The Malta Independent 8 December 2022, Thursday
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Home education activists find it ‘exhausting’ lobbying for home-schooling rights

Joanna Demarco Sunday, 24 September 2017, 09:45 Last update: about 6 years ago

Activists lobbying for the educational choice to home-school their children are finding it ‘exhausting’, according to the chairperson of the Malta Home Education Association (MHEA) Abigail Giuffre, who is hoping for better dialogue with the Education Ministry.

With the start of a new scholastic year literally just around the corner, The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke to Giuffre about the current situation of homeschooling in Malta.

Giuffre told this newspaper that the MHEA has had many meetings with Education Minister Evarist Bartolo to discuss the situation, and although “promising and very positive at first", Giuffre said they did not pan out as expected.

“We have had several meetings with the Minister, but things have not been easy,” the lobbyist and mother said. “In 2013, our meetings were promising and very positive, but as time passed we learnt that internal opposition is great and no one is willing to educate themselves about homeschooling and stand up for this parental right.”

“We were given many promises which we foolishly counted on, but once the new education act proposal was published, we realized that the Ministry, while including Home Education in the Act as promised, did so with a lot of restrictions – none of which were ever mentioned before,” she stated. “We hope for better dialogue with the Ministry for Education to create the best model for learning without ‘school’ here in Malta,” she added.

Changes to the law proposed in June last year stated that home education would be possible if carried out by people who have a teaching warrant. Home schooling is currently available to children with physical or mental difficulties.

However, the proposal is still pending, and for those without physical or mental difficulties, home education is currently still illegal, Giuffre explained: “Many Maltese families who want to choose home education for their children have had to leave the island,” she said.

She went on to explain that the association was told that the new education act would be presented in Parliament in May of this year, however, this “fell through when elections were called”. “We are still waiting for communication and are committed to following this up,” she said.

When asked what lobbying for homeschooling is like in Malta, Giuffre replied “it is exhausting. We are confronted with a whole lot of ignorance; just because something is unknown everyone assumes it wrong.”

The main concern of the MHEA, according to Giuffre, is the “discrimination” shown to the concept.

“Our main concern is the discriminatory behaviour demonstrated by politicians, policy makers and those in administration,” she said, “let alone the bullying comments, insinuations and outright crazy ideas that have (at times) been levelled at these families who are keen to take up this challenge, for the good of their children.

“We have given multiple proposals to the minister proposing non intrusive ways to monitor the families in order to make sure that the families are educating their children and preparing them to be part of society, but till now all our proposals have been left on the shelf.

“Home schooling is a recognised and successful method of education that has had positive results around the world,” she said. “Our hope is, even if not for our children, that there will be a generation who can see the huge benefits in a more personalized way of learning with family relationships as its strength, free from the limitations of ‘systemised’ exam-oriented, pre-packaged school experiences which may well have the reverse effect of sparking a lifelong passion to learn.”


Parents with PHD but without teaching warrant cannot teach

With the pending new Education Act, a home-school parent must be a teacher or employ a teacher, Giuffre explained, adding that “this criterion is ridiculous. (Malta) is one of two or three countries in the world with such criteria”.

 “We could understand if a minimum criteria was set, such as two A-levels (like supply teachers in school),but we are not so lucky,” she said, adding “we have parents with degrees, even PhDs, who are denied this fundamental parental right because they do not have a teacher’s warrant.”


What are the advantages of home schooling?

When asked how the curriculum works when it comes to home schooling, Giuffre said that home education is legal in most of the developed world. “In the majority of context, parents have freedom to choose the curriculum for their children,” she said, “while some countries give National Minimum Standards for families to follow.”

Giuffre said that the age for homeschooling children should be the “compulsory school age of 5 till 16.”

This newspaper then asked Giuffre why she is pushing for home schooling. “Children are given the freedom to learn at their own pace with individual attention,” she replied.

“We get to follow the learning method of our children. Some children are more hands on while others are more visual. We have the time and opportunity (since we do not have classrooms full of kids) to give our children a personalized education.”

According to Giuffre, time is one of the most significant benefits of home schooling. “There is so much less waste of time and children are given more time to develop their passions,” she said. “More time can instead be spent developing the areas of giftedness and improving the areas of weakness. Students are able to connect their learning with real-world experiences in a much more immediate way than those confined to a classroom for thousands of hours.”


Socialising and creating peer groups in home education

Giuffre argued that socializing with other children and creating peer groups is not a concern when it comes to children who are educated at home.

“Socialisation is really not an issue with families that home-school,” she said. “The children are out and about all the time. They join in extracurricular activities and meet other home-schooled families for joint lessons and activities during the week.”

“What they ‘miss-out’ on,” she continued, “is only six hours a day with students who they may have nothing in common with but their year of birth.”

The lobbyist added that by home schooling, the students “are not subjected to the often intense emotional experience of playground socialization”.

“This is a gift we hope to be able to give our children. Home-schooled children are often the most well-adjusted and socially flexible children, able to relate to peers equally as well as care for the young and care meaningfully for young adults.”

Questions have been sent to Education Minister Evarist Bartolo regarding home education.


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