All around the world, families are choosing to homeschool. Today on Home School Heartbeat, our guest Stuart Chapman introduces us to homeschoolers in the Land Down Under.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Stuart Chapman. He’s the director of Homeschool W.A., a Christian organization that helps homeschoolers in Australia. Stuart, welcome to the program today!
Stuart Chapman: Very glad to be on the program, Mike, and greetings from all the Aussies doing home education down under!
Mike: Well thank you, Stuart. Can you tell us a bit about the Australian homeschooling community—how many families are homeschooling right now, and a little bit about what they are like?
Stuart: Mike, I just completed a survey and found that there were around 12,000 students formally registered for home education in 2013 across Australia. But if you allow for those who choose not to register, the number would be closer to 30,000. It’s the fastest growing sector of the education market.
Though Aussie homeschoolers are a diverse group, we are passionate, we are highly networked, we are politically active, and we have a healthy disdain for bureaucrats who do not respect our freedoms and choices.
Mike: Well Stuart, that’s great! What motivates these families to homeschool?
Stuart: Well, there are those who have always wanted to homeschool their children and begin their research from the time their first child is born. But what we are now finding is that the home education demographic is changing. An increasing number of families are choosing to homeschool because of a crisis, whether it be bullying, poor academic performance in a school, or that their child has a learning difficulty which requires one-on-one instruction which the schools just cannot provide.
Mike: Stuart, tell us a bit about your background. How did you find yourself directing a homeschool support group down there in Australia?
Stuart: When we started our homeschooling journey twenty years ago, there was little support for home educators. The internet was primitive and our numbers were small. But we saw that there was a real need. What we wanted to offer was a full package, something that no one else was doing: academic support, home visits, networking, awards nights, Christian libraries, career advice, and the big one, pastoral care.
We knew that many people came out of the school system damaged and hurt. They needed people who they could trust and give them hope where previously there was only frustration and pain.
Mike: Well Stuart, what is the mission of Homeschool W.A., and how do you carry out that mission?
Stuart: Mike, we say the hardest part of the homeschooling journey is starting. Once families take that huge step of pulling their child out of school, we find that their confidence soars and they never look back. So what we do is help them through that process. We provide academic support. We meet with every family face to face and help them to overcome all their doubts and fears. We also provide advice on how to deal with the government officials who come to inspect their education programs in their homes.
Mike: Stuart, what kinds of academic needs do Australian homeschoolers have?
Stuart: Broadly speaking, parents in Australia have three areas of academic needs. The first is in early childhood, when their children are learning to read. The second is when the children move into middle and upper secondary years, where many parents get anxious and feel that they may be getting out of their depths. The third area, which affects all parents, is completing all the documentation that zealous government officials are increasingly imposing on home educators. This is a particular problem as the state government bureaucracies are notorious for changing their own curriculum every few years.
Mike: Well Stuart, that makes sense. And how do you help these families meet all these academic and government needs?
Stuart: We have both early childhood and secondary teachers all the way through to year twelve. We also provide diagnostic testing on commencement, so that children are starting at a level which is just right for them. But the most important thing is helping parents who are often initially lacking in confidence to become engaged and excited about home education. When the parents are confident, relaxed, and positive, the children thrive. We also have teachers in every state in Australia who know the local laws and regulations and are able to provide advice on registration issues.
Mike: Stuart, Homeschool W.A. also helps Australian homeschoolers with their nonacademic needs. Would you tell us more about that as well?
Stuart: Mike, we believe that the Great Commission is to make disciples. The best example of discipleship in the Bible is Jesus and his relationship with the twelve apostles. The interesting thing is that many churches talk about discipleship but fail to mention that the twelve actually lived with Jesus. They saw him in the morning, throughout the day, and late at night when he was tired.
We believe that home education is a perfect opportunity for discipleship to be lived out in practice. Our staff, through phone calls, home visits, and prayer, quietly reinforces this wonderful opportunity, this window of opportunity that parents have with their children. Our program is Christ-centered, and that naturally provides opportunities for children to talk about God in every subject with their parents. They learn through the program that every good thing that comes to us is a gift of God.
Our staff also has a significant pastoral role, as quite a few families are not regular churchgoers. We have helped families to reengage with church, worship, and fellowship, and a number of families have discovered faith in Christ through simply reading our curriculum or through counseling and prayer with our staff. We give all the praise to God.
Mike: Stuart, why is it so important for homeschoolers to find support networks and stay engaged in them?
Stuart: Well, Australians are very mobile; we move around a lot! Many families have emigrated from overseas to come here, but in so doing they leave their traditional support networks behind. On our own we can feel overwhelmed. But when we meet, we can share our burdens and encourage one another. We have found that homeschoolers that regularly meet and network with each other stay the course longer.
On average, people in Australia homeschool for about three to four years. Many only last a year or six months before they find it all too hard and put their child back in school. This is why we run activities for different ages and for different interests, to encourage families to get to know each other and to build community. It is vital to do so in this world when most streets and parks are empty during the day.
Mike: Stuart, is there anything else you’d like to share with us here in America about homeschooling?
Stuart: Mike, an American said to me some years ago, “We have the best and the worst of everything.” I don’t know about that, but we give thanks for the wonderful homeschool movement in the US, and how your fight for freedom has made it easier for home educators around the world. We love the homeschooling curriculum choices you provide, your books, your blogs, your leadership, and your passion. God bless you.
Mike: Stuart, thank you for introducing us to homeschooling life in the Land Down Under—and thanks so much for joining us this week! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.