It’s hardly surprising that interest in homeschooling has spiked in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, says educational psychologist Megan Clerk. “Due to the lockdown and the changes we’ve had to adapt to, we’ve all been confronted by fear, worry, stress and anxiety – especially because there are so many unknowns. The uncertainties about our health, employment, education and financial futures coupled with the anticipated trauma of what lies ahead as our numbers continue to rise, has led to many parents seeking alternate ways to keep their children close to ensure their physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Educational psychologist Emma Stewart agrees. “The homeschooling system in South Africa had 150 000 learners at the beginning of the year, but these numbers are expected to sky-rocket as parents are being forced to make important decisions about their children’s safety in a public setting right now. Virtual learning has become commonplace during lockdown, giving both parents and children a taste of being educated at home. Although this is an extremely personal choice, unique to each family and each family’s specific circumstances, this decision needs to be well-advised, carefully thought out, and above all, well-informed.”
The legal stuff
When it comes to homeschooling in South Africa, there are two options: parent-driven and institution-based. There are legal implications for both, explains Emma. “Children in the early childhood development and foundation phases (ages 3-7) are in the first phase of formal learning. In this phase they are taught the foundations of reading, writing and literacy.
According to government guidelines, if you want to teach your child at home, you have to apply to the head of your Provincial Education Department to register them for Home Education and to ensure that the lessons fall within the scope of the correct phase of education which can be found on the Department of Basic Education’s website www.education.gov.za”.
You also need to keep the following records:
- Record of attendance
- Portfolio of your child’s work
- Up-to-date records of your child’s progress
- Portfolio of the educational support given to your child
- Evidence of the continuous assessment of your child’s work
- Evidence of the assessment and/or examination at the end of each year
- Evidence at the end of grades 3, 6 and 9 that shows whether your child has achieved the outcomes for these grades.
It can be hard work
Huge demands are placed on parents who choose to follow the homeschooling route, says Emma. This means it’s vitally important you’re both physically and psychologically able to take this on. “You’ll need to have the time available to fully commit to your child’s educational needs. If time is an issue, it’s likely to worsen anxiety levels which in most families, is an already-present reality. Children are extremely attuned to your anxiety and often respond in a reciprocal way. So, if you want to maximise your child’s emotional, cognitive and academic functioning, you need to ensure you’re in the right space. It’s also why, if you or your child are struggling with anxiety about homeschooling, you should consult an educational psychologist for guidance and advice.”
Megan outlines the general pros and cons to homeschooling your child.
- Limited contact or risk of contracting/spreading COVID-19
- Limited exposure to peer pressure, bullying, and competition, which can promote better self-esteem
- Your child will be able to learn at their own pace
- There’s more time to address areas of difficulty in learning
- With no time spent in traffic you’ll both get more rest and more time available to engage in learning tasks
- You’ll need to change your lifestyle
- With limited social engagement (requiring more effort from you to ensure social activities), this can result in difficulties in conflict management, social problem-solving skills, emotional maturation and possibly personality development
- The benefits of healthy competition are lost
- It’s harder work for both of you
- Participation in extra-curricular activities is not as easy as in the traditional school environment
Meeting those milestones
The developmental needs of your child also need to be considered when it comes to homeschooling, says Emma. “Remember that what happens to children in childhood shapes who they become in later life. Children who are nurtured and supported throughout childhood are more likely to thrive and develop into happy, healthy, and productive adults.
In terms of development, preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 start becoming more independent and focus more on adults and children outside of the family. School provides a natural environment for such interactions, so if you do homeschool you need to encourage your child to play with other children in order to learn the values of caring and friendship.
Regular trips to libraries and bookshops are also recommended to nurture a love of books and reading.
In addition, no 3-8 year old should spend more than 1–2 hours in front of a screen, so a curriculum must be designed in such a way that it’s not overly reliant on technology.
Remember, at ages 6-8, your child should also be fostering a degree of independence from the family. They need regular contact with the larger world as friends begin to take on greater importance at this stage,” Emma continues. “Also, this is a critical time for them to develop confidence in all areas of life, such as friendships, schoolwork, and sports.”
As traditional schooling structures may provide an outlet for many of these, Emma advises you consider enrolling your child in private team sporting activities, youth groups and getting them involved in community work if you do decide to home school.
Parent-driven or Institution-based: what will work for you?
Megan explores the pros and cons of these two homeschooling options.
- Promotes and enhances time-management and problem solving skills
- Encourages self-motivation, discipline, and responsibility
- The independent nature of learning prepares children well for university studies
- At least one parent will need to be at home, which can make working from home more challenging or may present financial pressures as one of you may not be able to work
- Less resources available for support and learning from peers
- You may not be equipped to teach content
- It can lead to conflict with your child
- You’ll have limited opportunities to engage in your own activities and self-care
Homeschooling through an institution
- Education is structured and taught by a qualified teacher
- The online classroom setting exposes your child to other learners
- Your child will be guided on activities of learning
- Some homeschooling institutions are not accredited. This will result in your child not qualifying for further studies. That’s why you need to do thorough research on all homeschooling programmes as well as institutions before making a final decision
- It can work out to be more expensive than government schools.
More about the experts:
Megan Clerk is a bilingual Educational Psychologist practicing in Bryanston, Johannesburg , specialising in children and adolescents. Her special areas of interest, over and above assessments and psychotherapy, include assessment in the medico-legal field; parenting plans and family and child mediation. Learn more about Megan Clerk here.
Emma Stewart is an educational psychologist offering psycho-educational assessments, play therapy, therapy for adolescents, career counselling, family therapy and emotional assessments. Learn more about Emma Stewart here.
Lynne is a freelance journalist and content writer who has worked in the
magazine industry for many years. A regular contributor to Living & Loving,
her main passions are people and health. She holds the Pfizer Mental Health
Journalism award for 2012/2013 and specializes in lifestyle and wellness
topics for both the print and digital worlds.