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The edge in homeschooling

Photo/Diana Ngila  Mishel Muriuki (left) with her mother, Mary Muriuki-Mbacha, during the interview. With homeschooling, curriculum developers and parents create individualised plans for children to follow.
Photo/Diana Ngila Mishel Muriuki (left) with her mother, Mary Muriuki-Mbacha, during the interview. With homeschooling, curriculum developers and parents create individualised plans for children to follow.  

The university lecture hall was Mishel Muriuki’s first interaction with a formal classroom since she was six.

It was a class of about 20, with a lecturer at the front of the room giving an endless theoretical lecture. She found it odd and, to say the least, limiting and strange.

Homeschooled from a tender age, Mishel’s study table at home was her classroom and her teachers were mostly people she knew.

Her course content had always been delivered and taught with practical examples. That was not the case with that first university lecture.

“It was very theoretical and I found it difficult to apply. He did not explain why I am learning this,” says Mishel, now a second-year student at Dalc University.

Mishel is just but one of the children from more than 100 Kenyan families that have been homeschooling their children.

Parents like Mishel’s mother, Mary Muriuki, are moving away from the one-size-fits-all system of education known to many as the only means to formal learning and are instead educating their children from the comfort of their homes.

Most parents who have made this choice say it is best for their children because it can be tailored to suit the family and the learning style of each child, as opposed to schools where all the children receive the same exams and delivery methods.

With homeschooling, curriculum developers and parents create individualised plans for children to follow.

BDLife takes a look at the journeys of home-scholars as they have braved the scorn of society and embarked on what they hope will become a revolution.

Mary is a mother of two, Mishel, 20, and Matthew, 16, and is also the founder of Elimu Nyumbani, an organisation that seeks to provide support and resources for home-scholars.

Her relationship with homeschooling started 14 years ago and the decision to have her children learn at home was not accidental.

Alternatives

“I went to good schools,” she says, “but I had questions outside the syllabus that were not answered because the focus at school was on content for the exams.”

Mary believes that from an early age, she had talents that were not nurtured and her questions about life went unanswered because they were not part of the coursework.

“Each child is different from the other and should be treated as an individual,” says Mary.

So when the time came to educate her own children, she deliberately embarked on the search for alternatives. The family had spent a few years in Australia, helping shape Mary’s decision.

“We had neighbours who homeschooled their children, their mothers worked from home and I liked the idea,” says Mary.

“I started homeschooling Mishel at the age of six when we came back to Kenya, although she had studied a year of kindergarten in Australia.”

Mary is not alone in this journey. There are more than a hundred families in Kenya that have put their children on a similar path.

Canute and Beryl Waswa are the parents of Shawana 6, Bogani 4 and Lakisha 2. They too have turned to homeschooling to educate their children.

It all began when the couple had to make a decision on the type of education to provide to their children.

It was one that they evaluated in depth and for a long time. “When my wife and I were discussing marriage and children, we decided that she would be a stay-at- home mother,” he says.

“We went around evaluating what our children would achieve at the end of the schooling curriculum and concluded that it was very restrictive.”

Canute and Beryl wanted more for their children – including Christianity and its values.

The couple also wanted to build their children’s self-esteem; enable them to explore their skills and talents; to instil soft skills and emotional intelligence; and to build their character.

But more than anything, they wanted to get their children off what they considered to be a conveyer belt system of education.

“The mode of delivery of the education system should be varied for each child depending on the learning style and ability of each,” Canute says.

Homeschooling as a concept has its roots in the West. British public broadcaster, BBC, traces the rising popularity of homeschooling to the challenge that African American families faced with the frequent outbreak of violence in learning institutions.

The rising cases of shootings in schools and availability of narcotics have continued to rock American school, leaving millions of households in a dilemma.

It is estimated that about two million Americans homeschool their children -- the majority being white Christian families.

In Kenya, there is no legislation clearly defining homeschooling, but the official government policy provides for alternative basic education and training.

Dr Andrew Riechi, an education analyst, says homeschooling remains a fairly new concept in Kenya.

“It is an alternative model for delivering education and people take it up for different reasons, including the cost of schools,” Riechi said.

Most parents simply want to offer an education that is better than what is available in the public system, but the financial constraints make it an uphill task so they choose to teach their kids from home.

Nduta Waithiru, a mother of six, falls into that category. “I had reservations with the 8-4-4 system, but the cost to get them into alternative systems was too high,” says Waithiru.

Whatever reason for homeschooling children, parents have come to understand that not everybody will understand their decision.

“Going against the grain will always ruffle a few feathers,” says Canute. “I constantly have to explain myself and clarify to people about homeschooling and hope that they take lessons out of it.”

Canute says most of his friends and family were initially surprised and sceptical about the choice he had made.

Mary says that despite getting the support of her husband, she faced similar challenges, but the ground is slowly shifting.

There have been inferences to cults when it comes to homeschooling.

Nduta says parents who educate their children at home have been accused of belonging to cults that do not allow public schooling.

This claim, she says, is laughable because home-scholars get the same education as those in school.

Sophie Kihiu, a teacher and curriculum developer for home-schoolers, says the curriculum is not cast in stone. It is tailored to suit the family needs.

A wide range of systems of education is available such as the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education), which is most popular with home-scholars, British, American, 8-4-4 or a blend, which is known as the eclectic system.

“There are some things that ACE does not have or has that are not relevant locally. So I get different things from different systems that are relevant,” says Mary.

“Things like local history are not in the other systems so we use 8-4-4 for that.”

When it comes to evaluation of progress, the method varies from family to family. Some train their children and have them sit national exams such as Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), Kenya Certificate of Primary Educatin (KCPE), Key stage exams or General Certificate of Education (GCE) among others.

Commitment

The socialisation aspect of homeschooling has often been questioned on grounds of isolation the children are said to suffer.

But the parents have a different opinion. “Our children are not isolated from the rest,” says Mary.

“We had play dates when they were younger; we have weekly sessions where they get to interact with other home-scholars, including group outdoor sessions and combined classes.”

They also get to interact with other children after school.

Canute says that from his experience, being homeschooled does not mean you are always in the house.

It is just education facilitated at home. Interaction is part of children growing and we make sure that they have enough of it.

Nduta reckons that her children are better socialised as in their daily interactions when they meet people from all age groups.

For her it means they can interact well with adults as well as their peers.

These parents, however, warn that one has to deeply evaluate the decision to educate their children at home.

The commitment and financial implications must be examined before any solid decisions are made.

Canute says that the parent must provide constant supervision on the delivery of the knowledge and be hands on.

dwainainah@ke.nationmedia.com

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