Are we heading for a boom in home-schooling?
By Rhys Spence
Think of home-schooling during the pandemic… What comes to mind?
To me- someone without children- it’s a vision of stressed, time-poor parents, reluctant children and strewn learning resources. This is largely based on the social media consensus that home-schooling is exhausting…and the sense that we are growing numb to the once lovable chaos of 3-year-olds entering screen frames at inopportune moments.
Many parents and carers around the world have dealt with a version of home-schooling, on and off, for the past 15 months or so, since governments began closing settings in response to the then-emerging pandemic.
The experience for parents, carers and their children will no doubt have varied a great deal. Their experiences will have been shaped by a number of factors, including:
Perceptions of home-schooling prior to the pandemic
For years, prior to the pandemic, home-schooling was perceived as a somewhat kooky alternative to the mainstream, pursued by parents with limited trust in the system, fundamental ideological opposition to public education, or frequently on the move for work or other reasons.
There are many legitimate concerns surrounding home-schooling, with the main concern usually being fewer opportunities to develop and strengthen soft skills and inter-personal skills, less strong friendships and less awareness of our diverse society. And linked to all of this, the experience and expertise of the teacher (generally parents themselves). A more structural concern surrounding home schooling is the opacity of provision and the patchy register of home-schooled children in most countries.
The pandemic is re-shaping many aspects of our lives, including our education systems
The period of partial or full setting closures has shown us many things about our education systems. Some of the relevant points include:
Observations like these in nearly all aspects of our lives are part of a worldwide period of soul-searching, ongoing since the pandemic began.
With more time on our hands, a genuine threat posed to our friends and relatives at home and around the world, many are quite understandably questioning what’s important to them. Employers are being confronted by an acceleration in demand to work from home for some or all of the time. Policymakers are needing to adjust or accelerate their education and skills reforms in order to address structural weaknesses revealed during lockdowns. And families are evaluating their priorities- do we prioritise each other? Do we live too far apart? Do we pursue our collective interests and support others to pursue theirs?
One of the consequences of this is companies acknowledging that their teams have functioned just fine over the past 15 months, and thus allowing their employees to work more flexibly, either via set office and home days, or complete flexibility. Just last week my partner was told that she should work from home permanently for 2–3 days per week… This is a huge change in the default position of most companies. Here’s a short article on some of the employers that have agreed to flexi-working- granted, the tech companies would naturally be the first to make this work…
Some degree of flexibility is now an expectation. And two quick asides: (1) this will have interesting impacts on individuals’ decisions regarding paternity and maternity leave and (2) it will be interesting to see how startups that grew particularly well or struggled during the pandemic fare as we emerge from lockdowns…it’s easy to forget that many colleagues won’t have met in person!
What could this mean for our education systems in the longer-term?
This semi-permanent shift to home working for many people raises two interesting possibilities for the future of education:
Maybe #1, the blended approach- the ‘happy’ medium- could work.
A lot of thinking would need to be done to make sure this blend would work well, not least for the children of key-worker parents or others for whom remote working isn’t a good longer-term solution.
If parents and their children are at home, they obviously spend more time together and parents are more engaged and familiar with their child’s learning. The argument has long been that one of the main purposes of education is to prepare young people for the world of work- presumably changes to working patterns should be reflected in our school systems? The pandemic has shown that high quality, impactful remote teaching and learning is possible. Some parents and teachers have reported improved relationships between school and the home. The technology is there: teachers can teach remotely, software and courseware is available to personalise every child’s learning experience and ensuring time on-site allows children to learn the soft skills vital to a functioning society.
Reduced costs from on-site provision could be redirected towards improving remote provision. It might offer logistical benefits too: reduced childcare requirements and expenses, less traffic, more time for hobbies, etc. It could also be possible to extend the school days for the days students are in school to make drop-off and pick-up more straightforward. And on ‘remote days’, schools could be used for other community activities- parenting classes, toddler groups and nurseries, away days, seniors’ activities, and a range of others…
It’s also worth noting that a blended approach could be 1 day of remote learning per week, not necessarily 2 or 3 days!
And on #2, the more likely of the two possibilities, could we see a boom in home-schooling?
The home-schooling argument follows a similar premise. Conventionally, home-schooling involves parents or carers’ day to day management of their child’s education, often delivering all of the content themselves.
However, with strengthening evidence on the effectiveness of personalisation technology, the increasing availability of digital content, and the rising popularity of online tutoring in academic subjects, as well as hobbies and other extra-curricular activities, it is now possible to get a well-rounded education at home with parents able to choose the amount of involvement they have and the subjects and hobbies they personally ‘deliver’ or fulfil.
Even prior to the pandemic, the popularity of home-schooling has gradually been increasing across the world- see some examples below featuring the latest available data.
Home-schooling has also been shown to lead to strong outcomes for students: research suggests that home-schooled children tend to do better on standardised tests, are more likely to complete university and gain better grades at university. Of course, this doesn’t speak to the students’ happiness or later-life outcomes and doesn’t necessarily take the socio-economic backgrounds of the students into account (it is well-known that students from high-income families tend to do better in exams). It should also be acknowledged that 1:1 tutoring or in small groups is particularly effective in securing higher grades, hence various governments’ focus on tutoring as a key strand of catch-up efforts.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth noting that home-schooling remains illegal in many countries, partially due to concerns regarding the quality of provision received at home.
Tutoring and hobby companies are growing fast
The rampant growth of companies offering remote education and tuition, such as GoStudent (Austria) and OutSchool (US), with parents and carers able to lean on provision from recognised providers, takes away some of the delivery responsibility for parents able to afford this support. In the UK, MyTutor is growing nicely and in Spain, Nannyfy provides an exciting company specialising in provision for under 12s.
And for those worried about the quality of friendships, soft skills and communities, co-studying platforms are also on the rise. For example, StudyStream has registered millions of users worldwide and over 100,000 students join daily. This isn’t to say that online communities can perfectly recreate the learning of soft skills we would expect to take place in person, but it provides an interesting appendage to children’s social lives and motivations in their own time.
An indication that this could be here to stay is the rise of schools offering fully online education, such as Harrow School Online, providing ‘world-leading home education’ at sixth-form (students aged 16–18), for £5,250 per term, in partnership with Pearson. This was launched in September 2020. Of course, this is prohibitively expensive for most. It will be interesting to see the first cohort’s exam results and post-18 study or work outcomes, as well as the number of students enrolled in the 2021/22 school year, by which time we hope the world will largely be open for business.
Whether the future of education lies with a blended home and school experience is up for debate, as is whether home-schooling will indeed become more popular. One thing is for sure, though: both are distinctly more possible and normalised- and recognised as such- than they were in March 2020.
Links to home-schooling data:
1/ France: https://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/dyn/15/textes/l15b3649_etude-impact.pdf
2/ USA: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/schoolchoice/ind_05.asp
3/ UK: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn05108/
4/ Australia: https://hslda.org/post/australia
5/ Russia: https://hslda.org/post/russia