Intrepid on-the-spot reporter, Gerda Welman, spoke to homeschool stalwart Heinrich Rall about his incredible journey with his son, Hjalmar, a story that is an inspiration to many.
Heinrich Rall, believes there are plenty of gifted children in the country, but the question arises about whether parents, and the school system, truly have the capacity to support and develop these pupils to grow to their full potential.
“There must be a dedicated spouse available at all times, to support and facilitate the child, in all their needs. To naively try and cling to social norms, while trying to homeschool, only restricts and negatively influences your child’s potential.”
In the end, it all depends on the way the parent approaches and handles this.
Heinrich’s advice is that all children deserve the best education that is available to them. The state has undertaken this responsibility by taxing citizens and allocating part of these taxes to education; thus, the state should provide the best education possible. They have, however, failed in honouring this obligation. Home-schooling currently presents the best option in South Africa, especially in the case of gifted education.
The Rall Family Background
Heinrich trained as a pilot in the South African Air Force before pursuing various other endeavours, including publishing poetry and teaching maths, physics, and Afrikaans. He later worked in industry and ran his own air charter business.
Hjalmar, his son, was born in Durbanville and grew up in Riebeek Kasteel. His name originates from old German-Scandinavian.
Heinrich Rall gave up his full-time job for a part-time position, so that he could home school Hjalmar. This leap enabled the youngster to matriculate and complete a post-matric level of studies in only three years.
The Rall Family spent a lot of time with their son. His wife, Annette, has a degree in music and taught Hjalmar music and art.
They moved to Pretoria in 2017 so that Hjalmar could attend university. During this time, Heinrich tutored maths and facilitated a group of six gifted children.
Heinrich also tutor children, in maths and physics for other Cambridge learners, and is busy with a maths curriculum to assist all maths students, regardless of the curriculum they are following, that we hope to see soon.
Hjalmar’s school time
At an early stage, Heinrich recalls that he noticed there was definite discrimination against his son, as he out-performed the rest of the class. Hjalmar continued to achieve extremely well in school, but was frustrated and unhappy. One of the things that the Rall family could not accommodate was the unfairness and the unjust manner in which the teachers treated his son. Although this was not intentional, it was as a result of the teaching staffs’ lack of training in dealing with gifted children. This is an underlying problem that all gifted children face.
“I was advised by the educational psychologist that we saw, in order to assess Hjalmar, that he suffered from an all-too-familiar diagnoses – ADHD – and that we should use Ritalin”.
They decided to kindly ignore the advice.
“We could not find any resources for gifted children, but we realised that school was destroying him. We had no choice but to remove him from the school environment.”
Heinrich withdrew Hjalmar from school in Grade 5.
Heinrich said that it was extremely scary, that moment that they took Hjalmar’s education in their own hands.
“Total freedom and endless possibilities opens up to you. Hjalmar achieved remarkable results in his iGCSE exams and matriculated through Cambridge A-levels, at the age of 13. An incredible journey!!!.. BUT a tough one as well”!!
At the end, Hjalmar did mathematics, physics and chemistry up to A Level, and he took Afrikaans and English to AS level.
This young man registered for a BSc in Physics at the age of 14.
Hjalmar completed his physics degree with distinction at the University of Pretoria at the age of 17, and his honours a few days after he turned 18, also with distinction.
Heinrich told me, that Hjalmar is planning to go overseas to further his studies.
Thinking back, the absolute lack of knowledge regarding gifted children and their specific needs was the biggest stumbling block. Being the parent of a gifted child is often more stressful that it is to child. School academics was not a problem: the problems arose from the fidgeting, restlessness and endless arguing about pedantic issues.
“Not knowing about the issues, and not realising that I myself also tended to do exactly the same things, led to major confrontations. We can now joke that I shouted Hjalmar through his school career. I was deeply upset, as I truly love Hjalmar and – in order to achieve our goals – nearly destroyed our relationship.”
“Homeschooling was not easy. Homeschooling involves constantly facilitating your child.
Hjalmar is a confident, happy child with a bright future. Had I left him at the mercy of our local school, I know that he would have developed emotional and learning problems, that would probably have doomed him to a lot of what if’s…”
Hjalmar’s home school schedule involved an average of two hours of formal class a day and two hours of written exercises – five days a week – and then endless time to explore other things.
“Teach your children to be focused on their work, for those few hours a day.”
This method defies the general idea, that homeschooled children are restricted in matters regarding social time and freedom.
Hjalmar is a normal healthy young man, with a great sense of humour. He enjoys photography, robotics, programming and writing. “We always went out of our way to expose Hjalmar to people from all walks of life and from all over the world, specifically aimed at developing his skills to communicate freely with anyone, no matter the age difference. This enabled him to have the communication skills he needed for university.”
Hjalmar is especially interested in quantum physics, and he plans to become an academic on the subject and do further research in the area.
Hjalmar’s love for mathematics made his studies enjoyable and he derives great pleasure in the possibilities that each new maths subject that he gets exposed to presents. From early on, Hjalmar had a specific interest in physics and mathematics, and generally already knew what he wanted to achieve. “We focused on the specific subjects required, to allow him to achieve his goals.”
Heinrich’s advice for Secondary school students, who want to venture into physics, is that they should complete Cambridge A levels maths and physics after their Matric. Hjalmar has always had an interest in physics and spent time gazing at the stars and discussing the universe, and all the possibilities it held with his father.
“We did not really experience any major difficulties, although English was a challenge. This unfortunately persists with many gifted children. Since they generally have good language ability, they struggle with the idea that there’s no right or wrong answers.”
The Rall family is an inspiration to all; we can’t wait to see what Hjalmar achieves going forward.
On Facebook, dated 10 March 2021, Hjalmar’s dad, said
“…self confidence gained from homeschooling. First paying job a major electrical engineering problem. Not Hjalmar’s field and no qualifications in the field. Hjalmar faced the challenge and succeeded in 15 hours where others failed. Self confidence and perseverance, a homeschooler’s greatest assets”.
Well done Hjalmar!!!
Here are some of his achievements
– Passed A levels at the age of 13;
– Received the, Vice Chancellor’s discretionary merit award at University of Pretoria;
– Received a Golden key award for academics;
– Completed the Common Purpose leadership course in his second year at the age of 15;
– Graduated with distinction, B.Sc. Physics at 17 years; and
– Graduated with distinction, B.Sc. Physics hons. at 17 year.