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The home schooling option

Corrected at 12:10pm, 10 March 2010

IN this third of a four-part series on education, The Nut Graph attempts to examine the problems that have become entrenched in the national school system. While public schools were reliable and multi-racial centres of education for Malaysian children not too long ago, today, parents who can afford it are sending their children to private schools. Those who can’t, opt for Chinese vernacular schools. There also seems to be a growing trend towards home schooling.

Do these trends indicate that the public school system is failing us? How did it come to this? And what needs to be done to stem the decline? Deborah Loh and Koh Lay Chin attempt to answer these questions.

KV Soon and children with library behind them
KV Soon with daughters Amrita (left) and Samanta in a homeschool session
(pic courtesy of KV Soon)

HOME schooling began in Malaysia about 20 years ago, and is today done by between 500 to 1,000 families or more, estimates KV Soon who home schools his three children. Even though home schooling is only done by a minority of Malaysian children, practitioners say it is a growing trend.

Exact numbers are unknown though since no census of home-schoolers has been attempted. Still, the trend towards home schooling suggests that there is continued disillusionment with the national education system.

Common complaints include undue emphasis on academic achievement and lack of personal development. What it boils down to, home schooling parents feel, is the quality of teachers in national schools and the confines of a structured system that allows for little creativity and development of life skills.

Beyond the system

Soon, who runs Learning Beyond Schooling, a resource blog and support network for home school practitioners tells The Nut Graph that more parents have shown an interest in home schooling. This was especially after the government reversed its six-year policy to teach Mathematics and Science in English. Indecision over the maximum number of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) subjects allowed also showed “a lack of vision” in the national education policy, he notes.

But while flip-flop policy decisions are a strong reason why parents opt for home schooling, Soon notes that a greater concern is whether children are picking up the right values.

In a mid-2009 informal e-mail survey of the 100 parents on his network, the majority of respondents listed inculcation of values as the first reason why they preferred home schooling. The second highest reason was the desire for more spiritual or religious emphasis in education. Frustration with the public schools system was third.

Interestingly, he adds, what used to be a mainly urban Chinese Malaysian phenomenon is now gaining ground among Malay Malaysian and Indian Malaysian parents. And an increasing number of home schooling parents regardless of race are in the 25 to 36 age group.

“I think the trend reflects the younger generation’s willingness to question and explore alternatives. It’s sort of reflective of the overall political and social change in people’s mindsets,” Soon says.

Lifestyle change

Learning through playing — Hafiza and her three older children at school
(pic courtesy of Hafiza Abd Rahman)

More Malay Malaysian parents are interested in home schooling but many are unsure about sacrificing time and finances, says Hafiza Abd Rahman, 25, in a phone interview. She and her husband school their four children aged 18 months to six years on the road while travelling for work as web designers.

Hafiza, who runs an online forum of mainly Malay Malaysian home-schoolers called Malaysia Homeschool Unite says full-time home schooling involves a level of personal commitment that often requires one parent giving up his or her career. It’s a lifestyle change few are willing to make. To introduce the concept gradually, she runs workshops teaching parents how to be more involved in their children’s lives after schooling hours.

“Many Malay [Malaysian] parents are interested but don’t dare to do it because of financial issues. But my husband and I believe that the benefits are more. We can build our children’s character and moral intelligence in a way schools cannot,” says Hafiza. For her, the decision to home school was made primarily so she could breastfeed all her children. She also feels that public or private school systems result in children being spoon fed.

“Home schooling has allowed my children to develop skills and knowledge according to their different personalities. There should be diversity in education to bring out each child’s passion, instead of placing all children like sardines in one tin,” she says.

Human capital problem

pitching purple tent on the lawn
Home school includes learning different skills, like pitching a tent
(pic courtesy of Hafiza Abd Rahman)

The pros and cons of home schooling aside, early childhood education expert Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng attributes its increased popularity to certain weaknesses in the public school system.

“The weaknesses stem from the quality of human capital. Great programmes and systems are useless if educators are not interested in students’ development. Not all teachers are bad, but I think the vast majority are not dedicated to the profession. To compound matters, few people go into education as a first career choice.

“In the end, there’s too much emphasis on academic excellence and not enough on personal development,” the serving National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) commissioner says in a phone interview.

Little wonder then, if parents worry about whether teachers are capable of imparting the values they desire for their children, what more in a national school environment dominated by one race and religion.

