As policymakers around the world grapple with how to defeat COVID-19 and return their societies to some semblance of normality, one thing is certain—homeschooling will continue to figure prominently in how children are educated.

In fact, the rise of homeschooling in response to the global pandemic and what this means to the future of education served as the focus of a recent conference held by the Global Home Education Exchange (GHEX).

Originally scheduled as an in-person event in the Philippines, like so many of this year’s activities, the conference was repackaged as an online offering.

Mike Donnelly, Home School Legal Defense Association senior counsel and director of global outreach, said that given the unprecedented changes to educational norms this year, the conference was too important to forego.

“This virus has put homeschooling right into the discussion,” he said.

Friends in Government

Donnelly added that he was especially encouraged by the presence and support of senior government officials from some of the planet’s most populous nations.

These included the following public figures:

  • Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker
  • United States Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley
  • Russian Senator Margarita Pavlova
  • National Secretary for the Global Protection of Human Rights, Alexandre Moreira
  • Brazil’s National Secretary of the Family, Angela Gandra
  • Former Member of Parliament in Canada, Russ Hiebert

Cruz and Parker praised the work of GHEX and related groups and spoke of recent legislation they each promoted to assist homeschooling families in the US.

Cruz emphasized how the pandemic has shown how “new solutions to education are needed, now more than ever, in our country and across the globe.” To this end, he added, his goal is to help “give more students access to an education that truly fits their individual needs.”

Hawley echoed those sentiments in his remarks, noting how lawmakers such as himself rely on the grassroots efforts of groups like GHEX.

“They’re engaged in important work, promoting freedom and flourishing among children and families and communities all around the world,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to promote and protect the basic right of parents to direct their children’s mental and spiritual formation—their education.”

Proof It Works

By proceeding with the conference, GHEX leaders were able to plan how to use homeschooling’s success during the current crisis to illustrate that it truly is a global movement and a global solution.

“The goal is to influence leaders, organizations, and researchers so that we can advance homeschooling around the world,” Donnelly explained. “We want policymakers to understand that homeschooling is a good thing.”

Kerry McDonald of the Foundation for Economic Education was one of the speakers who detailed the metamorphosis that occurred in 2020.

With 1.3 billion children suddenly shifting to some form of education at home because of the pandemic, she said, “we are in a transformative moment.”

She also cited several opinion polls reporting an increase in the number of parents in the United States who plan to continue homeschooling even after public schools reopen.

“Parents are really taking charge of their children’s education,” McDonald noted. “They’re saying ‘maybe we can do things better.’”

Global Growth

These observations were echoed by speakers from around the globe.

“Africa is experiencing an enormous growth in homeschooling as education systems collapse,” reported Karin Van Oostrum, manager of South Africa’s Pestalozzi Trust.

Olesia Romancha, educator and coordinator for Shelter+ in Ukraine, said that COVID-19 has certainly raised awareness of homeschooling (or as she prefers to call it, “family education”) in her country.

She referenced a 2019 poll that showed only 40 percent of Ukrainians knew that homeschooling was an option, and only 17 percent held a positive view of it.

In 2020 the pandemic encouraged many more parents to try homeschooling, including some who in normal circumstances wouldn’t have.

And a good number of these parents, said Romancha, discovered “that they were able to do it.”

On Time and Online

The online version of the conference ended up being held in November, the same month the in-person event had been scheduled.

However, as HSLDA Global Outreach Program Manager Trudi Miller pointed out, GHEX board members considered canceling the Philippines event in late January because of another unexpected problem.

“There was actually a volcano that erupted,” said Miller.  “That was a major concern.”

In fact, the Taal Volcano caused serious disruptions when it spewed ash over a large area on the island of Luzon—including Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.

By March, however, it became clear that the pandemic would not allow for a major gathering.

It was disappointing, noted Miller, because “we had people flying from all over to the Philippines. And even though there is a large homeschool population there, it just made sense to move the conference online.”

The change did bring about some unexpected benefits.

The 2,000 who registered for the online conference amounted to twice the number who attended the 2018 global homeschool event in Russia.

“And I would say the number of countries represented doubled, too,” said Miller.

Big Numbers

In all, the November conference featured 160 speakers. Five days of sessions, which accommodated various time zones and often ran from 4 a.m. (US eastern) to 9 p.m., produced 70 hours of content.

There was no registration fee, just a request for donations to defer expenses.

As Miller explained, “We wanted it to be accessible to everyone, especially during this time of COVID.”

And for those who missed the conference but are interested in learning how homeschooling is expanding globally, recordings of many of the sessions are still available for free online.