“I obtained my Teacher’s Diploma at the Teachers’ College,”says Martin, “and while I was doing my education degree in Education at university, my first job was to homeschool a Grade 5 boy.”
“I would travel to his home every day and give lessons in all subjects until 12h30,” he continues. “But my introduction to homeschooling and its possibilities had long been planted when I read about Gerald Durrell’s experiences with his tutors in his books about his life as a child in Corfu.”
My first teaching job was a homeschool teacher.
I completed my studies at the Teachers’ College, and I was working on my degree when I answered the advert to get a boy “ready for Grade 5”. His family had just returned from Spain and found he was not quite ready for the South African system. It was my job to get him ready. In the end, I homeschooled him until he almost completed Grade 6, when I was offered a full time post at a school.
For some time before my daughter was born, I had already said she would be home-schooled. This was partly due to my previous experiences doing homeschool, partly the romance of Durrell’s stories but – mostly – because I’d become disillusioned and disappointment with the Education system.
In the 28 years of teaching, I have taught at both Independent and State schools, in primary and high school, locally and internationally, and at monastic and co-ed schools. I was fortunate to have been educated at IEB schools and I have worked my way up to Deputy Principal.
Over the years, I have watched the system change from OBE to RNCS to CAPS.
I found it worrying that topics would be dropped from the curriculum.
About 20 years ago, Force and Movement was included in Grade 7 Natural Sciences. It was quietly dropped. Now, under CAPS, Grade 7s have to deal with “The Moon and Tides”, which includes gravity. Gravity is a force. But with no knowledge of Force and Movement, they’re suddenly expected to understand how the moon is able to influence the tides. 20 years ago, they had “Magnets and Magnetism”, but this was also dropped. Electromagnets are introduced under electricity in Technology now. But with no understanding of Force and Movement in science, they’re expected to cope with electromagnets by building a crane with a working electromagnet and light. Getting the crane to do its thing is already hard enough, but to have it pick up paper clips with an electromagnet and getting the crank to work is harder still. While the project is fun, it begs the question: what have they actually learnt? This is not the only example. In Grade 6 Mathematics, the textbook shows one page of Ratio, which is suddenly introduced and then abandoned until Grade 7!
About 40 or so years ago, a friend of mine’s mother was asked to write a book review for the Sunday Times.
She chose, as her first review, the Matric History Textbook. She had taught History while doing her PhD and she was alarmed at the errors in the textbook and decided to expose this in her review. Incorrect dates and facts of events in world history, let alone South African history, were rife. This was during the Apartheid government era so it is not to say the current government is getting it wrong.
At one of my schools I sat on the SGB and I recall how we’d sent a delegation to the then MEC for Education to implore her to ask the government to build more English-medium schools in Pretoria East. We were told emphatically that no new public schools would be built. And so classrooms were overcrowded and corridors congested with learner traffic. There are a number of consequences to this. One of these is discipline and another is teacher burnout. In American education they have a catch phrase: “No learner left behind”. But if we overcrowd classrooms, some learners might not get the attention they need.
When I was a child, and even when I started as a teacher, we’d hear the Multiplication Tables being chanted. Sometimes we’d hear spelling rules or verbs being conjugated by the whole class. Today it is rare to hear any of these. I can still conjugate the Latin for the verb ‘to love’ because we did this so many times in high school. Today some learners are confused when they hear ‘you’ because they don’t realise it can be singular or plural. And why is this? It is because there is little time left to conjugate verbs or recite the Five-Times Table because we have a teaching plan to get through.
Don’t get me wrong. Teachers do an incredible job and often with very little for what they are expected to earn.
But, as I said, I feel my child can achieve more being homeschooled. I try not to compare my little one with her older cousins, but she is ahead of them at the same grade level despite her being younger than them. More importantly, she is able to problem-solve. When confronted with a new word, she will break it down to its phonics and try to sound it out. Sometimes it’s wrong, sometimes it’s right, but the crucial thing is: she is making the effort to solve the problem. She uses the same approach in other subjects.
In a traditional school environment she might not have this time to figure it out. The classroom might be noisy or the teacher might not get to her. Or a part of the topic may have been left out of the curriculum or syllabus. With homeschool, the pace is just right. With homeschool, the pressure is just right. It could be argued that it’s easier for me because I’m a trained teacher. Well, yes and no. I am not qualified at ECD (Early Childhood Development) level, but like all teachers I’ve been trained in it. The journey, then has been for the whole family.
But this, probably, is a story for another time.