“Parents are taking things into their own hands because they find that public schools just aren’t cutting it or are promoting values that are not acceptable to their family,” says David Tan, a home schooling parent who runs another support network at Home School Home Frontier.

Whose loss?

Many parents who home school their children prefer to lie low as they do not have exemptions from the Education Ministry to remove their children from primary school. Primary education in Malaysia is compulsory, and parents who do not comply are liable to a fine or imprisonment. The ministry grants exemptions, but usually only for children who are ill or with severe learning disabilities, or whose parents require frequent travel for work.

Parents seeking exemption for no other reason than to home school their kids say the process is bureaucratic and arbitrary.

(Corrected) In the meantime, however, the government has no intention of recognising home schooling, says education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Md Dom. “It’s just a minority of people doing it. There are also other political aspects to consider like racial harmony. When children home-school, they miss the socialisation process of mixing with different races,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Hafiza’s eldest, Muhammad Kirua Hakimy, 6 (far left) at a dance class with other children
(pic courtesy of Hafiza Abd Rahman)

But Soon and Tan rubbish claims that home-schooled children are poorly socialised. Home school families often get together for educational activities and field trips where their children interact. Additionally, Tan questions whether racial harmony in public schools has been achieved. “Society has become more polarised after so many years of ‘socialising’ in regular schools,” he observes.

Is official recognition by the government what home-schoolers want? After all, despite flouting the law, most parents carry on unhindered by the ministry.

The more pressing need, it appears, is for private tertiary education institutions to provide entry leeway to home-schooled teenagers. The usual route is to sit for the SPM as private candidates, since that is the only recognised qualification to enter local private colleges.

“In other countries, home-schooled students are given a higher entry bar for tertiary education, like writing a paper to qualify. It would be good if institutions of higher learning here could be [as] flexible. It would really help parents who can’t afford to send their kids to study overseas,” says Soon.

On the other hand, Tan feels that official recognition might bring government intervention and loss of autonomy. More importantly, he says, is for government to recognise that parents have the right over the care and education of their children in the manner they see fit.

And yet, with private or overseas institutions being the only route for home-schooled children to receive tertiary education, the ones on the losing end are Malaysian institutions and possibly the local workforce.

For the benefit of future generations, Soon wishes that the ministry could recognise home schools as a valid alternative system and engage them in exchanging ideas. After all, the government hopes to cultivate innovation and creativity in human capital, and could learn a thing or two from home-schoolers. favicon

See also:  
Going private
Chinese medium schools to the rescue
Whither national education?

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22 Responses to “The home schooling option”

  1. 2nd class says:

    I think home schooling is a bad option because the children are molded according to their parents’ specification not to mention the socialisation that they have missed. Home schooling is like putting a plant in the green house, giving the best to the plant to flourish BUT when they are taken outside the green house, the odds is the plant will not survive.

  2. kahseng says:

    Quote from the article: “On the other hand, Tan feels that official recognition might bring government intervention and loss of autonomy. More importantly, he says, is for government to recognise that parents have the right over the care and education of their children in the manner they see fit.”

    This is the crux of the matter. Family must retain the right to educate their children to grow up into the way of life the family prefers. Government should not be given that right to interfere and tax for a bad service.

    Speaking like a libertarian!

    If we do not see this central point about personal liberty and the family’s right to raise their own children, and if we accept the authority of the government to shape our morality and minds, all discussions about corruption, education, school performance, … are in vain.

    We will be lost because we accept big government and pretend that public education (and hard to swallow – medicine, security, religion, etc) is intrinsically better than private education.

  3. Andrew I says:

    Then there’s the tuition syndrome.

    Having tuition outside schooling hours wasn’t as glamourous as it is today. Once upon a time, it meant that you were quite, how can I put it, lacking.

    Why pay for something that you should have picked up in school? Besides, bedtime at a decent hour will definitely reduce the urge to treat the desk in front of you as a pillow and increase your attention span significantly.

    Ever heard of the entreprenuerial teacher who offers you a no holds barred account of a subject, should you decide to sign up at his [or her] residential centre for educational excellence, with operating hours which are similar to the operating hours of the brain?

    No wonder there’s little interest in extending schooling hours. The entrepreneurs [would] get nothing and the students [wouldn’t] have time for tuition.

    Sad, really.

