‘Is home schooling, in South Africa, more beneficial to some children than conventional mainstream schooling

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I am interested in the growing popularity of home schooling among South Africans. It is an interesting topic as it seems to be something that although not encouraged by the government, many people are choosing to do. I have always felt that this method of schooling has a place in a democratic society because it is the right of a parent to decide whether they want to home school or not. It has been said that a definition of home school is any system that takes place in the home, therefore if a parent hires a tutor to educate the child it is also regarded as home school despite the fact that the parent is uninvolved in the child’s learning. Some parents feel very strongly that home school is the responsibility of the parent and that the parent is the one who educates the child right from start to finish. As any child of any age can begin and end home school at any time it is not difficult to stop the process and allow the child to go to school if need be. If a child were having any problems in school it would be easy for the parent to remove the child from the school and begin the home school process.
Parents choose to home school for a number of different reasons, it is obvious that there is not just one generic prototype family that opts for it. This makes for an interesting discussion because in my opinion, it is a versatile and successful mode of teaching for a lot of people. Speaking and interviewing a wide variety of people, and using this information as a basis for my thesis with regards to home school, is the most successful way of presenting the ‘whole picture’ with relevant statistics and authentic reasons.
I will not be researching how parents actually go about teaching their children at home school (e.g. curriculum and lesson structure) as this is a whole different field of research. Instead I will discuss the relevance of home schooling in South Africa and draw conclusions based on my findings. I will be dealing with historical roots, what leads parents to educate their children at home, as well as legal and political issues. Sitting in on lessons, in my opinion, would do little to aid this research as it has been said in my research that lessons vary and take many forms and I am not evaluating methods of teaching and learning. My interviewees acknowledged that each child’s learning style is different and therefore determines their mode of teaching.
My background of teaching and learning is based in mainstream schooling. I will present the reader with a number of overviews regarding mainstream schooling as traditionally and conventionally this is the system most South African parents opt for.
I will be discussing two methods of educating viz. home schooling and conventional mainstream schooling. By presenting what I found to be appropriate research and information, I hope to present the reader with a realistic view on both methods of schooling. People are more conversant with conventional schooling (having been through the system themselves) and so not much is known about the home school situation in South Africa due to the lack of literature on this topic.

Initially, I felt that I would need to look at young learners in particular, the foundation phase (age 4 -9), as this is the age group that I am familiar with. In starting my research however, I came to realise that looking at statistics and interviewing parents of children of all ages (home schooled) is just as beneficial, as this serves to validate the success rate of the entire process that only really begins in the foundation phase.

As I am a trained foundation phase teacher, knowledge of the Outcomes Based Education System being applied in South Africa is in place, therefore I am able to share my views and opinions about OBE e.g. life skills as an important part of the new curriculum. In fact an argument for home school is that by home schooling you are encouraging life skills development on a daily basis performing routine tasks, but as the curriculum has recently changed with the introduction of O.B.E. it is clear that life skills development is prominent in the new curriculum as well.
Home school is a relatively new practice in South Africa as under the old government it was deemed illegal. As a start I would like to have a historical overview of the two systems viz home school and mainstream schooling in South Africa. It is important to understand the historical roots of any established practice as it helps you understand why things are the way they are today.

Thereafter international research and its relevance in a South African context is explored. I have chosen to include this chapter, because as home school is a relatively new practice in South Africa, there is not a lot of literature and research material available on the topic. Looking at statistics and studies of more developed countries gives an indication of how home school could develop in South Africa. Other reported but undocumented reasons for home schooling, similar to reasons presented in international literature exists in South Africa, therefore comparisons can be made between the two contexts.

Hereafter, I review inclusion education in South Africa. Inclusion education is the policy the government has introduced which means that all schools are open to all children. This chapter provides a brief overview of inclusion education. Included in this chapter is the government’s policy with reference to the white paper six. This is an important part of the discussion as this policy of inclusion means that learners with special needs are welcome at all schools. Not all schools have the resources and not all teachers have the skills to handle all learners. Home school could be a viable and appealing option for those parents who wish to give their children with special needs the best they can. Often these children are not catered for in conventional state schools.
Chapter five consists of my most recent research material and interviews. They are first hand accounts regarding home school as it deals with issues raised in previous chapters. This chapter aims to support any views and understandings already established.

By the end of the final chapter the reader will have a clear picture of the initial topic of the thesis and be able to make their own conclusions, as will I in my conclusion.

