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PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am


For the thousands of parents trying but failing to get a spot for their child at an English-speaking school this year, here's a thought. Let's turn lemons into lemonade.

As a parent who has recently been through the agony of placing a child in an international school, I understand and sympathise with what these parents are going through. But record-breaking waiting lists at international schools and the English Schools Foundation shouldn't mean that a child cannot receive a quality education.

First, if so many residents - local and expat - do not see the local school stream as a viable option, it means there's something fundamentally wrong with education here. If we want to be a cosmopolitan world city and attract high-calibre talent from other countries, we need to provide more English-speaking local schools.

But, in the meantime, let's take a closer look at homeschooling. It may not work for everyone, and it's not a long-term alternative to school. But I think it is an alternative that families should be entitled to.

Currently, the law in Hong Kong says that education in a school is compulsory for pupils aged six to 15. Although school attendance is mandatory, the Education Bureau exempts homeschooling families on a case-by-case basis. Most notably, 12-year-old prodigy Arjun Singh made the news for being one of the pupils allowed to study at home. But he is one of the lucky few.

Compulsory education in a school is a fine idea if there are enough places. But if the children of expatriates are unable to secure places in English-speaking schools and these children cannot speak or write enough Chinese to stand a chance in local schools, then making all pupils attend school is hindering their education.

The fact is, if we do not give these expat children a quality education, they will leave. So, we should offer all the options. Homeschooling has long been accepted in many developed countries. In the US alone, 1.5 million families homeschool their children. Recent studies have shown that homeschooled children typically score 34-39 percentile points higher than the average pupil on standardised tests.

As an educator and parent, I see many benefits to homeschooling - the tailored curriculum, the low pupil-to-teacher ratio, the flexibility, the access to more thorough knowledge, and the chance to take advantage of the outdoors, the museums and field trips. However, I also worry about the long-term side effects, particularly on social growth. I also worry about who will do the teaching: the parents themselves or an army of tutors and helpers?

Although these are serious concerns, I don't think it's right to ban homeschooling outright. I've seen homeschooled children who are well adjusted, intelligent and sociable. Ultimately, homeschooling should be a decision a family makes for itself. Given our problems of school placement, we can't afford to close our minds. Homeschooling might not solve our deeper education issues, but at least it buys some families time - time they currently don't have.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.