialising, she notes that combined classes were often held with one parent teaching a subject to all the children. She also took part in local events ranging from sport classes to dancing.

“Not only did I get plenty of time to socialise with others my own age, I was constantly exposed to a wide range of ages. I was able to develop social skills with people of all ages, something I feel is needed for healthy functioning in society but which does not usually happen in conventional schooling models.”