Thursday, August 02, 2007

Homeschool and homeschool

I was encouraged to read that Rev Terrence Sinnadurai the founder of Desa Amal Jireh (previously Rumah Faith) was among those nominated for the NST-PwC Malaysian Humanitarian Award.

I don’t know Rev Terrence personally and only now have I come across the name. But since 1985 he has helped to provide a home for poor orphans and abandoned kids. What’s impressive was the fact that the home which is registered with Selangor Welfare Department and the Registrar of Societies has grown through the years. Amazing scope of work there. According to its website, Desa Amal Jireh which now occupies a RM7.5 million 47-acre ‘village’ in Semenyih houses almost 90 underprivileged children and 7 adults.

Interestingly (but less unusual these days) the home also operates a homeschool for 15 of its children. Rev Terrence said that homeschool provides schooling for children who have difficulties with government schools until such time they are ready to rejoin the mainstream. Komathi Manimaran, who has been at the home since she was 2 years old, said she likes homeschool, because “lessons are in English and it has improved my English tremendously.”

I am an advocate of alternative education and stories of Desa Amal Jireh’s education initiative warm my heart. So many people have problems adjusting to conventional schools. Especially those who are underprivileged or at-risk children who cannot adapt to the system offered by our Education Ministry. Unsurprisingly, the medium of instruction (BM) is often cited as a reason for dropping out of national schools.

On another note...

Outside these centers for underprivileged children, more 'homeschools' are sprouting up and the reasons are the same: their students have difficulties adjusting, they have disciplinary issues, and are unable to cope with conventional schooling. What’s a parent to do? Put them in a homeschool center.

All this is fine, but I am somewhat amused and a little uncomfortable that these learning centers are being described as homeschool. For the life of me, why are they being called homeschool when these kids are not taught (a) at home, or (b) by their own parents?

It’s confusing and if I have to be blunt, it is also downright misleading.

It's not their fault that the education these centers offer is erroneously called homeschool; it’s a convenient handle largely promoted by some homeschool curriculum vendors. Yet it seems there is a responsibility to be clear about concept and terminology – especially in areas as controversial as home education or homeschool. Of course I appreciate that there are those of us who are averse to the term ‘homeschool’ because they believe ‘school’ is synonymous with institution, but that's another story. Besides, education that takes place at home doesn’t even come close to making it one.

Anyway, once during a forum where I was panel speaker as a homeschooling parent (sometimes unnecessarily qualified as “pure” homeschooling) an official from the Education Ministry expressed reservation and concern over these homeschool centers saying they were neither schools (according to the official version) nor were they conducted at home (by parents). I remember admitting to the confusion in front of the audience, but was unable to say anything more except that these learning centers were providing invaluable service and fulfilling a genuine need, regardless of the misnomer.

Folks whose kids are in these learning centers call it homeschool because a homeschool curriculum is used. While I won't lose sleep over it, it still grates whenever I hear it used in this way.


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