Category Archives: Homeschooling anywhere

Homeschooling in the News

Homeschooling in the United Arab Emirates…. Is it allowed, isn’t it?? Why do people do it?? What does it look like?? What happens after?? It seems like homeschooling is always a hot-topic in the news.

Homeschooling on the Rise in UAE as Educational Costs Go Up- Express, Nov 2016

Why More UAE Parents are Homeschooling Their Children- Khaleej Times, Nov 2016

World Schooling the new form of learning.- Gulf News, Sept. 2016

Registration open for homeschooling and adult education- Gulf News, Sept 2016

Homeschooling more affordable and flexible for many parents in the UAE- 7Days, Aug. 2016



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 Perhaps there has been bullying, withdrawn behaviour, or something just isn’t right.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.


  • 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.

Why do families homeschool?

For those whose children are attending a regular school institution and do not personally know any homeschoolers, this can be a strange, incomprehensible world. Why would parents choose to do themselves, what others are paid to do? Why would students prefer to stay at home with mom or dad and siblings, rather than be at school with their peers?

There are so many diverse reasons, that it would be impossible to list them all! For most homeschoolers, it also is a combination of factors, rather than one single reason that caused them to decide on homeschooling. The following list contains a sample of the higher frequency factors.

  • Medical reasons
    This could be a short term reason for homeschooling, for example, when the student has to receive specialized treatment, causing him/her to miss some schooldays and feel unwell when attending school, so that he/she need to “catch up” afterwards. This would be easier to cope with at home, with the flexibility of studying when the student is able to.
    It could also be a long term reason for homeschooling, for example with chronic illness, where the student would otherwise miss many days of school.
  • Religious reasons
    There are various situations where a family could decide to homeschool for religious reasons. For example, if a family prefers religious instruction to be an integral part of schooling, and there is no satisfactory mainstream school institution available, homeschooling is a good solution. Another example is in countries where formal instruction in all main religions is compulsory in school from a young age, and to many families this is not acceptable, causing them to turn to homeschooling.
  • Safety reasons
    With many countries experiencing an increase in violence at schools, some parents prefer to homeschool their children for the sake of their safety. In other countries plagued by war, civil unrests and volatile politics, homeschooling also offers a safer alternative.
    In some instances bullying is a big reason, with 50% of children claiming to have been bullied in some countries; in many others to a lesser extent. Homeschooling would both safeguard the children from the bullying and contribute to avoid negative socialisation.
  • Academic reasons
    The prevailing academic standard in the locally available mainstream school institutions may not always be up to parents’ (or students’) expectations. This could be due to various reasons, which are not relevant to the current topic and both statistics and debate regarding this can be found elsewhere on the web and in related literature. For the purposes of this writing, it suffices that this very often is a most compelling reason for families to take education into their own hands.
    Another academic reason for homeschooling is giftedness. A child who is not being stimulated enough in school is also a bored child who is not living up to their potential.
  • Financial reasons
    Although finance is sometimes a compelling reason on its own, this often goes hand-in-hand with other factors, such as academic standards. For example, take the family which deems the academic standard in the public school to be unsatisfactory, but does not avail of the financial means to send their children to a private school. In such a case homeschooling offers a very attractive alternative, as a higher standard does not necessarily imply a higher financial cost.
  • Cultural reasons
    A variety of reasons has been grouped together as cultural. A few examples will be given, but these are by far not exhaustive. For example, a family may be temporarily living out of their home country, but still wish their children to be formally educated according to their own culture and language, and not that of their host country, therefore deciding to homeschool according to the curriculum of their country of origin.
    Another example is a mixed culture family wanting their children to be fluent in both parents’ languages, and knowledgeable in both cultures. Homeschooling children for the primary years (with equal emphasis in both languages) would give both languages a solid foundation.
  • Differences in educational approaches
    In education literature there often is debate about specific issues, such as at which age children should start reading, some approaches advising a younger age, others much later. Another oft debated issue is subject division (teaching history, biology, language, geography, science, arts, etc. individually) versus the holistic approach (teaching all subjects relating to each topic at a time). Yet another source of dissent is diversification (introductory learning about a wide spectrum of areas) versus specialisation (choosing an area of expertise very early and focusing on that exclusively). These are only three examples from many, but such issues could contribute to the decision to homeschool.
  • Family values
    At present in many countries family members rarely see each other, both parents may be working long hours, the children spend all time at school in different classes, and different after school activities often means most of the weekend is spent apart. To those for whom this is a concern, homeschooling is a way to establish family harmony again. This may require some small sacrifice initially and life-styles may have to adjust, but the value of family togetherness cannot be overstated.
    Another example is a family that chooses to avoid the negative aspects of peer pressure during teenage years, when susceptibility to gangs, drugs, etc. is statistically much higher than during the rest of their child’s life. They may then choose to homeschool during this time.
  • Enjoyment
    Another reason is in order to grow the desire to learn, for very few children attending regular school institutions could be said to enjoy their education. Another is when one or both of the parents have been homeschooled themselves, and want to extend this positive experience to the next generation. Even more families start to homeschool for another reason, but when that reason is no longer valid they simply continue homeschooling, because of the overall advantages, and enjoyment.
    Another example is school aversion or school refusal, when a child refuses to go to school or is clearly unhappy about going to school. This could lead to an aversion to all forms of learning; homeschooling provides an environment where the child feels safe and secure and the love of learning can be fostered.
  • Social reasons
    In contrast to the so called vertical socialisation, where a child learns to deal with a lot of people from the same age and similar demographic attributes, homeschooling develops horizontal socialisation, i.e. the necessary social skills to deal with a wide range of people in day-to-day living.
  • Flexibility
    Sometimes families require more flexibility and the mainstream school institutions cannot fulfil their needs. For example, where children are talented at some area such as sports, chess, music, etc. and need to spend many hours each day in training. (As the famous homeschoolers Serena and Venus Williams did). They then fit their curriculum around these needs.
    Some other families simply like the added benefit of flexibility, not as main reason, but nevertheless enjoying the flexibility of choices such as when the family can take holidays, travel opportunities, following interests, and generally taking advantage of ‘learning moments’ as and when these arise.
  • Disabilities
    Both physical and learning disabilities can be a factor in deciding to homeschool. For example, a mother who is a qualified remedial teacher may prefer to homeschool her child with learning disabilities, where individual attention is possible throughout the learning process. The child is spared any rude or insensitive remarks and unnecessary teasing by peers, until such time that the child no longer needs remedial therapy.
  • Practical reasons
    There are a great number of practical reasons why a specific family might decide to homeschool, either permanently or for a limited time. For example, if a family will be living abroad, perhaps changing country a few times, homeschooling will provide continuity. Another example is a family that lives in an area of very low population with no school within easy reach; the choice would be either homeschooling or boarding school.
    Not being able to get into the school of choice is another very practical reason to homeschool. Parents are sometimes set on a particular school and when it doesn’t pan out (perhaps because of long waiting lists) resort to homeschooling, for either short or long term.

There are definitely more reasons than these. Without a doubt, most homeschooling families have a combination of reasons rather than one single pressing need.

Ultimately we make certain choices when one option is preferable to the alternative; to many families, homeschooling is simply preferable to the alternative!