My school at home

There was news recently of the Philippine run of “Les Miserables” beginning this March and of a Filipino-Australian girl who is cast as Cosette. My girls know many of the songs in “Les Miserables,” especially Cosette’s solo, “Castle on a Cloud.” Shobe immediately asked, “If she’s here, how will she go to school? Maybe she will go to Raya!”

During an interview, Cosette – Chloe delos Santos – and other child cast members answered shobe’s query: a tutor accompanied them. I then explained to shobe how the children’s schedules might look like, given that they have to perform in the evenings and study in the mornings.

This is one popular version of homeschooling. Other common recipients of homeschooling that Filipinos are aware of are children who are sick, or those who cannot afford to pay tuition fees. The homeschooling movement in the Philippines in gaining ground. It is not an easy decision to make. It is time-consuming and takes a lot of effort, and definitely takes a lot of dedication, grit and patience – tons of patience.

Contrary to earlier beliefs, homeschooling is a conscious lifestyle choice. A primary concern in parents’ minds is the quality of education they provide their children. The time and effort poured into homeschooling are definitely worth it.

The entire family has to adjust. For one thing, one parent has to dedicate majority of his/her time to homeschooling – that’s parenting literally 24/7. One parent I met homeschool all her children. Her twin boys are full-time scholars at Ballet Philippines whose dance class schedules are 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on two weeknights and three hours on Saturdays.

Achi has also been learning ballet at Ballet Philippines since she was four. She has progressed quite rapidly and is now at level Pre-Beginners II, passing through two levels in four years.

When achi got promoted in March 2015, I inquired with the principal regarding achi’s progress, thinking it was too fast because she is now the youngest in her class. The principal replied that children stay an average of two to four years per level.

From what I understand, achi’s quick progress is something I should be very happy about because it means she’s quite good. Yes, I’m very happy and proud of her BUT (in all capital letters), she informed me recently that when she turns 9, she was going to audition for a scholarship to the CCP Dance School. Ouch. It might mean that I have to homeschool her. I don’t think I’m ready for that, nor do I think I have the constitution to ever do it.

There are two poles to homeschooling. On one end of the spectrum is loose structure where children might concentrate on dance for an entire year, or finish three academic levels in one year. The other end is where parents set up a “classroom” inside the home and simulate a “real” school experience with fixed schedules and even uniforms.

The large middle of the spectrum is where many homeschool advocates in the Philippines place themselves. The Homeschool Association of the Philippine Islands recommends that parents join homeschool programs offered by existing schools like The Master’s Academy, Catholic Filipino Academy, and Kids World, among others.

This allows parents to eventually conform to requirements of conventional schools and universities if and when the child eventually moves into them. Being part of an institution means the child could avail of standardized exams at certain intervals, certificates and official transcripts of records.

My friend Alice decided to homeschool her youngest of five children, E, because she could see he was having difficulty in a traditional school even in first grade. In the beginning she struggled with the content she needed to teach her second grader, but eventually gained a firmer foothold in the program when she enrolled E in Blended Learning Center in Cubao. The center offers different homeschool programs that parents could choose from.

The program Alice chose sees E in school four hours a day, four days a week. It is especially helpful for Alice because she can now continue to work part time, but still be hands on with E’s education. This blended program is also very helpful for parents who choose to homeschool but are not very confident in certain subject matters.

What about socialization for E? This is one of the most frequently asked questions in homeschool communities. If the homeschooled child goes into conventional schooling or enters university, can he adjust? Contrary to popular belief, homeschooled children adapt quite well in any given situation. Homeschoolers do not live in a vacuum. Because they are closely guided by parents who find other homeschooled kids their children can be friends with, and who bring the children pretty much everywhere, the children encounter a variety of people of all ages to socialize with.

The other frequently asked question is the expense. People usually think that homeschooling is way cheaper than tuition fees. But the costs could be staggering as well. While parents do not have to pay tuition or uniform or traditional school supplies, there are other costs. Since there is more “time,” homeschool parents go on plenty of field trips. As well, some parents choose to get the best equipment possible.

I met a homeschool parent of three boys whose eldest graduated college from Ateneo de Manila University. When her eldest was being homeschooled for high school, she had considered buying laboratory equipment like a microscope and glass slides, beakers, flasks and a Bunsen burner and staggered home with her head reeling from the peso amount she could not afford. They eventually made do and asked a local school if her son could use some laboratory equipment on Saturdays.

This was when homeschooling was not the in thing and there was barely any support for it. Homeschooled children can also take on many other interests in sports or the arts that they may not have time for when they are in school for six to seven hours. This also translates into extra costs for those classes.

Is it all worth it? The best part for Alice is that family values are directly transmitted and learned by the child without interference or negative influences from unknown factors.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if she had to do the parenting thing all over again, she would have homeschooled all five of her kids. If I ever find myself homeschooling achi, I think I will end up on the looser structure side of the spectrum. (Yes, I am already considering and dreading this possibility because achi turns 9 this year).

Achi has never had academic issues so I think we could cover academic subjects in a breeze. Her father started teaching her how to code (computer programming) when she was 7, and she understands the concepts better than I. She does have many, many interests in both the arts and the sciences.

As of the end of February, she says she wants to be a “ballerina-scientist-programmer-fashion designer-traveler.” Maybe homeschooling her will help us pursue those interests. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 20 (March 15-April 4, 2016): 13.