Ho Ai Li
Fri, Apr 18, 2008
The Straits Times
Home-schooled kids on the rise

WHILE children his age were at school yesterday, Christian Chow, seven, was at Bukit Timah Hill with his parents and two younger sisters.

They were brisk-walking and catching caterpillars.

He is not a truant - rather, he is one of about 280 children of primary-school age who are being home-schooled.

Ministry of Education (MOE) figures put the number of seven-year-olds taught at home instead of school at 60 now, twice the 2003 figure.

There are no figures on home-schooled children of secondary school age.

Parents are required to get MOE's approval to home-school their children, and the children are required to pass the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

They are also required to clear the National Education quiz, a test of their knowledge of Singapore's history and the challenges facing it.

The home-schooled community here is a diverse group which includes expatriates.

Singaporean home-schooling families are generally middle-class and well educated. They also tend to be Christian families who want their children's education to focus on values and character development.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan noted that parents who home-school their children are a subset of a wave of new homemakers - sophisticated, well-educated professionals who give up careers to take care of their children. She does not have figures on the size of the group.

Former lawyer Tan Joo Hymn, 38, and now a full-time mother, said more parents are perhaps realising now that material needs 'aren't everything in life'.

Ms Angie Maniam-Ng, 38, quit her human-resource management job three years ago to home-school her three children aged three to seven.

She believed that more parents are taking this route to shield their children from negative influences. 'You have a choice over whether your child imbibes your values or those of peers in school. Kids are spending more time in school and their peers are getting more influential,' she said.

Others decide to home-school for reasons ranging from unhappiness with the system's competitiveness and its emphasis on results, to a wish to bond with their children.

Increased awareness and more support, for example, in the form of home-schooling groups which hold online forums and weekly meetings, have also led to the growth in home-schooling.

Ms Tan, also a qualified early childhood educator, noted that with people having fewer children these days, each child is being viewed as an individual with his own learning style, to which home-schooling caters.

One common worry about home-schooling is the ability of children to fit into society, but five home-schooling parents interviewed say their children regularly meet a wide range of people - from relatives to church members or social groups, instead of just those of their age in school.

MOE's position is that as far as possible, Singaporean children should attend national schools to 'learn a common set of core values, knowledge and skills', said its spokesman.

But the ministry also understands that some parents want their children schooled at home, and has allowed them to do this, provided the children pick up the basic requirements of compulsory education.

Dawn Chee, 17, who was home-schooled until Secondary 3, said the experience has made her more mature and able to mix with people of different ages. 'I choose when I want to study. It's better than being forced to study,' said the only child, who scored As and Bs for her O levels.



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