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Friday, March 7, 2014
- Isabel Rodríguez decided to pull her then nine-year-old son Ulises out of the school system and homeschool him instead – an alternative chosen by more than 2,000 families in Spain, who are calling for a law that would overcome the legal vacuum surrounding the growing phenomenon.
“I don’t think schools offer an ideal education for children,” Rodríguez told IPS. She believes it is parents who should organise the learning process of their children in keeping with their particular interests and needs. Ulises today is 17 years old and wants to study graphic design.
Other homeschooling parents told IPS that they were not seeking solutions for the traditional school system, and that their intention was not to criticise or replace it.
They are simply asking for the country’s laws to officially recognise it as an alternative, in order to facilitate access to academic diplomas and certificates and eventual admission of homeschooled children to the educational system.
“We want a legal framework to be developed to provide support and coverage to families who choose this form of education and thus put an end to the persecution that some are facing,” Manel Moles, a high school teacher who belongs to the Catalonian Coordinating Committee for the Recognition and Regulation of Home Education, told IPS.
The group was created in Gerona, in the northeastern region of Catalonia, in 2007.
Some families have been reported to the authorities, on the argument that their children have dropped out of school. But very few cases have gone to court.
In Spain, 10 years of education are compulsory. This is generally understood to mean school attendance, but there is no law that clearly states that homeschooling is illegal.
However, the most recent Constitutional Court sentence on the issue, from Dec. 2, 2010, ordered a group of homeschooling parents to send their children to school in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.
In Europe, homeschooling is legal in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
The phenomenon is most widespread in the United States, followed by the UK. It is illegal in a number of European countries, including Germany and Sweden, where the authorities have gotten tough on homeschoolers in recent years.
A member of the Spain-based Association for Free Education (ALE) who preferred to remain anonymous told IPS that in this country there are some 2,000 homeschooling families, and that the number is growing as more and more people find out about education at home.
One ALE mother who homeschools her three children aged three to seven told IPS that despite the stereotype that families choose homeschooling for religious reasons, those who practice it are actually a broad range of middle-class families, with different philosophies and methods.
While some parents completely teach their children themselves, others hire tutors. There are couples who decide from the start never to send their children to school, while others come to homeschooling because their children have attention deficit disorder problems, are failing classes, are being bullied at school, or have special education needs.
“My three-year-old daughter was bored in class – she would finish everything quickly and start to cry. Now she’s moving ahead at home and is happy,” said the mother of three.
Isabel Rodríguez said that while Spain’s laws try to protect children by safeguarding their right to an education, “they are too narrow” because they do not recognise alternatives like education at home.
“It’s not about teaching methods, but about human beings,” another ALE mother who homeschools her three children between the ages of three and 15, who asked not to be named, told IPS.
Homeschooling families are also demanding that their children be allowed to earn the ESO – compulsory secondary education – diploma at age 16, like everyone else. Currently, homeschooled youngsters have to wait until they are18 to take the exam.
“It is a totally unjustified two-year penalty that keeps these people from continuing their higher education studies merely due to red tape,” said Moles, author of the book “No quiero ir a la escuela” (“I don’t want to go to school”).
One of the strongest criticisms against homeschooling is the lack of socialisation. But Moles argued that “we parents are more concerned than anyone that they form relationships,” which is why the children go to after-school classes and workshops and are fully integrated in their communities.
ALE, which groups homeschooling families, also organises periodic gatherings.
“I would have preferred to go to school because I lost the contact with other children,” one woman who asked not to be identified told IPS, explaining that her mother, a schoolteacher, did not send her to school until she was nine years old.
In Spain there are also families who enrol their children in schools from other countries, where homeschoolers can earn a diploma or educational certificate. But they face problems getting the educational programme and diploma recognised in Spain, Laura Mascaró, a lawyer who homeschools her children and is the president of the Platform for Educational Freedom, told IPS.
The Ministry of Education has an Official Distance Learning Centre. But it serves children and young people who work in show business – the circus or as singers or actors – or elite sports, professions that force them to move around.
Mascaró, who just returned to Spain after visiting Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, told IPS that in those Latin American countries, as well as in Chile and Peru, “homeschooling is neither recognised nor prohibited. It is allowed because there is a legal vacuum, and there is no kind of registry or control.”
But according to the lawyer, the phenomenon is spreading in Latin America. In Uruguay, it is just now starting to emerge, and in Mexico it is mainly religious families, both Catholic and evangelical, who teach their kids at home.