It’s common for HEN support volunteers to speak to parents with children in high school whose whole educational experience has been negative. The social side of school may have worked well for them, but educationally the speed and content of the learning has always been out of sync with their abilities. Commonly schools have provided a modified program, but there is not enough time provided to fully grasp skills before the child is expected to move on. The result of this has been eroded self esteem and the growth of a perception that the child is ‘no good at learning’.
The existing system does a disservice to those students who do not qualify for special education but are not catered for by mainstream. Instead of a system which builds and celebrates their strengths, they are presented with one which constantly reinforces their deficits and causes them to compare themselves unfavourably with their peers. For students with cognitive delay or an intellectual disability, home education can be an extremely successful alternative.
Parents are often very aware of their child’s strengths, whether in art, handling animals, fixing cars, or relating to others. They can choose to enhance those skills, provide appropriate opportunities, and modify topic and subject choices within the Key Learning Areas to ensure that education is relevant and meaningful. Some students in this cohort will take a little longer to reach milestones, and may not be ready for the adult world at the same time as their peers, but instead of being pushed on before they are ready they can work at a pace that suits them. The schooling system leads all students in Victoria towards VCE or VCAL, but for some students neither of these will be suitable, and it’s better to work towards real and achievable alternatives suited to the individual.
For some students life skills will be the priority, whether the focus is on underlying skills such as executive functioning, or practical ones such as self care and cookery. For others, academics may play a larger part, but the aim may be to work towards the skills required for a TAFE Certificate III, which are usually at year 10 level or below, and do not require essay writing or advanced maths skills. Other students may continue to pursue extensive higher learning opportunities, but through home education will have a foundation of learning in their own style at their own pace and know what accommodations they may require to meet such goals.
Whatever the focus, the key is to find the right pace and to move on only when ready, whilst making learning practical, meaningful and at a level that guarantees success. Building self confidence is key, and socialising within the home ed community is not based on grade level or academic ability. Kids hang out with others who share their interests, and it’s fine if those friends are younger or older. Being accepted for who you are, rather than being judged for what you are not builds that same self confidence that parents are bolstering at home by providing an education at the right level, and changes in attitudes and self perception sometimes happen very quickly.