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January 28, 2014

Moving Homeschooling Forward in Africa

Michael P. Donnelly
Director of International Relations

Homeschoolers pray for one another at the 11th Annual East African Homeschool Conference.

The 11th Annual East African Homeschool Conference was held in Karen, Kenya January 14-16. After working with the Kenyan homeschool community during debate over a new education law I was pleased to be able to participate as their keynote speaker. Hundreds participated in the event held just outside Nairobi, Kenya.

During my time in East Africa I found that although our continents are separated by thousands of miles, the issues we face as homeschoolers aren’t that different. During one presentation, I asked whether anyone had ever been asked about “socialization.” As the crowd laughed in recognition, I was struck by the fact that though I have traveled to a number of other countries I still find this is a common misperception that many societies share about homeschooling. It made me think how much publicly funded institutional education has shaped societal attitudes about the purpose of education in its relatively brief 200 or so years of history.

During breaks, conference attendees shared with me common challenges that I have heard at dozens of homeschool conferences in America: skeptical family members, a society that puts teaching in the professional class, balancing work and family, and understanding the “how” of homeschooling.

More Freedom Needed

Although the current education law in Kenya allows for informal as well as private education, homeschoolers hope to gain more explicit legal protection. While some homeschoolers have been questioned by authorities in Kenya, no prosecutions have been reported. Two years ago I worked with Kenyan homeschoolers while their parliament debated a new education law. Unfortunately, the parliament did not adopt proposed language that would have recognized homeschooling. However, legal uncertainty has not stopped the growth of homeschooling in that nation.

The families attending the conference averaged about five years of homeschooling experience and were not aware of the political forces at work with the potential to thwart their desire to teach their own children at home. I explained the global homeschool movement’s struggles in countries such as Germany and Sweden.

After viewing a video clip about the Johanssons, a family in Sweden who lost custody of their son Domenic because of their decision to homeschool, one of the mothers called for prayer. As the entire room spent several minutes in small groups praying for the JohanssonsI emailed Domenic’s father, Christer Johansson, who was greatly moved by the thought that hundreds of African homeschoolers were thinking and praying about his situation thousands of miles away. After gaining an appreciation of the challenges facing the homeschool movement around the world, a number of East African homeschoolers shared with me their determination to develop stronger networks to defend their families and to support those interested in home education.

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly is HSLDA’s director of international relations. Read more >>

Closer Ties

After the homeschool conference 30 leaders representing the greater East African homeschool community met to discuss creating networks to advance homeschooling freedom in Africa. Participants from Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa presented overviews of homeschooling in their own countries and brainstormed ways to protect the continent’s fledgling homeschool movement. I was privileged to attend the meeting, which Home School Legal Defense Association helped organize.

Advocates pointed to the sheer magnitude of poverty in Africa as an obstacle to homeschooling’s growth. Many people live on the edge of survival and even basic education often seems out of reach. However, participants told me and shared stories of how African parents value education and are willing to do whatever it takes to give their children academic opportunities.

A homeschooling mother and missionary to Tanzania shared how she had come alongside a Tanzanian woman who was illiterate, helping her learn to read so that she could homeschool her children.

“This mother wanted more for her children,” said the missionary, Sarah M. “But in her mind teaching had to happen in a school and had to be done by professional certified teachers. It was a blessing to come alongside this very poor mother, who lived in a mud-floor hut, and help open her mind to the notion that she could teach her children and learn herself.”

Holly, another missionary to Tanzania, has set up a resource centers to help children learn critical thinking skills.

“This is a walking society,” she said. “You can only reach people in a five- to ten-mile radius because of the lack of transportation. I’d love to set up more resource centers where these poor children and their parents could benefit from homeschooling concepts. There is only so much we can do, but we do as much as we can. What a blessing it has been to have HSLDA here and to hear from others in Africa about how homeschooling can reach more people with education.”

Engaging Students

During my time in Kenya, I was also able to give a lecture at the law center of Strathmore University in Nairobi. The dean of the school, Luis Franceschi, referenced homeschooling freedom in his regular column in one of Kenya’s largest newspapers. Franceschi pointed out the problem with not recognizing homeschooling in a country where nearly 200,000 children who should be in school are not because of limited infrastructure.

“Another quick fix may be to recognize the right of parents to homeschool,” he added. “After all, what the government needs to do is to regulate the outcome. This is done through the national exam. In emergency situations it is always a priority to regulate the outcome instead of regulating the process itself.”

The students who heard my lecture were intrigued with the idea of homeschooling as a parental right. In the Q&A session afterward, I interacted with several skeptical students. One, named Lucy, attended a private boarding school for her entire education (a common educational plan for many middle-class Kenyans). She told me she was not “warming up” to homeschooling.

“How are these kids going to become normal human beings if they don’t go through the same experiences as their peers?” she asked. “Going to a boarding school growing up, I learned to be tough and often had to take cold showers—school is how kids learn to get along.”

I pointed out that this was the same reasoning given by German courts to stop families from homeschooling. “Are you really saying that homeschoolers don’t become normal human beings?” I asked. “The idea of requiring everyone to be mainstreamed though public education is at odds with fundamental notions of human rights—and for good reason. Article 26(3) of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights was written in direct response to Hitler’s totalitarian takeover of education. The more control a government exerts over education, the further down the road to totalitarianism it goes.”

Our discussion put the issues Lucy had mentioned in a fresh light, and she said she planned to give them some more thought.

Growing Options

Until recent years, American missionaries were almost the only families who homeschooled in Africa. As homeschooling grows among the admittedly small African middle-class, others will see that it is may be an option available to them. However, shipping costs, curriculum prices, and the perception that homeschooling is for “the West” or “the rich” continue to be obstacles to the movement’s growth in the lower class.

It was a blessing to encourage the fledgling African homeschooling movement. It is a great privilege to serve as HSLDA’s international lawyer and I am constantly reminded that one of the most basic needs homeschooling parents have is encouragement. To know that they are not alone in the desire to do something different that they believe is best for their children. And to be affirmed that what they are doing is not only good but is a basic human right.

Many parents shared how encouraged and inspired they were by the determination and success of the American homeschool movement and how sobered they were by the stories of opposition to homeschooling in other places. Even though cultures, social norms, languages and geography separate us, we really do have more in common with homeschooling parents around the world than we might think.

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You Can Help

Do you have a heart to support the growth of homeschooling in Africa or other countries around the world? Your tax-deductible donation to the Home School Foundation’s Freedom Fund will help! (And if you aren’t already partnering with HSLDA as a member, click here to see how membership protects your family and our movement.) Please keep African homeschooling families in your thoughts and prayers and thank you for your support!