  4. kahseng says:

    This url links to more articles on education in the blog section of this libertarian site

  5. Apologetic Parent says:

    One of the important facets of children receiving education is learning to interact with the external environment in order to become a world citizen. The constituents of an external environment with which a child must interact consist of, among other things, his [or her] peers, team of which he [or she] is a part, and other physical structures.

    A home schooled child may be deprived of that exposure.

  6. Wendy says:

    I support home schooling! It will be difficult to place my kid in a Chinese [medium] school as my whole family doesn’t speak nor write Chinese and there are certain aspects of Chinese vernacular schools that I don’t agree [with] — like teachers bringing along the cane with them wherever they go and spanking the kids for every single mistake they make in spelling for example.

    They are too strict and in my opinion this inhibits the kids from learning and speaking up for themselves as they’re afraid of being punished. As for government schools, as the topic says, they’re even more of a no-no. A school friend of mine just migrated to Australia so that his kids can go to a so-called ‘international school’ for free which parents like us in Malaysia would have to fork out at least RM50K per year per kid. Yes, international schools would be ideal for me but since it is not affordable, then home schooling is the other alternative.

    Besides, the company I work for was running an exhibition last year where various schools came by as a school trip and lo and behold, the only kids who raised their hands and asked a lot of questions and had a whole depth of knowledge were the ones from the home school group called Sri Cempaka. That was the clincher which helped me make my decision.

  7. 2nd class says:

    “Apologetic Parent Posted: 10 Mar 10 : 12.48PM

    One of the important facets of children receiving education is learning to interact with the external environment in order to become a world citizen. ”

    I absolutely agree with your opinion. Home schooling children are only exposed to a fictional environment by their parents. The environment crafted by their parents for them is usually artificial and protected. They are not exposed to reality and hence may have problems integrating in a real society.

    Schooling is not all about academic performance. It is also about developing a child’s character and molding their ability to adapt in this current harsh environment which definitely cannot be reproduced in home schooling. The child needs to be exposed to some ‘bad’ elements in reality so that they gain the necessary survival skills and EQ.

    Besides that, home schooling will only mold children according to the parents’ self-defined ‘best’ specification which means at best, they are at par with their parents with the least chance for them to develop their own potential. This is against Darwin’s theory which encourages the best to survive and excel.

  8. Yoshua says:

    Yes, Wendy is right. I have worked with some young people in organising camps and found that the home schoolers far outclassed the ‘normal’ schoolers in terms of depth of knowledge. As for socializing, [they are] quite normal, although they would lack the knowledge of swear words, how to pummel others, etc.

    The national education system is broken because it has become politicised to the point that policies are made for political expediency rather than pedagogical intent. Who among the top appointed educationists in the system really care about educating our young towards a vision of a better and more egalitarian Malaysia?

  9. 2nd class says:

    Sri Cempaka is not a home school group. It is a private school using the national curriculum.

  10. JNKS says:

    Every method is a good method. There are always pros and cons. The most important thing is that as a home schooling parent, he/she must be committed and must have channels of support should he/she recognise any flaws. Likewise, while it is true that there has been extreme emphasis on academic excellence (government), it is entirely up to the parent to supplement kids in areas lacking, and to balance the strive for academic excellence with inner motivation to life.

  11. Rachel says:

    Being educated in a Chinese vernacular primary school and in a Chinese private secondary school, my personal experience was actually rather memorable and pleasant. I didn’t think that the schools had neglected personal development skills. It’s more of what you make of it even as a young kid. I remember I was always very keen to take part in all activities and perhaps even to the extent of overdoing it.

    Aside from the educational aspects, we had a lot of clubs and societies and it was really up to the pupil to try to achieve their potentials. I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the life of me for home-schooling. You miss out on day-to-day social interaction with other peers, which is part of the ‘social development’ for a child. It’s very different when you meet other kids for a weekend field trip. Also, all my best friends and even my husband are friends from secondary school. I have such fond memories.

    I think parents these days are overly worried about their children. Our children need room for independent thinking. I am not sure whether it’s a good idea to over-protect our children. For example, I had some really under-par teachers during the years, I would then tell my parents that I needed tuition for that particular subject, and once I caught up, I would stop the tuition. These were all my personal decisions. My parents never interfered with my studies and I didn’t really need much tuition. Most of the time I found it a waste of time. It was actually more beneficial to have group studies with friends. It’s also a challenge for our kids to identify their problems, discuss it and come up with a solution, it’s all part and parcel of learning.

