Mainstream schooling & homeschooling

Homeschooling in Malaysia is not new. We have heard of individual families secretly homeschooling as far back as 20 years ago! But the homeschooling movement really started to spread about ten over years ago, initially, with the support of the Christian churches. Today, homeschooling is growing among a variety of families of different races and creed in Malaysia, which include Buddhists, Muslims, the Hindus, as well as the free-thinkers.

It is increasingly seen as a viable alternative to public education which is fast losing its appeal due to various factors, amongst them, the rapid decline of the English language, the lowering of educational standards and the shrinking of morals and values in schools. Along the line, the emphasis on educating the whole child (at least physically and mentally) has all but disappeared. In its place is the heavy emphasis on exams and standardized testing.

Thousands of students have pulled out of public schools to get into private and international schools. But these schools are expensive and not within the reach of the regular public. Homeschooling is finding its place in this interesting scenario.

Engaging the Ministry of Education

When primary schooling was made compulsory in 2001, whereby children aged 7–12 are required to be sent to school, there was a small number of parents who chose to homeschool their children, including our family. Together with one of the pioneering homeschoolers in this country, we went to see the education minister. The Minister was pleasantly surprised that homeschooling was practised in Malaysia. He was very supportive and emphasized only one thing: do not forget Bahasa Malaysia! (The Malay language). There was no mention of having to apply for exemption then. However, with the subsequent changes of ministers in the education ministry came various changes in the requirements of homeschooling. Homeschooling became a privilege, and no longer a right.

However, in spite of the changes, homeschooling is NOT illegal in Malaysia. This has been reiterated by the Ministry of Education every time this question pops up in the media. However, parents who wish to homeschool are required to apply for school exemption from the ministry. Those who received an exemption would invariably be those children with special needs, or children who are medically unfit to attend school. However, parents of these children are finding it increasingly difficult to get an exemption because the education ministry now says that they have schools for special needs children. But the quality and professionalism in handling special needs children in public schools is highly questionable, and parents are less than inclined to put their children in these types of situations.

Some parents decided to embark on homeschooling anyway.

Homeschooling is seen as a viable alternative

So homeschooling is still a viable alternative amongst families who want to opt out of conventional schooling or special schools. Today, there are many young and highly educated parents who are attracted to this way of learning for their children, as they believe in the personalization and customization of education for their children.

Homeschooling in Malaysia today takes a variety of approaches The approaches are as varied as the reasons to homeschool. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who have adopted complete curriculum and syllabi from overseas. On the other end of the spectrum are unschoolers, totally child-led and free. In between, many parents adopt a more flexible or a mix-and-match approach considering that there is so much information available on the internet today—including free and complete curriculum packages.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in the number of learning centers, who call themselves “homeschooling centers.” Many are initiated and run by Christian churches or supported by them. Although they call themselves “homeschooling” centers, in practice, they are run like small “private” schools where children as young as 7 are “sent” there and parental involvement is minimal, if any.

Community-based learning on the rise

An interesting development is the formation of community-based learning where older homeschoolers who decided to go onto the “college route,” come together, organize themselves and guide homeschooling teenagers collectively in a somewhat formal environment. Many have adopted the “O” and “A” level programs.

One such center was started in Selangor three years ago where the homeschooling parents had set it up for their children. Today, they have many students—a sign that the demand for such a center is very much on the rise.

In the case of younger children where learning ought to be less structured and exam-orientated, we started an initiative called CLiC.

What is a Community/Co-operative Learning Initiative (CLiC)?

It is a community of homeschooling families coming together on a regular basis (in our case, we meet up four days a week) to do activities together. Our motivation is to provide a learning and socialization platform for parents and children who opt out of conventional schooling for various reasons, and to adopt a child-centered, family-friendly and cooperative approach to learning and living. We share out our resources (books, learning materials, knowledge and skills) so that learning becomes inclusive, not exclusive, and joyful, not stressful! We set up a children’s library and a homeschooling resource library for the community’s perusal. We have a conference room for parents’ meetings as well as children’s meetings.

We also see a transformation in many aspects of our lives which will impact our children—especially in the future—from information management, knowledge acquisition and economic environment. Preparing for a future we cannot predict helps us to appreciate the core skills in life. Some of them are:

Being independent and inclusive. All aspects of the community learning involve the children and a basis of learning. Activities such as cooking (vegetarian food), communal meals together, appreciating how food comes to us and lessons in sustainability. This includes cleaning—up where kids as young two years old are involved and includes parents from all from different ethnic and spiritual traditions.

Freedom in learning. We meet up for activities like ice-skating, tree-climbing, and craft-making. We celebrate various festivals (both local and international) and learn about our different cultures and traditions. We give children plenty of time to play and exercise their imagination, for through play and regular interactions, they learn about others as well as themselves. These regular interactions serve to build friendships, caring and sharing, a sense of responsibility and collaborative learning. The children work on monthly projects based on different themes.

Some of the projects the children have done so far are:

  • The Global Day of Play (children come together to play with cardboard games made by the children themselves, inspired by a little boy named Caine);
  • Halloween Night (children make their own costumes and created foods and drinks for the night of fright!);
  • Dr Seuss’s Festival, a day of wacky fun with readings, short plays and songs, as well as yummy Cat-in-the-Hat cakes by the kids!

Social entrepreneurship. We feel that one of the core skill that each child need to learn would be entrepreneurship. It is just not about making money, but with social perspective. Among the activities that were carried out were:

  • A fund-raiser for the orphans in Myanmar where the kids made cupcakes and crafts and sang to raise funds for the needy children;
  • Flea-market sales at a shopping mall to learn entrepreneurial skills from a young age.

Children in CLiC range from ages 2 to 18 and this is the perfect example of how the interactions amongst the different ages CAN be beautiful and fruitful.

The younger ones learn from the older kids and the older kids learn to lead the younger ones! There is no curriculum to follow, no tests to take, no report cards and no labeling here. Yet there is plenty of motivation to learn new things, to try out new experiences and to create our own learning paths.

This is a concept that can easily be replicated elsewhere. We recommend families to learn together as a community or co-op so that the homeschooling experience is richer, deeper and more meaningful! Create your own learning communities and your lives will be more colourful!

In conclusion, Malaysia is experiencing a vibrant “explosion” of alternative education, especially homeschooling. As we write, we are witnessing groups and networks gaining momentum. Examples are the Malaysian Homeschool Network (MHsN) with an active Facebook page. It is also interesting to note that there is a growing Islamic homeschooling community in progress.