Homeschooling UAE: What You Need to Consider

Homeschooling UAE: What You Need to Consider
By James Mullan
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Homeschooling is gaining popularity in the UAE. Ever increasing school fees, and the immense competition for places at schools deemed “the best” are part of the reason.

This is a highly complex and sensitive issue . Not only does it have legal and educational pitfalls, it is also highly dependent on the personalities of all parties, as well as the educational level of the adults involved. Not all parents are immediately ideal as homeschoolers; not all children cope well with this system. Good intentions, and reasonable levels of education, do not necessarily make a parent a suitable teacher.

For most educators, the first issue would be the social aspect. Home schooled children lose out on the company of their peers. Ask any child what the best part of their school day is and, with very few exceptions, they will come back with “playtime” or “break” or “central area time.” Friends and peer relationships are very important to children. Home schooled children lose out on the natural competitiveness of being surrounded by other children, on the rough and tumble of playing together. They lose out on the minor skirmishes that hone children’s skills in coming to terms with disappointment and coping with “issues.” A homeschooler, aware of this potential shortfall, can take steps to redress it. It is possible to enrol children in a greater number of after-school activities (they would probably do some anyway): sports, music and other forms of creative art classes.

Children can take part in external tuition where they interact with other children and experience a small amount of competition amongst peers. These places will also be the best source for friendships to be forged, which is vital for children’s healthy emotional development. Homeschooling parents must pay additional attention to providing their children with opportunities to make friends as well as to maintain friendships – which follow naturally from school life – so that their children too can participate in, and have, birthday parties, for example.

Home schooled children miss out on the necessary and at times challenging aspect of performing in a school play or assembly. Getting over stage fright, being proud of their role, working and rehearsing for it are all part of school life, imparting skills for life. It is impossible to replicate this at home so a drama class may be a way to achieve this.

Homeschooling is not as easy as one would think. The curriculum is far more diverse and complex than most people realise. It is not only about the “three Rs” any more, but so much more. Lots of skills are imparted, broken down sub skills, that as grown-ups we are barely aware of, but which are all steps towards successful learning - skills to analyse and think, estimate, conclude, cooperate, lead and guide, share and many more.

Few parents have the “know how” when it comes to ICT, music, DT, drama, foreign languages or sports. There is the issue, here in the Emirates, of Arabic as a foreign language. It is compulsory, by law, for a child being schooled here to learn it. How can the homeschooler ensure that their child is at the correct level for Arabic if they want the child to join a school at any point? In addition the maths, history, biology, geography curriculum is likely to have undergone huge changes in the years since the parent went to school. Different exam boards, different governments all have their own expected way of teaching and standards; the envisaged educational autonomy may not be as great as homeschoolers hope.

However, for many of these seeming obstacles there are solutions these days. There are very comprehensive home schooling programmes available that address most of these issues. They also serve to ensure that no area of the curriculum is neglected or forgotten. They assist with providing assessments and resources, on-line content in the form of lessons and experiments. YouTube and on-line resources provide a plethora of choices, many of them outstanding in content. With the help of the internet home schooling has never been easier!

Homeschooling requires a great deal of time, less than attending school, but nonetheless most of each school day. It necessitates discipline – you cannot constantly be on the phone or doing the laundry at the same time. Multitasking for the parent is only possible for a small part of the time. If looking at the dirty floor, and wilting plants is going to annoy a parent, then their attention is not going to be undivided on the task of teaching. It is necessary to own some equipment, such as a range of books, a computer, perhaps an iPad and some more items. (It is possible to pool some resources with fellow homeschoolers.) A quiet and pleasant area in the home has to be created where undisturbed work can take place.

Fellow parents tend to be very sceptical and unsupportive. This puts both the parent and their children in an awkward situation. In company, a homeschooler may find that they spend time defending their choice.

