Homeschooling will not deter social skills, parents insist

Academics and educators believe that socialisation is an essential part of the educational process but parents who spoke to MaltaToday say children can hone social skills outside school

"School was never meant to be a place for socialisation in the first place" - parent Abigail Giuffre

Parents have insisted that homeschooling would not ultimately deter socialisation and the development of social skills in children.

The social media storm about whether or not the system is beneficial has persisted, a day after the government announced that one of the proposals in the recently unveiled Education Act is the legalisation of this teaching method.  

“Socialisation happens all the time, in fact, school was never meant to be a place for socialisation in the first place,” parent Abigail Giuffre told the newsroom. 

“Schools have a strict curriculum that does not allow time for socialisation, I would not consider 30 minute breaks as opportunities for socialisation,” she added. 

Giuffre has been vociferous in her support for homeschooling for years, and in 2014, she had written a letter and signed a petition along with 500 other mothers to make the option available in Malta. Although the option of homeschooling is available in specific cases where physically attending school is not possible due to illness, among other reasons, parents who feel that the local education system is inadequate have long been pushing for the system to be regulated and made more widely available.

Home-school kids have the opportunity to socialise with their family, neighbours the community around them and also have plenty of time for extra curricular activities and meet ups with other homeschoolers,” she said, rebutting claims that the teaching method would ultimately lead to social exclusion and go against efforts towards social inclusion. 

“As one of the parents who worked hard to see homeschooling legalised locally, I am very pleased at this step,” she said, adding that all the families who have worked for this to happen, have their child’s best interest at heart. 

Giuffre went on to stress that the system would also be treated with attention to ensure that no abuse would occur. Similarly, speaking at a public consultation on Monday night, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo reassured that home-schooling would not mean that parents could teach whatever they wished to their children.

“Educators will still require a teaching warrant, and each individual case will be assessed to ensure that homeschooling is always, and only provided in the best interest of the child,” Bartolo stressed.

“The government is in favour of allowing homeschooling, but it must be done with the students’ best interests at its core,” he said, adding that the decision to create the possibility was an attempt to alleviate the concerns of some parents who believed that homeschooling would be the best option for their children. 

Similarly, Giuffre went on to explain that parents who were in favour of home-schooling ultimately felt that personalized learning for individual students creates an opportunity for excellence that schools cannot cater for.

“Some members of the public are likening homeschool families with extremism. This is very hurtful and unlike the inclusive society that we should all be part of,” she said, adding that the parents in question had done a lot of research before coming to such a decision.

“It is a huge commitment and responsibility and none of us takes this lightly, and 'Bringing Education to the 21st Century' does resonate with the concept of homeschooling,” Giuffre went on. She further illustrated her argument by pointing out that homeschooling had been recognized for its merits in the majority of developed countries, including France, the UK, the USA and Australia among others.

However, the argument seems to have even academics divided, with some arguing that the option should indeed be made available to those who were unsatisfied with the local schooling system, while others counter that the only way to improve the teaching available is to tackle the challenges head-on, rather than to flee from them.

“My view is that education shouldn’t just be based on content and skills learned, but that socialising with different people, from different backgrounds is an essential part of the educational process,” St. Albert the Great College headmaster Mario Mallia.

Mallia goes on to explain that even if parents insist that homeschooled children could socialise with fellow home-schoolers, then the risk was that children would ultimately be confined to one social group.

“When children go to school, they meet people from different settings, and they learn to face the challenges that this might present in a safe environment,” he explained. 

“Social inclusion isn’t just for those with a disability, and the idea of individualisation goes against these efforts.”

Mallia said that although there were some exceptional cases where he supported the method, like for children whose parents travel a lot, or for others who are unwell, the local system should avoid falling into the trap of “creating rules for the exceptions.”

Responding to the concerns voiced by parents about the level of education available in local schools, Mallia explained that it would serve children and the community better to question wherein the difficulties lie, and to participate in identifying ways to address these issues. 

“The answer to solving the issues that the sector is facing is not to hide away from the rest of society,” he said, stressing that placing children in an essentially sterilized environment could lead to an elitist and exclusive way of life. 

Mallia also took issue with the idea of creating an “individualised” educational experience. He explained that the social and community context goes against this view and that flushing people out of the social context could not hope to prepare individuals for the realistic context.

“Ultimately I believe that this view depends on your definition of education,” he said, reiterating that the desire for an individualised experience could lead to practices like streaming, and hinder the creation of values like respect and inclusion.