This post reviews Susette Brynard, “Home Schooling as an Open-Learning Educational Challenge in South Africa” in South African Journal of Education 27, no. 1 (2007): 83-100.
Brynard, a lecturer in the Department of Comparative Education and Educational Management at the University of the Free State in South Africa, here provides an overview of the issue of homeschooling in the South African context, interpreting it as a viable form of “Open Learning.”
Brynard describes Open Learning as a pedagogy characterized by a “flexible learner-centered approach” that helps learners with various needs who aren’t well served by traditional classroom instruction. Her article here is intended to introduce home schooling as one Open Learning option. Before getting into her own study, she provides by way of orientation an introduction to home schooling in South Africa.
The 1996 South African Schools Act made homeschooling clearly legal, but many South African home schoolers still fear the state and do not register. Nevertheless, Brynard estimates that as of 2003 there were between 30,000 and 50,000 home schoolers in South Africa. The trend is toward greater cooperation between home schoolers and the Department of Education (thanks especially to technologically-mediated distance learning), as both increasingly see the benefits of collaboration.
This background in place, Brynard poses two questions: 1. How can home schooling best realize itself as an Open Learning option? 2. How can collaborations between home schooling and the public school system benefit South Africa? To answer these questions, she conducted a comprehensive literature review and interviewed eleven people well-informed about South African home schooling: parents, teachers, academics, school officials.
The literature review revealed a number of similarities between South African home schooling and home schooling in the United States. The history is quite similar, with home-based learning predominating until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when compulsory school laws were passed in both countries. Out of frustration with the shortfallings of State systems, some parents in both nations began teaching their own children at home. As in the United States, South African researchers have found religious motives to predominate, as many morally conservative parents objected to the teaching of evolution, sex education, and moral relativism in schools. Researchers have found South African homeschoolers to perform above national norms on standardized tests (and, like their American counterparts, these South African studies don’t seem to control for race, class, and family educational attainment variables).
Brynard’s interviewees seemed to place more stress on the flexibility and academic power of home education than on religion. Home schooling has created its share of academic prodigies and is widely used by families with children in intensive athletic programs. Interviewees also seemed to be motivated by a desire to keep family bonds strong and by fiscal frugality–home schooling was an affordable alternative to private schools. Special education was another theme to emerge from her interviews.
Brynard’s interviews with school officials and teachers revealed a very different picture. To these people, home schooling can isolate children from many of the important social situations schools provide to help them develop autonomy, deal with the pressures of status hierarchy, and learn healthy peer relations. Brynard’s homeschooling interviewees, on the other hand, usually saw such disadvantages as advantages.
After summarizing some of the collaborative ventures that have been implemented in the United States between home schoolers and public schools (cybercharters, school-run resource centers, etc.) Brynard concludes with some policy recommendations for South Africa. Basically, she wants to see more collaboration between public schools and home schooled children: public curriculum offered to parents, homeschooled kids in extracurricular school activities, schools offering enrichment classes that home schoolers would take for a fee [public education is not completely free in South Africa]. She exhorts South Africans to “learn from home schoolers in the USA” and increase collaboration efforts.
I have a couple of observations about this study. First, it shares with much of the American literature on which it relies a bit of the advocacy bug. Reading this article is a little like reading an editorial arguing for homeschooling’s greatness. I don’t know anything about Dr. Brynard, but I can tell from her 1998 dissertation title (written in Afrikaans, as I learned from the helpful comments below) that she studied something pertaining to the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum in South Africa. From the data she reports here it seems to me that she is trying to preach up homeschooling’s virtues to a largely unsympathetic public school audience. To that end she plays the USA card, showing how the American public schools and home schools have shown such remarkable collaborative progress. Those of us over on this side of the pond, however, know that these collaborations, while extant and growing, are bitterly opposed both by many independent homeschoolers who fear government regulation and by public school people who resent the redirection of funds away from traditional public schools and the loss of authority over curriculum content and teaching jobs. South Africans need to know that American home schoolers and government agencies are not one big happy family.
Secondly, nowhere in this article does the issue of race appear at all. I have talked in a previous post about the degree to which race may or may not have been a factor in the history of homeschooling in the United States. In the United States the heyday of the Civil Rights movement and of the homeschooling movement were separated by about 20 years. In South Africa, the homeschool movement and the climax of the Anti-Apartheid struggle happened at exactly the same time. The period between 1985-1990 was one of incredible tension and violence between blacks and whites. The beseiged Apartheid government was also a very moralistic one–opposed to gambling, Sabbath-breaking, adultery, television, abortion, and so on. Given this history it seems impossible to me that one could address the issue of homeschooling, especially homeschooling by conservative white South Africans, without talking about race. But in this article race does not exist. Now that Brynard has brought what literature there is on South African homeschooling together, I hope that future research will probe more deeply into the phenomenon in all its richness, and, I suspect, political complexity.