Updated 28 January 2015

Schooling: when one size doesn't fit all

If you feel that your child isn't coping in mainstream schooling, it may be time to start considering alternate options that could provide a better learning environment.


Schooling should be a fairly simple affair: take child to school near home or work.  The reality is so far from this, it can be a nightmare, especially when the consideration comes in on the type of schooling, which is generally broken down into three categories: mainstream, remedial and special needs.

Doing what is best for the child

When those are your options, the decision is as clear as mud (and yes, even children with special needs may be accommodated in a mainstream school). It all boils down to that catchy phrase of whatever is “in the best interest of the child”.

The truth is: doing what is best for the child ultimately would mean finding an environment that suits that specific child, not an environment designed to fit the average child. If your child is one who enjoys their school, this article may provide an interesting read, but is not intended to sway your opinion.

As a parent you are in the best position to know what type of teacher your child needs. You know if it would be better to start schooling your early bird at 5am or your night owl at 2pm; you know if your child would be more organised working in set books or filing work as it is completed; or if youTube could get the information across better simply because it is delivered from an electronic device rather than a person with whom eye contact is made.

Ask any traditional school to allow your child to start at 2pm and scoffs may be heard all round. But this is a possibility if you homeschool. For some reason, however, homeschooling has a bad reputation with the parents viewed as over protective or controlling; or worse yet that there may be something wrong, socially or academically, with the homeschooled child.

Read: Bullying a problem in SA schools

Different options when it comes to homeschooling

This form of educating and learning allows flexibility around time, venue, material and pace. Technically speaking, you could buy a multitude of books on different topics and simply read and research with your child to broaden their knowledge on anything. Writing a book review, letter to the author or creative piece on what has been read, develops the art of writing and practices grammar. Math can be taught through real life problem solving such as quartering a recipe or calculating angles to build a tree house. 

If this seems too airy-fairy, there are a number of set curricula available with lesson plans and schedules which guide parents through their teaching; some will include ideas of outings to correspond with a topic, making it more hands-on. Children in mainstream schools cannot wait for their next outing; imagine telling them they could go on one, two or three outings a month!

A discussion on homeschooling wouldn’t be complete without someone asking “what about socialising?” Given that homeschoolers have the option of learning at different times, they have the opportunity to take part in club sports or cultural activities.

With the upswing in homeschooling over the past few years, there are numerous support networks in place who share their outing ideas; even the Northgate ice-rink has accommodated homeschoolers. Furthermore, these children tend to be better socially equipped to deal with peers of various ages as they are not limited to interacting with a single age group. There is a but here: it can be easy to fall into a trap of staying at home and relying on a child’s innate ability to seek out friends if and when the opportunity presents itself. Planning outings, sports, cultural activities and play dates must be given as much consideration as the academics.

Parenting influences child's academic success

But we work all day.

Not a problem: although, according to Sec 51 of the SA Schools Act, which makes provision for homeschoolers, learning must take place at the child’s own home, there is no stipulation that homeschooling be done by the parent.  Make no mistake, parents remain the drivers of their child’s education and are required to ensure the education provided is in the child’s best interest. This is in fact true for any parent: should anything be taught at a registered school which is not in a child’s best interest, legally the parent must intervene.

Who can afford a personal tutor every day?

Homeschooling turns out cheaper, even with a tutor, than sending a child to an independent school.  Consider alone the money saved by buying less stationery, minimal class supplies, no school uniforms etc.

If the idea of homeschooling is just perfect for your child but is not feasible for whatever reason, there is one last avenue to consider which comes with more controversy than homeschooling (a good time to make of tea perhaps?)

Read: Engaged kids more likely to stay in school

Cottage school, learning centre, small school, homeschool away from home (existing homeschoolers I know this is not a correct term) these expressions referto small environments that expand on the homeschooling ethos of working with each child’s strengths, but offers some structure in terms of times and venue while maintaining the flexibility needed. The controversy comes in in that most of these centres refrain from registering with the Department of Education.

These centres may be justified in their actions only so long as the type of education they offer cannot be accessed in a school in the area, all the children educated through the centre require the type of instruction offered, and if registering with the Department of Education impedes the offered instruction.

By their nature, registered schools offer a standard and method that is applicable to most children, or the average child.  Parents wishing to follow an alternative means of education are advised to join the Pestalozzi Trust which is a legal defence fund protecting the rights of parents to choose their child’s education. 

The phase of education identified as FET (Further Education and Training) consists of grades 10-12. Unfortunately it is at this point that even the most diverse education system becomes regulated, and homeschoolers or those attending learning centres must register with a service provider that is able to offer a senior certificate of some kind.  Fortunately, there are options here too: one can register with a group offering the national senior certificate, or the American or Cambridge equivalents.

The bottom line is, while anything different is likely to come with a scare factor, pushing through will more often than not yield benefits that far outweigh the scare. And with our great country’s laws providing the opportunities to do what is best for our children’s education, why let a bit of scare stop you?

This article was written by Delia Tranter, Health24's resident ADHD expert.

Read more:

Help your teen get better grades

10 back-to-school health checks
ADHD should be recognised and treated earlier

Image: Pretty little girl enjoys learning and doing some homework from Shutterstock


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