HE from young persons point of view, in the FT(3 Posts)
"Home education: learning never stops" By Alice Troy-Donovan
I was 15, not five, the first time I went to school. The only timetable I ever remember following was one I had created myself: a week-long “course” in which I acted out the life of an art student in the kitchen at home...
My parents had hoped that educating my two brothers and me at home would enable us to find and pursue our own interests in a more organic way, rather than become part of a class of 30 pupils all expected to fit to the same prescribed mould.
Despite having been warned that such an undertaking would be incredibly stressful and difficult, and that their children would turn out to be socially handicapped and cut off from “real” life, mixing only with the white middle classes, my parents decided to pursue the idea of a school-free education.
In reality, as they discovered, home- educating groups are generally inclusive, integrated and eclectic and, as a result, home-educated children learn to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds with ease.
Without the regularity of routine to refer to, the first 10 years of my life are a blurred mix of museum trips, home education groups (which we attended two or three times a week), and mornings spent reading in bed.
Rather than artificially dividing our lives into “school” and “free time”, home education effortlessly intertwined play with learning. Education did not just happen in one building during school hours for us, but during every moment of the day.
Society, however, has so successfully managed to equate school with education that one of the first questions my 10-year-old self would regularly face after telling people that I had never gone to school was: “How do you learn anything, then?”
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of home education was that time restrictions rarely got in the way of my enthusiasm: when I did decide to write, paint, or play, I could do so for as long as I wanted, without being a slave to the ringing of a bell. I thus learned to organise my own time, and to find things independently that interested me.
These habits helped me immensely later on when I started A-levels at a local school where teachers were asking my bewildered fellow students – who had spent their entire school careers being told exactly what to do – to be “independent learners”.
I am now going to university and will eventually be applying for jobs. How will I be viewed by employers?
For those unfamiliar with home education, the term could suggest unhealthy isolation and a consequent lack of vital social skills.
This is a possible downside suggested by James Spearpoint, an occupational psychologist at Saxton Bampfylde, the executive search firm. He says: “Employers may have some questions about a person’s co-operation with their peers.”
My brother, Killian, has indeed encountered such difficulties when job-seeking. He says: “I think we need to change the term ‘home education’, because people take it far too literally and assume that I can only work on my own. It’s assumed that I don’t have all those skills such as co-operation that are seen as essential by employers.”
In reality, the ability to work alone can, in any case, be seen as a strength as well as a potential disadvantage. Alan Townsend, senior vice-president of business operations at Monster, the jobs website, thinks that self-motivation and independence are particularly sought-after qualities in today’s labour market.
“There are a lot of companies that are looking for people to learn on the job and find their own way. Home- educated jobseekers would fit that category very clearly,” he says, adding that being a self-starter is a highly attractive attribute that could give home educators a head start.
He believes it is not a concern that most employers are unfamiliar with home education: “I think that’s probably a good thing – because it gives you something to engage them with in an interview. Recruiters always like something to talk about that’s a bit different.”
The tendency to challenge established systems – often found among home educators, who themselves are challenging the education system to some degree – might be seen both positively and negatively by employers. “An ability to challenge authority,” says Mr Spearpoint, “might threaten some employers.”
On the other hand, he recognises that uniqueness, creativity and an unorthodox outlook are valued attributes: “Organisations need to think more creatively and divergently rather than using the cookie-cutter approach where everyone is the same.” He suggests an employer is unlikely to mind if an applicant is home educated, provided they have orthodox qualifications.
For many parents contemplating home education, however, qualifications are perhaps the most worrying issue: they fear their children might fall behind academically and miss out on vital qualifications if they are not at school.
But in my experience, home-educated children rarely struggle to keep up with their peers if they choose to enter college or university, despite coming to academic disciplines much later than most. I am not aware of any home-educated acquaintances who have applied to university and not secured a place.
Rather than being subjected to testing from the very beginning of their school years, as many schoolchildren are, I came to exams when I was ready and found that those 10 years of school I had missed did not hold me back in the slightest. In fact, having learnt to pursue my interests as ends in themselves rather than as means to obtaining certain grades, I was able to enjoy my studies and to explore topics beyond the curriculum.
I know from personal experience that stereotyping of home educators as in some way “strange” is not unusual. This is not helped by the fact that a small minority of home-educated families are motivated by extreme religious views or a desire to create an intensely academic environment for their children.
Moreover, few people have ever met a home-educated person, so their perceptions are fuelled by media reports, which tend to focus on alleged “child prodigies”, rather than the real thing.
My concern remains whether employers are prone to stereotype in the same way. Mr Spearpoint thinks not: “Those stereotypes are antiquated and people are much more open minded these days. I think the trend is more towards diversity.”
Thanks for posting I agree 'home education' is not a very accurate term for most.......we like 'school of life', although it sounds rather cheesy, its more true to what we do!