    Having said that, I agree that in Chinese vernacular schools, discipline is generally rather strict, to the extent that I did feel there was no freedom of speech. The teachers recognised my tendency to speak up and actually put me in the debating team which allowed me to channel my energy into proper use. I think a home-schooled child would not be able to benefit from this kind of experience.

  12. Malini says:

    I have a 6-year-old and am considering sending him to a government school. I considered homeschooling – I like the creative aspect employed in learning but I believe he’ll miss out on the socialisation which I believe is what national schools do best. No education system in Malaysia offers such a large cross section of Malaysian society – you have the poor, the rich, the religious, the not-so religious, the good, the naughty, the smart, the not-so-smart, different ethnic groups etc. Here’s where he is going to mix around and form friendships independent of family. This I believe will be key in helping him understand about people and about empathising with them. I may have to supplement his education with homeschooling-style learning as creativity and analysis is lacking in national schools.

  13. Hazel says:

    @2nd class: Your greenhouse analogy is only an encapsulated view of homeschooling.

    @Apologetic Parent: By a clear mile, homeschoolers are more world citizens compared to their schooled peers because they don’t spend a good part of their day institutionalized in a factory environment. The school is not the “external environment” where children learn to be “world citizens”, it’s everywhere beyond that – the world is their classroom.

    “In school, where teachers need to ‘manage’ thirty students or more, ethics and the politics of power is left up, from our earliest and most vulnerable years, to the bullies and other young damaged psychopaths among our peers, to teach us in their grotesquely warped way. It is in every way a prison system.”

    This system is what that beats the love of learning, the ability to self-manage, curiosity, imagination and critical thinking out of us.

    We are indoctrinated from as early as 5 years old, to cede our time and freedom, to be prepared to wage slavery and obedience to authority. School teaches us everything but the ability to be self-sufficient in society. Interestingly enough, those who don’t agree with school in the early (or later years) often tend to make it further in life.

    School is different from what the real world has to offer, with the exception of other classrooms. Often times, children can excel in school only to find themselves ‘lost’ in the real world. This disenchantment is a direct result of our schooling system’s modus operandi – to keep you small, manageable, compliant and dependent.

    If more children were homeschooled (and there are many ways to do so), we would have a world of more producers than consumers, more public-serving than self-serving people. Homeschoolers are people who know who they are, how to live and how to make a living for themselves, which our world severely lacks.

  14. Wendy says: mistake. It was the Rafelsia Homeschool kids – not Sri Cempaka as mentioned.

  15. Charis Quay says:

    Re. socialisation, a lot depends on the child and his or her needs and emotional maturity. We need to look at studies before pointing fingers and making sweeping generalisations. Any data would be appreciated.

    Re. ‘artificial environments’ it could be argued that our increasingly polarised education system is creating at the moment artificial environments for *all* our children which does not reflect the reality of our society. I would argue that this is a much more serious ‘problem’ than homeschooling, which does not affect many people and so far has not shown a tendency to divide our society along arbitrary lines.

    Homeschooling may not be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in general, but its rise reflects the failure of our national education system to develop the potential of every child. Parents do not take their children out of school without good reason.

  16. Sloane says:

    I’m biased – I’m an unschool newb. As for the “greenhouse effect” I wonder whether it’s opinion or fact. I’ve not yet met a dysfunctonal homeschooler but I’ve met one too many dysfunctional schooled person. Find me a top scholar who comes from a broken home? You won’t be able to. Children who do well in school would’ve done just as well without school – it’s a no brainer, they have great parents. Just caught a glimpse of the media interviewing our top scorer. Guess what? Parents are intact!

    School is built as an Institution and we are well aware what Institutions do, right? They INSTITUTIONALISE; prisons, asylums, school.

    Some parents think school is an authority children can run to if they were abused at home. Try for better values as communities, not more policing.

    I have never understood the need to pay taxes to an institution to institutionalise our children to honour emblems and symbols, to surrender our autonomy and to curb their freedom and rights as children. The right to an education is not the same as an obligation to a miseducation.

    Who in Malaysia today believes beyond a doubt that schooling TRULY gives a better future? With the speed of change these days who can predict beyond 2020? How can anyone be certain schools are preparing for that?

    Well yes, homeschooled parents shape their children in their image. If God made us in His image and He asked us to go forth and prosper, I don’t see why we have to give up that right to make our children in our image (thus in the image of God). It’s like saying a faceless, collective army called Government can actually do a better job while in office than parents can in a lifetime. And judging from the sort of government we seem to have and the state of polarisation in our country, why in Hades would I want my child shaped through an institution in the government’s image!!