Chapter 1: Historical Overview

Historically many schools used education as a tool to ‘indoctrinate the youth’. It is easy for government to control the state curriculum being applied in all schools, and therefore having complete control over what is being taught. It is clear that the previous South African government banned certain literature and learning materials. Certain ideals were practiced in schools: white people were encouraged to believe that they were superior and non-white learners were made to feel like the underdogs and given inferior resources. It is important to note that certain influential South Africans justified apartheid by using the bible. Although it has since been recognised as being a very warped view of the bible, in my opinion it is because of this that the new curriculum doesn’t propose any set religious instruction.

It is important to highlight how important education is and how detrimental the ‘wrong’ schooling can be. During the years of apartheid there was a lot of discrimination and segregation on the grounds of race and gender. There were separate schools for white children and non-white children, the white children getting a more ‘superior’ schooling set up. This division in the schooling system was a characteristic of South Africa’s society for many years meaning that non-whites were exposed to an inferior education putting them at an immediate disadvantage on all fronts.
In a South African and international context, mainstream schooling has been through many different phases. It started out as a system where knowledge was imparted to children and questions could not be asked. Schooling was more of an obligation than a journey of discovery. School education was used and abused; often being a place where children were told what to think and creative problem solving was not encouraged. This ‘old system’ did not cater for the individual needs of all its learners.
It is clear that a lot has changed, and today in schools there is more of a holistic approach when teaching children.

In the case of conventional mainstream schooling in South Africa today, the government has adopted an inclusive policy regarding education. The new curriculum is Outcomes Based meaning that the focus is no longer on what children produce as final output, but rather on the processes involved in learning. This policy of inclusion (discussed in chapter 4) means that education is a right of all South Africans, and no person should be excluded from schools. Outcomes Based Education is the mode of the curriculum making this inclusion possible.

The dramatic changes in South African society in the past few years have affected both general and special education. As one is attached to one’s established ways of thinking, dramatic changes in society are often experienced as a crisis. (Engelbrecht et al., 1999 p 3)
Recently the system has changed to include all learners and Outcomes Based Education forms the groundwork of the new curriculum. Unfortunately, change in society is a process that does not happen overnight and schools are congruent with societal changes. So, in terms of an inclusive education system, schools need time to adapt.
I agree with the idea that every person has an equal right to education and we should eliminate discrimination and encourage a positive school environment. I also think that the situation in education is dynamic, meaning that all these changes are happening constantly. These changes will take getting used to and people will need to become well informed. A big problem with today’s society is that people are misinformed about OBE. They get worried because they haven’t understood the whole process and it’s implications for education in South Africa. They then make the wrong negative assumptions based on half-truths and this leads to confusion. So, whereas the government has all these structured policies and systems in place many people don’t understand the implications, and may make uninformed decisions.
The history of home school in South Africa is that it has been going for approximately 20 years, legally for 9, as it was only legalized in 1996. My interviewees confirm this:
DM: Illegal until April 1998. Laws making it illegal rescinded then but no new laws on criteria or how to register with Department of Education yet in place.

Anon: Been going for about 20years.
TD: Home education started in South Africa at least 20 years ago. There were a small number of families who petitioned the government during the compiling of the new Constitution which ensured parents had the right to keep their children at home to educate them. The schools act of 1999 also ensured that home education was an option parents could take regarding their children’s education – the other two options being private or public education. Parents are required to register with their local Education Department. Home education has however grown considerably in the last 6 years.

JN: I believe that home-schooling has been around in an unofficial capacity for some time, but to the best of my knowledge, was legislated sometime in the past six years. It seems to be a growing trend, but a distrust of the government’s potentially negative influence seems to exist, resulting in many people choosing not to register with the education department.

There is a feeling in the Western Cape (where my research was conducted) that home schooling families are very aware that they are not in favour with the government. Many home schooling parents feel that as a result of the struggle to legalize home schooling, education departments and officials persist in placing a wide variety of obstacles in their path, therefore they refuse to register. Other home schooling parents feel that this is a myth and people should abide by government regulations instead of acting like an underground business because it is now legal.

JN: … I am concerned by the low number of home-schoolers who comply with the department’s requirement to register themselves as such. In my experience, the department offers an extremely limited involvement and is more interested in what is offered to the students than what the student may produce, but all reports that I have heard of dealings with them have been positive.
In speaking informally to an interviewee I learnt that home schooling is still illegal in Germany, however it seems to be flourishing in England, America, Australia and New Zealand. The statistics of home schooling in South Africa, according to my interviewee, is an estimated 25000 – 50000 households with 1 to 10 children in each.
Anon: Estimated around 25000 – 50000 families homeschool with one to 10 children in each.
TD: Yes, I believe that the last count (unofficial) is at 20 000. This may seem unbelievable but it is due to the fact that many home educators are “underground” so to speak. This is a very unfortunate situation as the government does recognize home education as an option and parents can register their children as being at home.
In chapter two I will be giving an overview of the government documents and policies that are relevant in understanding the legalities of home schooling. The Schools Act has been included as Appendix A as a reference when discussing the government’s religious policy.

