By TOMOKO OTAKE
Home education has gained popularity in recent years in many parts of the world, as more families have looked for alternatives to school-based learning. But in Japan, it remains difficult for children to be educated outside the school system, with little government support for — or understanding of — the need to diversify children’s education, experts say.
In the United States, an estimated 1.1 million students were home-schooled in the spring of 2003, making up 2.2 percent of all students from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to a 2006 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. The figure was up 29 percent from 1999, when 850,000 students were estimated to be home-schooled.
Setsuko Miyai, a professor of humanities at Toyo Gakuen University, writes in a 2007 book she coauthored, titled “Kojin to Kokka no Aida (Between the Individual and the State),” that in the U.S. home education grew out of the late 1960s to early-’70s counter-culture movement. Then in the late ’70s, educator John Holt started advocating separation of education from schools. Holt viewed parents as facilitators, not teachers, of children’s independent learning.
Miyai points to different motives among people opting for home-schooling. Some are against the standardized, control-based nature of the modern school education system itself, while others are distrustful of the values, especially moral values, which public schools try to force on their students. More recently, African-Americans have been active in home education, concerned that the existing schools have failed to address the racial gap in academic achievement and the needs to preserve their cultures, Miyai states. Following a series of lawsuits filed over home-schooling rights, home education became legal across the U.S. by 1993.
In the U.K., where education is compulsory but attending school is not, the Education Act spells out that every child of compulsory school age must have “efficient, full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have,” either in school or “otherwise.” Estimates of British home learners vary from 7,400 to 34,400, the BBC News reported in February 2007, citing a study by the Department for Education and Skills.
The support network for home educators has grown, with Education Otherwise, a self-help group set up by a few parents in 1977, expanding into a 4,000-member organization by 2005.
Worldwide, approaches to home education vary from nation to nation depending on whether that nation views schooling as compulsory or not, says Yoshiyuki Nagata, associate professor of education at the University of the Sacred Heart, who researches alternative forms of education, including home education. With the 2000 launch by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), however, more nations, especially in Europe, are increasingly turning to schools to promote literacy among their citizens, he says.
“Many nations, including Japan, are getting the so-called ‘PISA shock,’ scrambling to do something about (their dismal results),” Nagata says. “In that sense, more attention is being paid to school-based education. But at the same time, the definition of academic competency is diversifying as well. Alternative education could be better at helping children acquire problem-solving skills, insight and wisdom.”
Indeed, as British home-educated teenagers participating in a Tokyo robotics competition demonstrated (see main story), home-educated children are often advanced learners in certain areas, because they are not forced to study fixed subjects. According to a 2002 report by Paula Rothermel of the U.K.’s Durham University, which assessed the psychosocial and academic development of home-schoolers aged 11 and younger, home-educated children were found to be socially adept and better academic achievers than school-educated children.
Heidi De Wet, one of three mentors accompanying the British children to Tokyo, countered popular perceptions that home-schoolers lack social skills, saying home-educated children mix well with people in different age groups.
“A home-educated child would look at a room full of people and decide, ‘Well, I want to go and talk to that grandmother over there or that toddler over there, or somebody my age or a teenager or whoever,’ ” she says. “It doesn’t make a difference to them, whereas a school child would say, ‘Ooh, I’m 10, and there is nobody else here who is 10 and nobody there to talk to.’ “
In Japan, where attending school is compulsory, home education has not been a popular option, despite the truancy problem that affects more than 120,000 elementary and junior-high-school students and bullying being a perpetual problem. Many parents do not even know that the idea of educating children outside school exists, says Kyoko Aizawa, the founder of Otherwise Japan, a support group for home education here, noting that many children and families who practice home education do so privately, often enduring discrimination from the communities in which they live.
But with so many problems in many of Japan’s schools, both schools and parents should think harder about ways to help each other so that all children can have access to an education, regardless of where they learn or whether they follow the government curriculum guidelines, she says.
“Home education is not about dismantling or belittling schools, not to mention locking children up at home and making them do correspondence courses,” Aizawa says. “It is about being rooted in communities and giving children educational assistance at every opportunity possible.”