Homeschooling is growing around the world, though in many countries it is still a nascent movement struggling to be fully understood and accepted.

Panelists at Harvard’s June 10 webinar recognized this fact, even as they sought to bring greater insight into homeschooling by presenting and discussing some of the recent research on the educational option derived from several nations.

The event was part of a series of panels presented by the university’s Kennedy School of government.

Focus on Children

Parents living on different continents told researchers that they choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons.

Ari Neuman and Oz Guterman, who are both professors at Western Galilee College in Israel, said they have encountered many parents of the 1,200 homeschooled students in their country who say they selected the educational method for reasons besides academics.

“Mainly because of the well-being of the child—trying to raise them in a more natural way,” explained Guterman.

He suggested this may account for why Israeli homeschool families form close ties.

“Usually families know each other really well,” Guterman said. “There’s a real sense of community.”

Different Approaches

Christine Brabant, a professor at the University of Montreal in Canada, noted that parents in Quebec have stated similar reasons for homeschooling.

She said some homeschool parents have indicated a preference for a more relaxed, integrated, and interest-based approach sometimes called “unschooling.” 

Brabant also said that among the 15,000 children now homeschooling in Quebec, about 1,000 of these are “ultra-orthodox Jews.” Many others are in families that consider themselves Christian.

Overall, said Neuman, “Parents choose to homeschool because they are discontented with public education system.”

All of the panelists expressed a desire for more research into homeschooling. They said additional data would provide a more accurate measure of the academic achievement and social development of homeschooled students, and that it would help officials make more informed decisions regarding regulations.

Toward Better Understanding

Philippe Bongrand, a professor at CY Cergy Paris University in France, explained that his own project to collect comprehensive data about homeschoolers in France was aimed partly at helping the issue of homeschooling become less politicized in his country.

“It’s polarized,” he said. “There is a positive presentation of home education in the media.” But the government view, he added, is negative.

Bongrand said this accounts for why French President Emmanuel Macron recently introduced legislation that would essentially ban homeschooling in France. As Bongrand put it, Macron and likeminded officials see homeschoolers as “religious radicals.”

Albert Cheng, a professor at the University of Arkansas whose research includes a study that suggests homeschooled students are more politically tolerant than many of their peers, said that homeschoolers actually hold a wide range of beliefs and can’t really be defined by a single description.

“I’m struck by the variegated nature of homeschooling,” he said.

Cheng agreed that homeschooling is indeed a global movement that is on the rise, but added that researchers have only begun to discover the various ways in which homeschool parents craft custom learning environments with the goal of helping their children thrive.

“We’ve only covered a snippet of a lot of what’s out there,” he insisted. “The moral of the story is to approach these things with a certain amount of intellectual humility.”