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December 07, 2015

U.S.-Irish Partnership Stimulates Homeschool Community

Mike Donnelly
HSLDA Director of Global Outreach

Mike Donnelly Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly is HSLDA’s director of global outreach.

Vendors contribute curriculum to help make homeschool conference a success; Irish families ready to “press on”

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In July, the Irish Christian Home Education Association (ICHEA) held what will become an annual conference for homeschooling families. Meeting in Athlone, midway between the coastal cities of Dublin and Galway, the conference attracted nearly 100 parents for a weekend of encouragement and empowerment. Attendees heard from speakers, reviewed curriculum, and discussed how to protect homeschooling freedom in Ireland.

The conference, organized and run by just a handful of parent volunteers, was ICHEA’s first official conference. The association used the opportunity to launch itself as a national organization supporting Christian homeschoolers in Ireland. Though home education is legal in Ireland—and even mentioned in its constitution—homeschooling parents face many obstacles there.

“One of the biggest challenges Christian homeschoolers face is opposition from other Christians who do not homeschool,” said Ruth Redmond, an ICHEA representative. She explained, “There is a lack of understanding among Christians here as to the extent of the influences that the atheistic school system has on their children.”

As a result, homeschoolers do not get much support from other families or their churches.

Curriculum challenges

In addition to misunderstandings about the benefits of homeschooling, Irish homeschooling families must also overcome the often difficult process of integrating a Christian worldview into their child’s education.

“Ireland has a reputation of being very academic. There is a huge importance [placed] on getting into college,” explains Redmond. Because of this, Christians intending to homeschool are likely to use curriculum that has previously been accepted by universities.

Irish universities are highly competitive, and the government has great influence over what curriculum is acceptable. So parents have to choose between the secular curriculum of public schools or a Christian curriculum that may not be accepted by the university system. It is possible for Irish home educated children to attend college, but the College Applications Office accepts few Christian alternative curricula.

“We have found from talking to parents that they are eager to teach a biblical curriculum, but there just aren’t any available [in Ireland],” Redmond said. “We were grateful to partner with U.S.–based companies such as All About Learning Press, Alpha Omega Publications, Apologia, Biola University, Homeschool Buyers Co–op, Mango Languages, Paradigm Accelerated Curriculum, and Supercharged Science, to make samples of their curriculum available to our conference attendees. Parents were excited to take the samples just to try them out and see if they worked. We were so encouraged by the support from these providers.”

According to Redmond, ICHEA is hoping to further promote Christian curriculum, looking into creative partnerships to reduce high shipping costs and developing a starter pack for families to ease the transition from secular to Christian curriculum.

HSLDA goes to Ireland

Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach and a homeschool dad himself, delivered a number of energizing talks to parents at the ICHEA conference. While in Ireland, he was also interviewed by Spirit Radio (listen to the interview here). Speaking to the show’s host, Wendy Grace, Donnelly identified with Irish parents and shared from his family’s personal experience, saying that “home education allows parents to tailor education to the unique characteristics, gifts, talents, abilities, interests of their child.”

Donnelly noted that he and his family homeschool for many of the same reasons as families around the world.

“A commitment to what’s best for your child, an individualized education, religious or philosophical convictions—these are just a few of the reasons that parents are motivated to homeschool,” Donnelly said. “Many other factors exist as well—bullying and safety concerns, low academic standards in traditional schools, or a desire to be personally involved in directing the education of your child. I travel often in my capacity as HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, and I find that homeschool parents around the world are not so different from each other. Different countries, cultures, locations, yes. But the desire to give their child the best educational experience possible is the same.”

Pressing on

Looking to the future, ICHEA leaders hope to continue the conference.

“It was intended to have the conference every two years, but feedback from our attendees has made us rethink this,” said Redmond. “We now think that a yearly conference is best for our members’ encouragement. Everyone was so encouraged and ready to press on.”

As Redmond noted, “We felt that God was confirming to us that there were lots of people needing support and there are even more people wanting to homeschool through Christian means and are unable or unaware that this is a possibility to them. We have made it our mission to contact the churches in Ireland throughout the next year and promote home education through a Christian worldview.”

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