Chapter 2: Government policies and documents
In starting research I needed to find out what home schooling is in terms of the government and constitution so that I could recognize it as a legal form of schooling in South Africa.
It is obvious that the Schools Act highlights public schooling as its main concern. The government’s policy on religion in schools is highlighted below as this is something that came up often when speaking to home schooling parents. The Schools Act can be viewed as an Appendix A.
Freedom of conscience and religion at public schools

7. Subject to the Constitution and any applicable provincial law, religious observances may be conducted at a public school under rules issued by the governing body if such observances are conducted on an equitable basis and attendance at them by learners and members of staff is free and voluntary. (South African Schools Act, No 84, 1996)
No set religious instruction need be in place in public schools. The governing body may decide to conduct religious observances for all religions of the school. Attendance at these is free and voluntary.
This policy firstly establishes a broad, religion-friendly basis for Religion Education, taken care of by professional teachers. It also encourages the equitable practice of Religious Observances at school. (http//wced.wcape.gov.za/documents/religion_in_education_1.html)
It would seem that although this is not the only reason for home schooling in a South African context, more than half of my interviewees confirmed that they would like their children to be brought up in a God-centered environment. In public schools there is no set religious instruction and no preference is given to any one religion. Many parents felt that they would rather have their children educated on a firm religious base, such as the one that they provide at home.
Anon: To help them to be Godly men/husbands and women/wives. Develop strength of character that they would without compromise seek God’s will for themselves.

To give them strength of faith so that they will not be swayed by popular culture.
TD: Our first focus is on experiencing all that we learn in the light of our Creator who has created all that we are learning about, including mathematics and language. Emulating “school” at home will inevitably lead to burnout.
K: We not only want to raise our children in a Godly way, but we also want to give them a Christ-centred education.

Home schooling as defined in the Schools Act, is understood as follows:

In home schooling parents, usually a mother, teach their/her child at the child's home. South African laws make provision for three kinds of education, viz home schooling, private schools and state schools. (www.HSLDA.org/docs/nche/000000/00000074.asp, accessed 22 July)
Many of the home schooling parents interviewed shared their own ideas on what home school is to them. Their definitions sometimes differed, however most agreed that it is where the parents take responsibility for their children’s learning within a home environment, outside of a classroom set up.
DM: Educating one’s own children or taking responsibility for it.
Anon: Develop the learning tools of maths, reading and writing

Help my children to discover their passions which will lead to a life vocation.

To develop high standards of work and a good work ethic, knowing that whatever they do trains them in character and perseverance.

Train them to have hearts that seek the Lord

Develop family fitness and exercise habits

Give them a strong family culture

To help them to be Godly men/husbands and women/wives Develop strength of character that they would without compromise seek God’s will for themselves.

To give them strength of faith so that they will not be swayed by popular culture.
TD: We do not see ourselves as “schooling” our children but rather as educating them, hence the use of home educate. We try to engage in a lifestyle of learning where we see every opportunity as a learning experience.
JN: To home-school is to effectively educate, teach life and social skills, and prepare one’s own children for their futures by identifying their strengths and aiming them in the right direction from an early age, in a safe and loving environment.
JB: Education out of a mainstream school.
K: Firstly, I prefer not to refer to it as home school but rather as home education. The reason for this is that it should not be an exercise in re-creating school at home! We believe that education does not only come from books (and other media), although they form a very important part of a child’s education, but education is achieved through life’s experiences. It is especially important that when a child is young that these experiences are shared with a parent. Therefore, home education becomes a lifestyle, and not just a time of teaching/learning between set hours – i.e. home education is a lifestyle of learning.
The following extracts are taken from the HSLDA/ Home schooling South Africa site:


  • Since the end of 1996 home schooling is expressly provided for in South African law. The Association for Home Schooling was established in 1992, when home schooling was still actively repressed by the previous government.

  • It was incorporated into the SA Schools Act of 1996 only after a heavy battle, also in parliament, and after the Home School Legal Defense Association of the USA exercised political pressure to have home schooling recognised in South Africa.

