Not being tied to a set curriculum that is only taught during regular school hours in a distant classroom which, in turn, is only open during fixed school terms, grants a world of flexibility and opportunities to families who participate in a homeschool program
Story and photos by WEENA NOPPAKUNTHONG
Chadaporn says the Thai tradition of paying tea money and the schools' admissions process that selects students based solely on the highest test scores offends her. She also thinks the fees of international schools are too costly.
What is homeschooling?
Homeschooling is the education of children in their home, rather than in a public or private school or other facility outside the child's home. A parent, other family members or guardians usually provide the educational instructions.
Today, homeschooling may seem strange to some and is probably not understood by even the most educated. But before the introduction of compulsory school attendance laws in the 1800's, most childhood education throughout the world occurred within the family or local community. Only a small portion of the population attended schools or employed tutors, as most parents could not afford private schools and most governments had not yet assumed the responsibility to provide free public education.
In Thailand today, homeschooling is a viable option for parents who wish to provide their children a quality education or a social environment that the parents believe is not possible to attain in formal schools.
Reasons to homeschool
Thai and foreign parents opt for homeschooling for various other reasons, including their child's gifted intelligence or religious orientation, a child's ill health or anti-social temperament, or even because of traffic congestion caused by long commutes to and from school during rush hour.
Chummas Panghom, 45, resigned as a college teacher to homeschool her son. She and her lawyer-husband committed to homeschool their only child before he turned three because, ``The school system cannot give him the education that caters to his nature.''
The Panghoms believe that learning should take place anywhere and all the time, not just during school hours or within the narrow confines of a traditional classroom. For these and other reasons, Chummas and her husband rejected formal schooling for their son Maswat, who prefers his nickname ``Poon''.
Contrary to the usual stereotype that homeschooled children are shy, reserved and even anti-social, Poon proves the opposite. Outgoing and inquisitive, Poon respectfully grabbed me by my wrist to show me another part of the home, as if we had been close friends for years.
Freedom to choose
The Thai Homeschooling law was endorsed by then-Education Minister Adisak Bodharamik and became efffective on July 14, 2004. The law recognizes that it is the inherent right of parents to determine the direction and quality of their child's education.
Chummas likes the fact that the ministry allows homeschooling parents the freedom and flexibility to adjust their days, times and places of teaching according to a child's needs and interests.
Chadaporn who homeschools her elder son, Paul Mytri Wee, 15 also enjoys the freedom of not having to follow the ministry's curriculum. Chadaporn employs a British, private tutor to teach Paul a range of subjects to prepare him for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) examination because the family's ultimate goal is for Paul to pursue his college degree abroad.
Unlike Chummas, Chadaporn has never registered herself or her son as participants in the homeschool program. Therefore, Paul will not have a formal diploma to evidence the completion of his secondary education. But Chadaporn says the IGCSE exam results will be sufficient for college admission.
Chummas takes advantage of her freedom to choose and has designed a curriculum that focuses on her son's athletic interests. She avoids rigid preset curricula. From an early age, Poon enjoys athletic activities and is always running, Chummas says. Accordingly, she exposes Poon to his favorite sports. He has swimming lessons every weekday for two hours because he likes it and excels at it.
``I like horseback riding and swimming. I want to be an athlete. My mom will help make me a basketball player, a jockey, a swimmer and even a national athlete,'' confirms Poon.
When asked if he wants to be the next Paradorn Srichapan, Poon smiles broadly and says, ``Yes, if I can go that far.''
Chummas and her husband realize that Poon's education can not be limited to sports and things he wants, so she integrates mathematics, biology, language, ethics, social skills and manners into Poon's specialized curriculum.
Poon's frequent exposure to nature at his grandparents' orchards outside Bangkok has made him keen on environmental science. By observing and recording notes in his science diary about the growth of a red bean seed in his backyard, for example, Poon practices several skills at once: writing, spelling, mathematics and scientific methodology.
Clear path ahead
``Fang'' or Santor Chalermchai is 19 years old and a second-year student at Mahidol University's College of Music. He was homeschooled for three years following his primary school.
``Homeschooling makes my interests clearer and more defined,'' says Fang, referring to his interest in music, which has greatly expanded since he first joined his primary school band. Fang says his parents' strong support for him to study what interests him, makes him want to constantly learn new things.
