Hong Kong parents who support homeschooling tap a global trend of progressive thinking on education
Yaro Czarnecki says homeschooling is accepted in many parts of the world that respect people's right to decide what constitutes a good education
A story about a Hong Kong father's decision to homeschool his 11-year-old son has provoked much comment in the community. To understand homeschooling better, we should look at it in a wider context.
Homeschooling is broadly accepted around the world. Notably, it is widely supported in the so-called Anglosphere nations of Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, where some 2-3 per cent of school-age children are homeschooled.
Homeschooling is also legal in many European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland and Poland; in some of these, the right to homeschool is explicitly guaranteed by the constitution.
In these countries, the right to homeschool is part of a broader consensus about freedom of association, limited government, and individual rights - in this case, the rights of parents. For many citizens, a state that has the power to compel parents to submit their children to one specific kind of education is too intrusive. The normative, "correct" socialisation of children that is seen as one of the benefits of school attendance among many Hong Kong parents is precisely what homeschooling parents seek to avoid.
Modern education that features homogenous groups of same-aged students is a relatively recent development. In the last 50 years or so, we have become accustomed to assume that confining children to long hours in a classroom environment from early childhood to their late teens or even longer is natural and good, but it is still too early to judge the full effects of this arrangement. In many countries that allow homeschooling, such students are required to follow a basic curriculum, and to pass a national exam at the end of every school year, together with their school-attending peers. The advantage of this approach is that it does not confuse method with result, process with purpose.
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A common argument for homeschooling in Hong Kong centres on the spoon-fed character of formal schooling. Some parents may prefer to homeschool from strong religious convictions, while others have a counter-cultural objection to conformity.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to homeschooling in Hong Kong lies in the need of at least one parent to devote most of his or her time to the children. As such, this is part of a broader lifestyle choice. A rejection of the modern education industry goes together with a suspicion of consumerism, and with a broader sense of what defines success in life. Homeschooling parents have a hunch that the influence they have on their children may be the most consequential work they could ever do.
Dr Yaro Czarnecki is a co-founder of Gaia Language Hong Kong, where he teaches Latin