Sometimes, even the most loving and dedicated parent, finds the company of his or her children, 24 hours a day, extremely challenging. People who home school cannot really opt out as they are the only “teacher.” This can make them a little less accepting and patient when a child does not understand a topic. Though natural, this could affect both the learning and the teaching negatively. Unlike other adults, a home schooling parent has virtually no time at all on their own, free of children. This can prove quite a mental strain at times.

The advantages of home schooling for the children, as well as for the family, can be far reaching of course.

Primary amongst them is cost. Schooling here in the Emirates for most expatriate children has to be private schooling, which brings with it a heavy financial commitment. There is no alternative for non-Arabic speakers.

However, for home schooling to work effectively, one parent has to stay at home, leading to the loss of the second income. If that parent was not working anyway, this is not necessarily an issue.

A very positive aspect, and for many the most crucial one is, that the home schooled child is able to learn at his or her pace. This can be fantastic, but also dangerous. Some topics will really appeal to a child and they can spend more time on it, or if there is something they do not grasp and need more practice on, they have the opportunity to do that too. Gifted or struggling children are both automatically afforded the time either in the form of extension or in the form of additional time to achieve their personal potential.

However, it is all too easy for a parent to think that their child is doing well, when they cannot compare to peers. The top and bottom students in classes provide a wide range, and all children should be somewhere on that scale. It is not easy to gauge that when home schooling. It is not only about the “results,” but also about the interaction with the topic, the depth of understanding and the skill to know how to tackle a topic differently when a child does not “get it.”

When home schooling, you can pick your schedule. You are no longer part of the daily traffic jams to and from school. In fact, you have no school runs at all, dramatically cutting down on time spent in cars. If your children are slow to start in the morning, your “school day” can run from 9am onwards. If a split shift ensures optimal effectiveness, you can organise your day that way.

You could have shorter days over 6 days a week, or entire days on a subject or topic at a time. You can visit museums, shows and take holidays at times convenient for you and often for less money. Your holidays are flexible, they do not need to be in the summer or spring – they are when you take them. Obviously, this is an optimal choice, often the only choice, if you have a child struggling with serious disease, who may not be able to attend school anyway.

Here in the UAE the KHDA is responsible for children entering private education. In their view home schooling is a viable option which does not have to be forever. It may be used as an alternative, if, for example, a child is struggling with illness. The child can return into mainstream schooling after being home schooled, provided they are of the correct academic level and enrolled in the correct year group for their actual age at the time. Finding a place at a suitable school that you like, may become a challenge of course.

In a traditional school setting, an amazing amount of time is spent on things that are not learning. The transitioning from one lesson to another, the walking from one room to another, the changing of activity, the changing from swimming kit into uniform or PE kit for a class of children takes a long time. There are no assemblies or gatherings during the day. The focus can be entirely on learning. The setting and the equipment can be ready. Time is flexible, so an activity can run on, and another be postponed, if that fits in well with the learning outcome.

For most homeschoolers, the shedding of an adherence to school calendars, time-tables, projects, homework and many other school defined constraints are a major positive. Some feel that peace descends on them with the flexibility they gain.

Whatever your reasons for home schooling, be sure to read up extensively before you start. Talk to as many other parents, join a group, and research the law for your particular location. As with all life experiences, anticipating what it is like does not prepare you adequately. Reading others’ advice and learning from their mistakes prevents many potential failures.

Try to get together with other homeschoolers regularly. Support each other, do things together, pool your resources – including your skills and time. Get your children doing things together, such as sports or art or trips out. This contributes both to the social aspect for all of you, as well as providing you with a sounding board and an advisory service for difficult times. Life surrounded by children is challenging at times. Homeschooling is also a huge commitment as the education and progress of your children is literally in your hands.

The choice is never easy and the journey is never only smooth. Good luck with whichever educational path you select for your children!

There are a number of sources where parents can receive advice about homeschooling including iCademy Middle East www.icademymiddleeast.com, Emirates Homeschooling https://uaehomeschool.wordpress.com, Abu Dhabi Homeschoolers Association www.abudhabihomeschoolers.org as well as private tuition companies such as Carfax, www.carfax-dubai.ae

 

Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children

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