  • In 1998 a legal defence fund for home education, the Pestalozzi Trust legal defence fund for home education was established in South Africa. It guards over the interests of home schoolers in the country, offers home schoolers legal protection, and offers information on the rights and obligations of home schooling parents.

  • The new state curriculum was promulgated on the 31st of May, 2002. This curriculum purports to be the curriculum not only for state schools, but also for private schools and home schooling. Officials wrongly suppose that home schooling is also obliged to meet all the minimum requirements of Curriculum 2005.

National Schools Act of 1996
Registration of a learner for education at home. 51. (1) A parent may apply to the Head of Department [in the province] for the registration of a learner to receive education at the learner’s home. (2) The Head of Department must register a learner as contemplated in subsection (1) if he or she is satisfied that — (a) the registration is in the best interest of the learner; (b) the education likely to be received by the learner at home — (i) will meet the minimum requirements of the curriculum in public schools (ii) will be of a standard not inferior to the standard of education provided at public schools; and (c) the parent will comply with any other reasonable conditions set by the Head of Department.

Regulations drafted to reflect the following would provide maximum freedom:

The home school parent must file an annual notice of intent to home school which shall include an assurance that reading, writing, math, science, and history will be taught. The family must administer standardized testing to their children beginning in the 3rd grade and every other year thereafter. Testing records shall be retained by the parent for three years.
Although home schooling is legal in South Africa, it is not actively encouraged by government: permission must first be sought from provincial authorities, and various requirements must be met. Some home schooling endeavours are seen by government authorities as an attempt to avoid racial integration in the classrooms. (www.HSLDA.org/docs/nche/000000/00000074.asp, accessed 22 July)

This web page extract clearly stipulates the conditions and legal requirements with regards to home schooling in the South African context. I have included this because of the limited amount of information regarding home school in South Africa; this was the most comprehensive description I could find.

Due to this lack of research material, in the next chapter I shall look at international literature regarding home schooling. Through this I will attempt to compare the different situations and methods mentioned.

Chapter 3: International research and its significance to South Africa
It is only during the last two decades or so that home education had gradually come to be more widely accepted as an alternative to school. During this time, the number of children being educated at home has grown steadily, especially in Western Europe. North America and Australasia, though there are no reliable prevalence estimates. The highest prevalence is almost certainly in the United States where about half a million children probably have experience of home education (Lines, 1991) In the UK it is estimated that up to 10,000 families educate their children (Meighan, 1997; Petrie, 1998). Between 10,000 and 15,000 children in Australia are believed to be educated at home (Hunter, 1995). But these are only estimates. (Thomas, A, 1998: 2)
The estimated statistics in South Africa can be compared to these other countries. South Africa does have a considerable amount of home schooling families (2500-5000 families).
Home education has always been legal in England and Wales; the 1994 Education Act stated education is compulsory, ‘either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.’

(Thomas, A, 1998: 2)

Home school in South Africa was deemed illegal before 1996, but many home schooling parents did home school during the time that it was illegal. According to the research it has been going for an estimated 20 years with people being arrested pre1996. It became part of the schools act in 1996.

Home schooling people are not just one particular kind of person but instead come from all social backgrounds:
Home educators come from all social backgrounds and all income levels. There are large families and families with one child; there are also couples and single parents. The main educator is usually the mother but there are also other relatives including grandparents, aunts, uncles and older brothers or sisters who are engaged in the activity of education at home. There are people of every conceivable religious, political and philosophical standpoint. Home educators have all levels of qualifications from none at all to higher degrees. (Lowe, J; Thomas, A, 2002: 3)

South Africa has adopted a policy of inclusive education where all children can be included in conventional mainstream schools. It is not ‘mainstreaming’ because the individual child is not expected to adapt to the school environment, instead inclusion is child centered where the focus is on including the child and providing adequate support.

The definition given in a book that was published in London states that:
Inclusive education describes the process by which a school attempts to respond to all pupils as individuals by reconsidering and restructuring its curricular organization and provision and allocating resources to enhance equality of opportunity. Through this process, the school builds its capacity to accept all pupils from the local community who wish to attend and, in so doing, reduces the need to exclude pupils. (Pg 39: Approaches to teaching and learning).

The next chapter I have included is on inclusive education, because although it is a huge area of study by itself, it is a proposed part of mainstream schools in South Africa. This chapter should be seen as an overview of Inclusive education giving definitions and causes of the need for such a system. The reader should bear in mind how individual attention (in a one-to-one set up) might benefit Learners with special needs.

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