Cost/benefit analysis of homeschooling

In a previous article, the question of why parents choose to homeschool/ home-educate their children was discussed.

This one looks more at the pros and cons and what is most likely to give you that ‘extra nudge’ or keep you homeschooling once you have taken the plunge.

I hope I can help encourage you in your decision-making.  There comes a point in many parents’ lives when they seriously consider homeschooling as an option for a child/children in the family.

Very often there is an unhappy event that acts as an impetus to address the status quo. Perhaps there has been bullying, withdrawn behaviour, or something just isn’t right.  The usual response is to approach the school and try working with the school to resolve the issue, but sometimes parents find out that there are no easy solutions even if the school is doing their best and may wish to be more proactive. Or perhaps, your child has asked to be homeschooled and you are weighing it up. The other scenario is that you are starting out without ever having been a school parent.

I am sure this will ring true for many homeschoolers and I have tried to paint as honest a picture as I can, with an emphasis on home education in the UAE.

 Benefits:

  • More time to enjoy children. You will find that it’s a bit like school holidays – you can set your own routines around your own plans and schedules. There are not too many other people to consider. You may decide you would like to go to the beach, meet up with some friends or relatives who are visiting or have a day of games, or a lazy day watching TV and vegging out (perhaps because of illness). Some routines that may change are when the children get up in the morning – it may be a couple of hours later. Meals may be more leisurely.  If one parent works late, you may find you are now able to have family meals together.  In hot countries, there are siestas and your schedule may include quiet times and unstructured times.  In the Arab world, things seem to come alive in the evenings and it may be easier for children to cope with late nights if they are able to get up later.

The downside to lack of routine is that children and parents’ clocks may differ so that there is disorder and that may make it difficult to achieve weekly goals. Also, if the family wishes to mix with the school children, they may adopt a school- type day anyway so that the children are free in the afternoons to play with school friends. Holidays become ‘learning experiences’ as all learning merges into everyday life, but what you will find is that children who aren’t told what to do every minute of the day are seldom bored and are much more self-directed. So the informality may not be a disadvantage after all, as this is what most educators strive for but seldom achieve.

  • You will find you have more time and that to meet the same standards as school you spend less time on subjects. This is not at all surprising as one-to-one teaching is more effective and geared toward the individual. If we include doing homework after a tiring day at school, this is a real bargain! An example of this is how my daughter passed the eleven-plus exam in the UK (a selective schools exam). We did on average 2 hours of structured learning a day, with an extra hour in the year she took her exam for going through passed papers. If you compare what her counterparts were doing (a full day of school plus tutors) we definitely took the short cut.

The downside to this is that you may end up exhausted, especially if you are apprehensive and unconfident and try and do too much. This might be a result of setting your standards to high and imagining that school offers more than it does or expecting that you as the parents will be the bedrock of your children’s education. Some schools fail to live up to even fairly mediocre expectations and do not produce happy, confident, self-motivated individuals.  Although schools need to be valued for the job they do in our society, they are certainly not above criticism and it is worth reading John Holt or other books on home-education to see that there are many ways of doing things, other than the traditional way. Home-educating parents can be the main teachers in their children’s lives but they can also be facilitators, advisors, counsellors, motivators and act as a resource for ideas. Sometimes these non-teacher roles are far more important and free the parent to invest in themselves and their own learning process while enjoying the progress their children are making. 

  • You may be able to follow dreams or ambitions to travel the world/go where the opportunities are. If school is in your home then home is where children feel secure and you can become more mobile. You don’t have to work within the confines of school terms. Your life may turn out to be more exciting than the next renovation or TV series, not that these aren’t important! Experiencing different points of view, languages, traditions and cultures is an education in itself. The UAE is one of the few countries where people can celebrate Ramadan, Diwali and Christmas, believers and non- believers alike.

The downside is that in your pursuit of cosmopolitanism you may lose your roots or more likely feel a loss of cultural identity. Your children may miss out on being part of one community and experience developing friendships that form early and continue into adulthood. They may miss out on relationships with grandparents and other relatives who can form a support base for the family.  Chances are if you are here as an expat, you have already considered these issues and they will not be an additional consideration unless you are questioning whether to move back home. Many people find ways to keep their roots by sharing their experiences with their children, rituals, celebrations, using the internet to stay in touch, mixing with other expats from the same country and learning about the language and/or religion of their culture. There is some research on this and these children are often referred to as ‘third culture kids’, or TCK because they form a third culture with other TCK, different from their passport countries and that of their adopted country.  Amongst other advantages, they are multilingual and are able to get on with a diverse group of people as a result of their international perspective.

  • Home-education in the UAE is an exceptionally liberating experience.  There is very little red tape involved (unless you are UAE National, for whom, mostly, home-education is not an option, I believe). But for the rest of us, there are no educational authorities checking up on us/nannying us and for the most part no nosey neighbours ready to turn you in for apparent truancy. People are very accepting of cultural diversity and different choices on the whole. (They have to be!) That means that the only considerations are what is right for your family. GCSE’S? A-Levels, IB?, US High-School Diploma, Vocational Training, Focusing on developing special talents, Real Individualised Learning programs, packaged curricula, the next Venus/Serena Williams?

Downside: K-12 is the only recognised homeschooling program in the UAE which helps with integrating back into the system. If that is your aim, however, there have been cases where children have gone back in to the UAE school system, having used a different curriculum. So, individual schools will need to be consulted regarding this. It must be pointed out that UAE laws are subject to a great deal of rapid change and predictions regarding the continued legality of homeschooling cannot be made.

