Education ministry issues 400 homeschooling applications

Associate editor — features

Monday, September 21, 2020

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WHEN the new school year formally begins in October, in excess of 400 students could be missing from the formal registers, their parents opting instead to homeschool them.

That's according to the Ministry of Education which told the Jamaica Observer in an emailed response last week that since April 2020, when the potentially life-threatening coronavirus started taking root in the country, it has responded to 400 requests for application forms for homeschooling.

Twenty of those applications have since been completed and returned, the Ministry said.

Of those, 15 are from parents of children at the primary level, and the remaining five from parents of students at high school. A further breakdown of the figure indicates that 14 of the applications involve children enrolled in independent schools, with the remaining six enrolled in public institutions.

“Due to the current effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there exists a growing demand to establish home schools, which forms part of the paradigm shift and an alternative to the public education system,” the ministry said.

The demand is evidenced on social media where users are posting advertisements for trained teachers and/or tutors to take their children through assigned curricula.

One educator who is responding to the demand, Brittany Singh Williams, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that she receives two to three calls on the subject each day.

“Initially, in August, I noticed that people were considering this so I started the Pod School with a colleague. Together, we now have teachers on rotation working with 25 families in small pods of five.

“The requests to homeschool on this scale are definitely a new phenomena in response to COVID; I was never receiving these requests before, even moreso, the willingness to explore alternative approaches to learning,” she said.

Singh Williams said the majority of these requests have so far come from families with children in private schools.

The school year is set to begin on October 5, having been delayed by a month in the wake of a recent spike in COVID-19 numbers. Some private schools have, however, stuck to the original September reopening, albeit exclusively online.

The Ministry of Education, meanwhile, said outside of 400 new requests to homeschool, 103 home schools are already registered in the island, with a further 35 being processed.

Homeschooling, by definition, differs from distance learning in that it refers to teaching and learning directed by the parent/caregiver, while the latter relies on direction from a registered school or other educational institution, with or without parental supervision.

“Homeschooling involves parent/s or guardian/s taking on the task of educating his/her/their children in the familiar, controlled setting of the home. The homeschool system allows children to work at their own pace, in which teaching and learning is facilitated by parents, family member or a trained tutor at the expense of the parent/guardian,” the ministry explained.

Home schools are regulated by the Independent Schools Unit (ISU) in the ministry and governed by the Education Act, 1965, and the Independent Schools' Regulation, 1973.

The two pieces of legislation state that “It is the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age residing in a compulsory education area to cause him her to receive full-time education suitable to his age, ability and satisfactory to the educational board for the area, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”.

The ISU outlined that each parent who wishes to register a child in a home school must complete an application form, which it said may be scanned along with the required certified documents and emailed. It said that where scanning is not available documents may be submitted at the regional offices to the assistant registrars.

Once the application is submitted, an acknowledgement email will be sent to parents indicating the receipt of the documents and that processing has been initiated, the unit said.

An interview is next, following which the status of the application is communicated to the parent.

Later, an inspection is conducted during which an officer will observe teaching-learning sessions and provide feedback to the parent/tutor accordingly.

As with traditional schooling, the home school is required to periodically assess students and keep records of such assessment. They are required to submit copies of signed progress reports to the ISU at the end of each term using the prescribed forms, and are mandated to keep a portfolio of students' work.

“This portfolio will contain samples of [the] student's work, student's projects, and pictures depicting [the] student's involvement in social and other skills-based activities. [It] must be presented to or shown to the officer during an inspection session. Also, this portfolio becomes necessary if the student will be immersed in the public system in the future,” the ministry said.

They are also required to register homeschool students for national assessments.

“Parents and guardians who choose to homeschool their children must take full responsibility to ensure that their children are educated in a safe and conducive learning environment, guided by the standards provided by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the education ministry said it has no indication so far that any private school will permanently close its doors as a result of the fallout from COVID-19, neither is it aware of any students from private schools seeking placement in public schools.

The ISU said based on a survey it launched on June 18 to ascertain empirical data as to the state of readiness of independent educational institutions for the reopening of schools, and to which 116 independent schools, of a full complement of around 150, responded, only one school indicated that closure is an option.

“From the data collected, it was revealed that all schools were well advanced in their preparation for the reopening of schools guided by the protocols promulgated in the Education in Emergencies: A manual for the Reopening of [Educational Institutions]as developed by the [ministry],” the ministry reported.

“Nevertheless, schools also indicated that there are challenges that they are faced with that will likely have an impact on the reopening of school for the academic year 2020-2021. Some of these responses include: funding, instructional space in light of distancing, availability of technological devices, Internet services, and uncertainty based on the student population.

“Unfortunately, one school indicated that closure is an option [but] the ISU met with the school board to examine the issues and proposed a way forward. The officer assigned to that school has been working with the school to navigate a way forward. The institution has submitted a revised prospectus and they are currently working on a proposal,” it continued.

The closure of one private school in Kingston was previously reported on. It wasn't clear if that school was captured in the ministry's data.

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