There has always been a percentage of Australian children educated at home. This was quite common in the nineteenth century with one historian stating that 19% of children were being taught at home in 1871. Despite this long history, research into Australian home education has been sparse. Here we take a look at some of the major studies.
Children Learn At Home: The Experience of Home Education (1985), by Ro Krivanek, published by AERG
Ro Krivanek undertook what was probably the first study on home education in Australia when she surveyed 13 members of AERG. The results showed that home educators wanted to provide a natural, stimulating, secure, competition-free environment in which their children could learn in an unstructured way. Home education was seen to provide a secure emotional and social base in the family. There was an opportunity for the whole family to be involved in learning, for the development of close sibling relationships and for parents to enjoy the company of their children. The right of parents to educate their own children was asserted and the difference between home values and school values noted. Home educated children had an increased personal control over their time and learning. Other advantages included a one-to-one adult to child ratio and a holistic approach to learning. All but one family studied spent some part of their day using a formal curriculum and time-table.
Home Education in Tasmania: Report to the Ministerial Working Party on Home Education. (Jacob, 1991)
This working party received 156 submissions and made 12 home visits. Parents emphasised a strengthening of family unity and a view that home education was an extension of normal parenting. The cost of home-educating a child in Tasmania was around $2000 p.a., which was 40% of the cost of state school education at that time. The claim was made that the close relationship of parent and child enables the parent to best know the child and guide his or her development. This report broadly agreed with similar reports in NSW and Queensland around the same time.
Mullaly surveyed 147 families who were using the Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E.) materials across five Australian states. He found that parents who home educated over an extended period developed an enhanced sense of self-worth, stronger relationships with their children and a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction.
The Homeschool Phenomenon (Hunter, 1994)
Roger Hunter outlined the resurgence of home education as an educational alternative and its rapid growth in Australia over the preceding decade. Drawing on information from home education leaders, publications and government reports, he estimated that 10,000 families were home educating in 1991 with a growth rate of 20% per annum.
Alan Thomas’ interest in individualised learning led him to examine home education in Australia and the U.K. He points out that although ‘catering for individual needs’ is touted as the ultimate pedagogy, it is actually impossible to achieve in a classroom. “In fact, in spite of nearly a century of interest in individualised teaching, practically nothing is actually known about it in practice, certainly not with regard to children of school age, simply because it cannot be studied to any significant extent in school. The only way to find out more is to turn to children who are educated at home.”He quoted the research of Tizard and Hughes (1994) on how kindergarten aged children learn in the context of naturally occurring social conversation. They found that the home conversations of the children were of a much higher quality than those at preschool. “At home children discussed topics like work, the family, birth, growing up and death?about things they had done together in the past, and plans for the future; they puzzled over such diverse topics as the shape of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas and whether the queen wears curlers in bed?[but at pre-school] ?the richness, depth and variety which characterised the home conversations were sadly missing. So too was the sense of intellectual struggle, and of the real attempts to communicate being made on both sides. The questioning, puzzling child we were so taken with at home was gone?conversations with adults were mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them, or taking part in minimal exchanges about the whereabouts of other children and play material.”Thomas wondered what would happen if, instead of starting school, childrencontinued to learn at home and he turned to home education for the answer. He found that parents generally began with a fairly formal ‘school-at-home’ approach and responded to their children’s feedback by moving towards less formal teaching and learning. He was struck by the number and complexity of topics covered in family conversation and suggested that conversational learning contributed to the general success of home educated children.He used the example of literacy to illustrate the individualisation of teaching and learning at home and found that many home-educated children did not learn to read until between the ages of 8 and 10 and yet experienced no adverse effects. In fact, many came to be voracious readers. “One is left wondering just how much current educational policy, with its urgent emphasis on teaching children basic literacy by the age of 7, might actually put some children off reading, inadvertently contributing to inadequate levels of functional literacy later, or at least dampen any interest in reading for pleasure, something which home educated children certainly have, irrespective of the age they learned to read.”