Homeschooling, also referred to as home education, is estimated to be growing at a rate of around 20 percent per year in South Africa, with an estimated 100,000 children being homeschooled from Grade R to Grade 12.
"Twenty years ago, very few people knew a homeschooler. Today almost everyone knows someone who is homeschooling," says Karin van Oostrum of the Pestalozzi Trust. The non-profit protects the rights and freedoms of all families to homeschool their children.
"The increase in homeschooling over the past few years is the result of a number of both push and pull factors," said Van Oostrum, speaking to HuffPost.
- Falling academic standards in schools
This is a leading push factor, according to Van Oostrum, and falling academic standards in schools are reflected in South Africa's tumble in the rankings in international benchmarking tests.
"Many parents are concerned about their children's safety." She points out bullying that is on the rise, as is abuse in general. Sadly, many parents report that schools seem less and less able to cope with these incidents, and even if their children have not been personally affected, they are still scared that their child may be the next target.
Homeschooling puts the parent in charge. If their child doesn't work well with a tutor or doesn't understand a particular textbook, they can just choose to change, right then and there. There is no need to say: Just try your best in Ms X's class for this year, even though she hates you.
- Rising school fees and a 'failing' curriculum
"School fees are rising annually at over 10 percent. Yet children seem to need more extra lessons in more subjects just to get by. The CAPS curriculum is clearly failing learners, and more parents are realising that their children are putting many more hours of effort into school work than they themselves did, but they are failing to learn."
- Finding space in public schools
Van Oostrum notes the difficulty in finding places in public schools, especially in Gauteng and Western Cape. "The problem is widely discussed at the beginning of the year, but we hear of many children who move to a new town or province and cannot then get into a school in the middle of the year. These children are expected to sit at home waiting until the next school year, when they may or may not get a place."
She says that they have also seen a number of teachers leaving the profession to homeschool their children. They complain of being overwhelmed with more administration than teaching, which robs them of teaching time with their students.
"They then see their own children being subjected to the same system and decide that they are no longer going to be part of a dysfunctional system."
- Awareness about homeschooling
Many more people are aware of homeschooling and why it could be a viable option for their kids. Homeschooled children are entering university and the workplace in increasing numbers, and they are "the best advertisement of the success of homeschooling", says Van Oostrum.
- Easier to homeschool
It's getting much easier to homeschool, as there's an extensive support network available via tutors and abundant online resources.
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A lot of parents are effectively homeschooling already, by taking kids to extra lessons and helping with hours and hours of homework. Some are asking themselves: "If my child is busy until after midnight with homework, why do they not just stay at home and do the 'homework' during school hours?"
- Learners with special needs
There is a growing awareness of the special needs of children with learning, emotional, mental and psychological disabilities. "There is a significant increase in autism and Asperger [Syndrome], and a greater awareness of children with these conditions. At the same time, schools are less able to cope with children with learning disabilities."
- "I know my child"
Parents have begun to realise that they know their own child better than any teacher does, and that they therefore can take better charge of their child's education.
"Homeschooling puts the parent in charge. If their child doesn't work well with a tutor, or doesn't understand a particular textbook, they can just choose to change, right then and there. There is no need to say: Just try your best in Ms X's class for this year, even though she hates you."
"I am very gratified to see the second generation of homeschoolers emerging. Not so many yet in South Africa, but definitely in countries like [the U.S.]. They just go naturally into homeschooling, and that along with first-generation homeschoolers, that swells the numbers," Van Oostrum says.