  17. Sloane says:

    @2nd Class. Associating Darwin with parenting is probably one of the worst [parallels] anyone can make but I have to suppose that you intentionally drew that parallel to reflect a deeper knowledge of Darwin’s experiments on his children as well as supporting the views shared by Darwin and his peers on eugenics; of creating a superior ruling race through systemic intervention of organic human lives.

    Of course the world is broken, is has been for thousands of years. But to desensitize children to escalating harshness and pain in order to cope is not the solution.

    The reason why we’ve been so messed up is because we keep looking to the patriarchal world view of handling conflicts – of raising barbarian warriors using might and force to have power over others so others do not have power over us. What if instead of desensitizing children and making them grow up, we allow them to bring forth their gifts to our world – to be loving, to be sensitive, to be forgiving.

    We don’t need children to cope with our harsh world, we need children to grow up and neutralize it! And they will neutralize harshness with compassion and forgiveness, drawing from their memories of how it feels to be loved unconditionally, to be accepted and respected and listened to. Loved children will teach the world that it is possible to thrive without competing, to conquer with compassion and to heal with forgiveness.

    If you cannot imagine this world of non-violence, forgiveness and love for yourself, know that it is possible for our little Sacred Warriors. Your opinion that they cannot cope is imaginary, you have never known the resilience and wisdom of a truly loved child and how they can handle harshness with compassion.

  18. Sean says:

    “Find me a top scholar who comes from a broken home?”
    Bill Clinton? He won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.
    Barack Obama? He graduated magna cum laude in Law.

    If you type your question into Google word for word, the first hit suggests Leonardo da Vinci.

  19. AR says:

    I see the merits of public schooling, private education and home-schooling. I am not a parent, and my views may change.

    But I think I will not exclusively home-school my (as yet nonexistent) children because I want them to learn about the politics of life. Schoolyards are harsh and full of life lessons.

    I want them to know swear words and know how to pummel people, and then to have them develop the wisdom not to do it.

    And a word about teaching children to be sensitive and forgiving, and not bringing them up like they’re going to be facing conflict all their lives… wouldn’t you say that parents can teach their kids that without homeschooling? Don’t people talk and play with their children, unless they home school them?

  20. thetaipan says:

    @Sloane: “Who in Malaysia today believes beyond a doubt that schooling TRULY gives a better future? With the speed of change these days who can predict beyond 2020? How can anyone be certain schools are preparing for that?”

    Ans: Parents need not pay any fees and textbooks are free, I believe all schools are computerised with state-of-the-art computer systems. Combined with the MSC (Multimedia Super Corridor) and SMART schools initiatives, our education system is one of the best in the region. The social and moral aspect are also well taken care of. Primary students are offered not more than one subject (Ugama, Moral, Sivik) that strengthen their strong moral and social values, I believe this is critical for a balanced society moving forward into 2020. Combined with physical education – this is about 30% of a primary student’s class time. This is excellent.

    Our education system is quite unmatched really. Yes, I TRULY and HONESTLY believe Malaysia’s system offers the BEST for our children’s future. Our leader had foresight to design the best system for us – they also have the courage to make changes when they need to (eg BM – English – BM). Our leaders’ courage and responsiveness to change is critical and is a shining example for our children not to follow blindly [or] to just stay on one path only.

    After all, where else can you find such a system. I am quite sure you cannot find such a system anywhere else on this planet – truly unique and special.

    Homeschoolers and these so-called “alternative people” do not know what they are missing. Our schools are the BEST, do not doubt it!

  21. Sloane says:

    Obama did not come from a broken home. He was raised by his grandmother/father in a loving, nurturing home. Are you kidding me?

  22. Sean says:

    @Sloane: No, I’m not kidding you. You asked “Find me …?”, I answered. You stated “won’t be able to find one”. I found 3 famous ones with 5 seconds of what could hardly be called effort. Your attempt to discount Barack Obama based on the observation that he was once in some relatives’ home who happened to be jolly nice people – even if it wasn’t the home he ‘came from’ – has merit, just not a lot. Here’s the ‘broken home’ definition from Wiktionary:

    Where does it mention grandparents in that? Barack Obama’s early life fits that definition exactly.

    You cursed an entire demographic to a sad fate without even typing your prejudice into Google. Were you kidding us?

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