In response to the global COVID-19 health crisis, more than 90% of the world’s school-age children are now learning from home.
As Americans can attest, the sudden shift in how school is done presents many challenges and opportunities.
A panel of education and homeschooling leaders met recently to discuss how the homeschooling community can inspire and support families and officials around the globe as they adjust to this major change.
The message delivered at the Global Home Education Exchange (GHEX) event was summarized nicely by Canadian Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen, who characterized homeschooling as a “right” that gets “results.”
Goertzen added that there is much research proving the effectiveness of homeschooling and encouraged his counterparts in other countries to allow for innovation and flexibility that will expand the role of parents in the education of their children.
It’s certainly good advice given the times.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 190 countries have closed down schools, which means 1.5 billion children are suddenly schooling at home in response to the coronavirus pandemic!
Many countries are leveraging technology and distance-learning techniques, but UNESCO estimated that 50% lack basic technology access. Over 83% of African students are unable to access internet or are without a laptop. Even those with technology access are turning to homeschooling out of frustration, with schools demanding too much screen time and busywork from their children.
I was pleased to join the panel of leaders who discussed these and other issues. The panel included US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Goertzen, and other GHEX board members.
Remarks for DeVos were read by GHEX Vice Chair Debra Bell.
“Parents are our ‘first teachers,’ and I’ll always support their right to develop an education program that best meets the needs of their children and matches their values,” DeVos stated. “We value the many sacrifices that homeschool parents make for their children. As many parents across the world are now learning for the first time, this is no easy task, and it requires unyielding commitment, steadfast support, boundless patience, and perhaps a good sense of humor.”
My message to the audience was that learning isn’t tied to a place but can happen anywhere. I asked the homeschooling community to reach out to their friends and neighbors to help them embrace what homeschooling offers rather than leaving them to
try and replicate school at home. My request to policy makers was that they protect home education as right and embrace freedom so that more people could choose a different approach to education for their children.
Erika Di Martino leads a homeschooling support organization in Italy, a country hit very hard by the coronavirus.
“People are now isolated,” she said. “But homeschoolers are not isolated. We are very social, so this is very hard on us too.”
Kerry McDonald, a noted writer and commentator on homeschooling and senior fellow with the Foundation for Economic Education, pointed out that celebrated and homeschooled scientist Sir Isaac Newton fled London during the bubonic plague in 1665.
“Some people are talking about learning loss with schools out. But see a great opportunity for learning gains during this time when people are not engaged in school-based learning,” she said. “Newton made some of his most amazing discoveries during his time away from formal learning. Everyone can have that same opportunity now.”
She added: “We can encourage our kids to read more books and to rekindle their love of learning while they can enjoy a more open and free approach to learning.”
Canute Waswa of Kenya encouraged families to make the most of the opportunity together. He observed that, in Kenya, education was historically integrated with life until colonialism introduced “formal schooling.”
“I am the second generation to receive formal education,” Waswa said. “The coronavirus has disrupted formal education in Kenya today, just as colonialism disrupted our previously life-integrated way of educating.”
“As a homeschooling father, I am encouraging families to make the most of this opportunity to strengthen all of our family relationships,” he said.