While he was being homeschooled, he learned classical guitar and music theory on Sundays at the Royal Thai Navy School of Music. He's currently pursuing classical guitar studies at Mahidol, but aspires to study conducting in China with the financial support of a scholarship.
Like Poon, Fang is on a clear and determined path to achieving his goals, but not all homeschoolers are this fortunate.
Limited social circle
A common assumption about children who are homeschooled is that they are deprived of a proper social life and the opportunity to freely interact with peers who are not members of their immediately family. Children learn from simply interacting with other children. They learn even more when they interact with children who come from a different way of life, a different religion, and a different socio-economic background.
Chummas acknowledges that her son might not have many friends his own age, but his social circle reflects reality, and his friends are of various ages, she says.
Chummas is also the secretary of the Thai Homeschool Association, a voluntary support group that helps families survive the rigors of homeschooling. So she fully understands the importance of regular peer group interaction among youngsters.
Paul's mother is concerned also about her son's limited social circle, which consists only of his primary school friends. She is also concerned about depriving him of developing his intersocial and dating skills during his adolescent years, when it is natural to develop an attraction to the opposite sex. She consoles herself by the fact that her son will be exposed to plenty of girls once he enters college.
Chummas interjects that Poon easily makes friends with other children during their swimming lessons, so he is not totally cut off from making friends on his own.
Recalling the fun activities he participated in and the friendships he made during high school and reflecting on the importance of adolescent life, Fang adds that, ``It's the part of your life that it would be a pity to miss out on.''
When Fang returned to the formal school system, he says he felt equipped academically because the curriculum in his music faculty did not require very demanding academic subjects. Still, it took Fang several weeks to adjust socially and to begin making new friends, he says. He explained that at first he was perceived as being arrogant due to his serious attitude in class. He doesn't blame homeschooling though.
Sitting for government tests
Homeschoolers are required to take the national examinations, just like students who attend formal schools, and must test at Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. Poon recently sat for the Grade 3 exam. Science, at 50 percent, was his highest score among all the subjects. Chummas admits that she failed to expose Poon to practice tests and testing techniques prior to the exam. ``He needs to develop the skills to demonstrate his knowledge'' to the examiner, she says.
Unlike Poon, since Paul is not registered with the ministry, he does not take government tests. His tutor instead gives him regular exams and exposes him to sample IGCSE exams.
Rights and benefits
To register as a homeschool in Thailand, the Education Service Area Office requires that the teacher or parent has completed a minimum education of Grade 12 or pass the evaluation by the Education Service Area Office. Once the Area office is satisfied, it will issue certificates to the student and parents under the Education Ministry that can be used as authorization to pursue further studies or to apply for a job.
Benefits from formally registering as a homeschool in Thailand include tax advantages for parents, value added tax exemptions for school supplies and equipment, which Chadaporn advises are very expensive. She says some English textbooks Paul uses cost as much as 5,000-6,000 baht each.
Registered parents also receive state subsidies for their child's education, the same as students who attend formal schools, only the money goes directly to the parents instead of to the school.
Lack of public awareness
Chummas says many Thais are still very uninformed about homeschooling. Very few people know that the Education Ministry has issued regulations that govern homeschooling, she says. Chadaporn agrees, while freely admitting that even she does not know some benefits of registering as a homeschool under the ministry.
Society's ignorance prevents Poon from participating in some activities simply because he is not affiliated with a public or private school. Organizations seem to fear that since Poon does not attend a formal school he will exhibit disruptive or inappropriate behavior.
Similarly, Chadaporn says Paul is barred from participation in ROTC because he is not currently in an established school.
For parents interested in homeschooling their children, Chummas warns that it is a daunting task, which demands parents to regularly keep track of all learning activities and lessons, and to always seek new avenues of knowledge for your child. These tasks, she emphasizes, do not stop when the child reaches age 16 and assumes greater independent study.
Chadaporn adds that it is crucial for both parents to agree on the decision to homeschool their child because it affects their child's future and the whole family. She suggests that parents conduct thorough research into homeschooling before making a final decision, but stay focused on what college their child plans to attend.
She warns that parents need to be confident in their decision so as to resist pressure from friends and relatives who may worry that homeschooling will result in a substandard education.
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Last modified: July 27, 2007