  • You may find that you end up with highly motivated and independent children able to pursue and enjoy learning.  This will only happen as you are able to step back and let them make more decisions regarding their own learning, bearing in mind that this happens at different times for different children and some children need more parental input than others.

This is not always the case with special needs children, or parents who follow a very structured approach that does not lead the child to take more responsibility but leads to dependence on the parent. Also, certain pre-packaged curricula are very demanding on both the parent and the child. This approach will require the parent to have some ‘time off’ or respite and allowances will have to be made for a natural time of teenage rebellion. But this is really the extreme of home-education. Most parents follow a mix of approaches and adapt as they go along.

  • You may find that you spend less money. As expat schools are all private and also mostly commercially-driven enterprises, you may find you have more money at the end of the month. Your school fees have helped to cover admin costs, teachers’ salaries, maintenance of facilities and, of course, profits. At home, your money goes directly to your children’s needs and only the activities they pursue whether it’s gymnastics, martial arts, singing or music lessons or private tutoring in some cases, with the added bonus that you don’t have to be competing with school children for afternoon time-slots and so can nab that highly sought-after Arabic teacher!

Downside Many expat partners (usually the mothers) are here on their husband’s work visas and are not working. Still, some may be working. Giving up one partner’s income may be the price tag of homeschooling, especially if there is more than one child and hours are not flexible ( this is usually the case here as jobs are more traditional – banking sector, tourism, commercial sector and construction industry being the biggest employers). Where children are in high school, it may be possible to work, if they are able to encourage each other and are self-motivated. Sometimes a maid may be put in charge of their care as an added safeguard.

The other point to be considered is whether the working spouse’s company provides an educational allowance as part of his package.  Sometimes this can be transferred to home- education. You may have to negotiate, document and keep receipts but it has been done!

  • You may find that you have enough material to teach your children without trying too hard. The internet is awash with free worksheets and information. There are online bookshops and specialist homeschooling supply stores. There is this website and there are the people behind the website.  There are all the people in your lives who have skills and experiences they may be willing to share with you and there is a good private library in the Mall of the Emirates, the Old Library, as well as a few public libraries. We also have amazing bookshops here, especially Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall, Magrudy’s and the Bookworm in Jumeirah.

Downside If you are from the USA, Canada, Western Europe, or other countries with integrated on-line libraries and have homeschooled there, it will take some adjustment as if you want specialist books, you will usually need to buy them. There is, however, a big second-hand market for books (Satwa and various charities being the first port of call) and there are people coming and going on a regular basis, so you may be in luck.

  • You may find that housework is not an issue. Some expats have full-time maids and it may be worth considering having someone come in twice a week so that housework is taken care of. For other expats, however, having a maid would not be an option and they consider taking care of their home to be something that falls squarely on their own shoulders. Fortunately, this is a fabulous opportunity to establish routines and teach children real life skills in the ‘real world’ by delegating different household tasks to children based on age and ability. What better way to prepare them for the future!

Downside Sometimes your house will look like a classroom and a lot of the time it will look like a playroom. Other times it will look like a library or an art studio. Your house is being used to bring happiness to the people in it.  You can always make sure that things are tidied away afterwards and keep one room neat for guests.

  • You may find that your lifestyle changes and levels of personal fulfilment increase.

Sure, there are charities and good causes, shopping at the mall, meeting friends for coffee, Manipedi’s, the Parents Teachers Association (or the Northern Emirates Homeschooling Association), bake sales and gym, but there could be more, if those things don’t always appeal. All of these aspects can be incorporated into a homeschooling lifestyle. You may become interested in educational philosophy, languages or crafts, go for swims with the kids, mix with other homeschooling families and generally enrich your life and redefine it.

Downside If you don’t receive support and don’t develop your own interests, you may become resentful and this may sour your experience. Schools do offer a central meeting point for parents and a sense of belonging. In homeschooling, these have to be developed and similar efforts are required but the central point will be your family. Charity begins at home!

  • You may find that socialisation (and socialising) is not an issue.  You might also have found that socialisation (and socialising) was an issue in school. Socialisation is about learning the rules that help people to fit into different contexts and behave appropriately. It does not make sense that this can only happen in school (and sadly it doesn’t always happen in there) – meeting people in different circumstances of everyday life is a much more thorough and appropriate testing ground.

Socialising is about making friends and getting along with others and can happen in a wide variety of contexts. Some children, like adults need a constant buzz of people around them but many children enjoy the company of others but also enjoy having time alone, to read and think and observe their world.  These moments are often missing in school.  In fact, some children learn best on their own and find other people to be distracting when they are tackling something difficult. It doesn’t mean they are anti-social but that their schooling needs are different and home education may be ideal for this kind of child. The extrovert child can enjoy home education if you can involve them in lots of group activities, team sports and arrange social gatherings.

Downside There will be times when you feel isolated, especially if you are on the move (or intend to be). Your children might miss their school friends or homeschooling buddies on the other side of the world. But this in itself need not be distressing. There are homeschoolers all over the world now, interests, activities and sports that make it easy to integrate and it is a problem all of us have to face when we leave home or move into a new environment, so you will be developing necessary life skills.

Most beneficial of all, is to get involved in your local homeschooling organisation and offer to host workshops and share skills. In my experience, this is the best way to make new friends for you and your family.

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