Rising levels of indiscipline among children and absentee parenting is a common contemporary public narrative. Most parents currently struggle over the costs of expensive private schools and crowded, under-funded public schools. As parents agonise, education administrators and education rights activists have been forced to develop strategies to eliminate exam-cheating, arson, risky sexual behaviour and violence in places of learning.
Many now concede that authoritarian models are out of step with a democratic society. With corporal punishment, intimidation and violence outlawed, new methods of parenting are required. Last week, the Taskforce recommended curricula for strengthening parenting skills, compulsory voluntary service for young people and report in the state of the family in the annual Presidential State of the Nation address.
Tragically on February 18 of this year, the family of Silus Were found themselves being arrested for acting on similar conclusions as the Building Bridges Taskforce. A few weeks before their arrest, the Were’s daughter was asked to read the eulogy in a Kakamega funeral. So eloquent was her performance that the funeral congregation began to ask which school she attended. Admiration soon turned to scorn as the word went around that she didn’t go to “school” but was learning at home.
A few weeks later, armed police officers turned up at the family home, arrested and arraigned Silus Were and his children in Butali court seeking to place his children in child services. The family was only released when they promised to place the children into a “school”. Silus Were and another home-schooler Onesmus Orinda have since filed a bold constitutional case to decriminalise home-schooling and assert the right of Kenyans to teach their own children in their own homes.
Modern home-schooling has been successfully practised for hundreds of years. Pioneer Liz Gitonga and other families have been home-schooling their children in Kenya for more than twenty-five years. There are more than 1,500 families currently home-schooling their children in Kenya. Despite this, this choice is still not well appreciated as the Were family painfully discovered.
Most uninformed view that children who learn at home are subjected to unstructured curriculum and isolated from other children, the home-schooling movement has access to a wide range of curricula both nationally and internationally. Effective home-schooling programs include highly personalised teaching, structured lesson plans, field trips and regular testing.
Children are less exposed to peer pressure and bullying. They suffer less from poor academic performance and low self-esteem. Universities like United States International University are increasingly accepting home-schooled teenagers that can pass their entrance exams.
The idea that home-schooling parents are being irresponsible by not taking their children to school is absurd. Parents who home-school are probably the most responsible parents we have. Unlike most, they have taken the time to investigate, design and directly manage their children’s education.
As we turn towards developing competency-based curriculum for all our public schools perhaps we could look at recognising and strengthening home-schooling as an option. This option must operate within Article 53 and 55 of the constitution, the Education Act and Children’s Act. All children have a right to education, the state has an obligation to provide free and compulsory basic education and parents have an obligation to ensure their children attend school.
There is no school that is a match for active parents and a decent home. Homes are the best schools to raise empowered, ethical and engaged citizens. Globally, home-schooling is increasing in countries like the United Kingdom. Here, the number of children has increased by 40% in the last three years. If our dysfunctional parenting culture is eating our tremendous investment in primary and secondary public education for breakfast, perhaps it is time we look more closely at home-schooling as an option for strengthening parenting.
Could the Ministry of Education and Institute for Curriculum Development consider engaging in discussions with Holistic Educators in Africa and the Diaspora (HEAD) and other home-schooling institutions on mandatory registers, quality and safety assurance monitoring, accreditation and support. If the purpose of education is to enable us to think for ourselves rather than to load us with the thoughts of others according to educationalist James Beattie, there is no reason why home-schooling should be discouraged.
First published Saturday Standard, December 7, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group