Homeschooling is the new norm, thanks to the demands of lockdown. Will it now move beyond being just a niche market, and can cottage schools offer a viable future economic revenue stream?
Lockdown forced many parents to homeschool their children. While a growing number of tools, courses and curricula exist to assist them, the shock of having to do this has prevented many from looking at the bigger picture: will exposure to homeschooling change parental habits in the long term?
Not only does it offer numerous benefits to the child, there may even be potential for unemployed parents to begin a new career as a micro-educator, running a cottage school.
Priscilla Roux is a tutor in Maths and English, who assists homeschooled children in these subjects.
“With homeschooling, the idea is for the children to be independent learners, with parents and tutors available to assist where required. I’ve found this approach often works better than in an actual school; when students take ownership and responsibility for their work and apply themselves, the understanding comes, and because it has been hard-earned, they not only hold onto the knowledge better, but feel justifiably proud of their achievements,” she says.
Unlike private or public schools – both of which she has taught at – homeschooling is not about meeting points in a curriculum. Instead, it’s a way of life, as a traditional homeschooled student often matriculates with a greater wealth of knowledge, as well as a greater understanding of how to be responsible and take ownership of the manner in which they learn.
“Of course, any kind of remote learning, including the tutoring I do, requires the right technology. Without a stable internet connection, for example, it can be very difficult, though not impossible. Recently, I’ve found myself using everything from voice notes and WhatsApp to small videos to overcome this.”
Annelee le Grange, GM for HP Inc. at Axiz, agrees that connectivity is the biggest challenge for any form of remote learning. She says that while it’s not an issue in the more affluent areas, where there is access to fibre or LTE, in the country’s less privileged areas, there are precious few devices and virtually no stable connectivity.
What many forget is that technology is only an enabler; the key to success lies in providing the basic infrastructure first. To this end, she says, it’s imperative that the private sector gets involved to help take such infrastructure to the areas where it’s needed.
“I would say use your corporate social investment programmes to help create hubs in underprivileged areas that can provide the IT infrastructure and connectivity required. It’s a win-win scenario too, as it will both improve their B-BBEE points and help bridge the digital divide.
“Remember, education can’t be put on hold, and I suspect we’ll still need to practise social distancing for some time. With such hubs, even the less privileged children will be able to learn remotely. It will have added benefits too, as it will ensure these children have access to basic computer skills, which will better prepare them for both tertiary education and the working world,” says Le Grange.
“Other peripheral advantages include the fact that if the infrastructure is there, then even unemployed school leavers will be able to use the internet to either search for jobs or launch their own entrepreneurial digital businesses.”
Abdul Moosa, CTO for South Africa and English-speaking Africa at Fujitsu, suggests that e-learning offers numerous advantages to students, not the least of which is that it creates wider opportunities to link with peers and experts, and to access multiple sources, like text, images and video. In addition, he says, things like gamification are also likely to impact the way curricula are developed in the near-future.
“Obviously, achieving this on a broad scale relies on both access to connectivity and end-user devices, but government has clearly identified this as a critical area it’s looking into. Irrespective of whether the crisis ends anytime soon, the country needs to be future-ready, as there are other crises – like climate change – on the horizon, the impact of which remain unknown. It’s thus important to have options other than attending a physical institution available to students,” he says.
“However, this isn’t something government can do alone – it needs the private sector to play a role in terms of both funding and supplying knowledge around the creation and delivery of relevant content, to assist students to learn the skills required to succeed in a 4IR future.”
A cottage industry
Roux says she expects remote learning to change the face of education once lockdown ends, particularly as many parents will remain concerned about sending their children back to a physical school while the virus remains a threat. However, she’s unsure whether the cottage school market will take off, despite this.
A ‘cottage school’ is usually where a parent who is already homeschooling chooses to invigilate maybe six or eight other children as well – often for parents who both work – for a fee.
“There are laws governing education, so launching a cottage school is not the same as seeing a gap in the market to produce, for example, face masks. While there has been a boom in cottage schools, the reality is that ‘homeschooling’ is defined as being only when a child is taught in their own home,” she says.
“Therefore, if the child is going to someone else’s home for this, they are no longer considered to be homeschooled. These types of cottage schools are currently unregulated, so the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has no way of ensuring these schools are providing the education they are supposed to.”
However, the cottage industry plays in a grey area in legislation, she continues, so while it’s not considered as homeschooling if a child goes somewhere else to be schooled, at the same time, you cannot register as a school unless you have at least 20 children under your care.
“I believe there is a place for reputable players here, as there are often children who struggle in the regular education system. This way, they’re able to obtain the extra attention they require.
“If the DBE embraces what cottage schools can offer in terms of fulfilling a need in their communities, and provides the right structures, laws and governance to enable them, I think there’s a huge potential market for SMEs here that can definitely assist SA in rebuilding the economy,” says Roux.
• Since being legalised in 1996, home education has been on a steady growth path.
• According to the 2011 census, there were 56 857 home learners.
• Recent unverified estimates have put the current number at over 100 000 learners.
• Home education offers learners greater subject choice.