During a difficult financial period for their family, Wambui Muthami and her husband made a decision not very common at the time. Wambui had been fired from her job, and her husband, a businessman, was going through an entrepreneurial recession. For three years, the couple pulled their children out of school and Wambui taught them at home. Their son Alvin was 15, and their daughter Ashley 8.
In the West, the home-schooling movement began in the 1970s. Research released by the BBC shows that 48,000 children were being home-educated across the UK in 2016-2017 and in the US, 1.7 million children were being home-schooled as at 2016.
Ms Mary Muriuki, the founder of Elimu Nyumbani is known as one of the pioneering parents of homeschooling in Kenya. She has successfully home-schooled her own children over the last 16 years from kindergarten through to high school. They are now adults.
Over the years, more Kenyan parents, have for various reasons made the decision to home-school their children.
Dorcas Mutai took this option because she wanted more for her children than what the Kenyan 8-4-4 system of education, which was in place at the time, offered. She says the early mornings and excessive homework for their then 7-year-old son, Nathan, made them consider other options.
“Not only did he have to rush through breakfast, but he had lessons from 7am to 8 am before the ‘normal’ school programme began. He barely had time to play in the evenings. I was afraid that he would hate school by the time he was in Class 5,” Dorcas says.
“The focus on academics worried me since I knew my sons loved swimming and soccer yet this was not being nurtured enough. As a home educator, I am able to focus on their God-given talents. Academics come in without being the only focus of education,” she adds.
Shiko Nguru and her partner were concerned over their eight-year-old daughter Ella’s education.
“The focus was on cramming for exams, but we knew she was capable of much more. When the new curriculum was introduced, she began to express frustration over the learning pace. She complained that they were learning ‘the same stuff all over again’ or that they were learning ‘too slowly’. At this point the search for alternatives began and, after looking at different schools and systems, we realised that nobody was offering the type of education that we wanted for her.”
For Shiko’s family, homeschooling provides an opportunity to individualise learning so that they can capitalise on the child’s strengths and work on weaknesses at her pace.
“We also didn’t feel like the school system valued character development in children. Our home-school goal is to raise children who are not just competent but who are also imbued with character and with Christ,” Shiko says.
Both Wangui and Dorcas chose the Accelerated Christian Education system while Shiko took on the American System.
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“The ACE curriculum is already well-developed and packaged. All we needed to do was have our then 7-year-old take a diagnostic test which then placed him in the correct grade. It also prescribed the correct instructional materials based on his understanding as opposed to doing it based on his age alone,” Dorcas says.
To the question on how their families reacted to their decisions, Dorcas replies, “My husband was and has remained super supportive. Our families took a while to understand what exactly we were doing, however, we never encountered any opposition. This really helped us settle in to our routine faster because we had nothing to prove to anyone.”
It was a similar case for Shiko, who chimes, “My partner was fully on board as we had the same issues with conventional school. My family became supportive after I explained how homeschooling ‘works’. A lot of people come around once you explain the rationale and benefits. As the primary educator in the home I have received tonnes of moral support from my partner and family - they have all been willing to pitch in and help when called upon. At the beginning of our journey, my dad even conducted a history lesson of life in Kenya during the colonial era!”
Wangui’s family, however, struggled with the concept at the beginning. “My husband found it difficult to understand any non-conventional learning models. To this day, he has not found it a suitable model despite inviting him for visits and consultation sessions. This was not a popular system during that time. More awareness and positivity has come up in last five years or so.”
It is not a ‘cheap’ alternative
Aside from the time investment, home-schooling has the potential of being more expensive that most would imagine. Shiko says they currently spend roughly Sh40,000 on textbooks every year and another Sh40,000 per term on extracurricular activities such as piano, computer coding, scouts, swimming and more.
“We needed to register with the School of Tomorrow under the Oaks Academy umbrella which governs all ACE home schoolers at a fee. Our continuing costs include sourcing for PACEs (bite-sized, achievable work texts) as the children go through their grades, and borrowing library materials. We pay for independent swimming lessons, football coaching and language classes. I am the financial controller in this respect, so we prefer to source for our materials annually, and pay for the extra-curricular classes on a monthly or weekly basis. It is quite an investment!” adds Dorcas.
Shiko and Dorcas report that the children did adapt well after a slight adjustment period for both learner and educator. They have noted a massive improvement in their children’s overall social and academic progress so far, and are optimistic of a bright future ahead. They review progress with continuous tests and will register for national or international exams as private candidates.
Home-schooling may not be for everyone
A home schooling family should, in most cases, be able to live comfortably on a single partner’s income. Experts have been known to point out that home schooling may delay a child’s social skills, especially if one gets into it to save time and money. It may also be a bad choice if the parent doesn’t have the necessary skills, time, patience and perseverance to be a competent educator.
“There are specific reasons that can make home-school fail,” Wambui shares. “Remember that there has to be a parent on who should give up their plans to be there full time. You’ll need a dedicated and suitable ‘learning’ space or a room set up to accommodate them. You also can’t jump from one curriculum to another; and in some cases, getting the resources to support your chosen curriculum means importing from UK, South Africa or the USA.”
Shiko concurs that homeschooling a child needs dedication. “It is very much a calling -- and not everyone is called to it. A lot of people are gifted in other areas and would not find it fulfilling to spend 8 hours every day educating their children. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone home-schools unless they feel deep down, without a shadow of doubt, that it is exactly what they are meant to be doing with their lives, and the best decision for their family as a whole,” she says.
Dorcas points out that lately homeschooling has been taken as a ‘fad’. “People may jump on it because it’s the cool thing to do. That will definitely not work. It isn’t something to go into if you have a ‘plan B’ or if you want to save money. It has to be your only plan,” she says.
She adds that homeschooling can get very expensive, especially when sourcing for individual extra-curricular activities like music field trips, or any specialised fields.
“If your partner is not in agreement, it will never work. You need someone ready to hear you out at the end of the day from a place of understanding,” Wambui says. “The whole family they need to give total support to both the learner n supervisor without interference.”
Dorcas also says that home-schooling is not the way to go for people who approach education as a purely academic endeavour. “Education is life. When you think about it that way, it will work beautifully.”
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