By Danqing Yin, one of six GEM Report 2021 fellows, who presented their work at the 2021 CIES Conference
As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer once said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” In Chinese, “Wei Ji,” the word to describe a crisis, consists of “Wei”, which means danger and “Ji”, which means opportunities. In the same word lies the shared hope of many people.
Education has long been in a crisis. The current education paradigm – the one-size-fits-all traditional schooling, the deficit-driven pedagogy, the exam-oriented teaching and learning, and the narrow curriculum devoid of authenticity and relevance in the real world – is obsolete. This crisis has given us a chance for change. We must not waste it.
In the education community, there is a consensus that the current schooling system cannot equip all children with the abilities they will need in the future. There is also an unsaid agreement that our students have a diversity of talents, interests, and needs that the one-size-fits-all structure cannot accommodate.
As one of the education choices outside of traditional school systems, homeschooling has long been popular in the Anglophone world, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom but especially in the United States. The 2016 comedy movie Captain Fantastic, and the 2018 best seller book, Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westove, are two examples that vividly depict how homeschooled families live and learn. Tara, for instance, describes in her book how she grew up as a homeschooler in Idaho with a father who opposed public education and never attended school before college. She set foot in a real classroom for the first time when she was 17. After that, Tara pursued a bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University and a doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge before becoming a successful writer.
Home-educated families like this used to be invisible and not known by many, but they have been getting more and more attention, especially since the COVID-19 global pandemic. Today’s schoolchildren, from nearly every corner of the world, have experienced some home-based education, thus making issues around it complicated but necessary for education stakeholders worldwide to understand.
As a 2021 UNESCO GEM Fellow, I focused on home education. I cannot be more grateful to work with a team of amazing people for about one year. My experience with the fellowship program has been genuinely fulfilling by participating in weekly meetings, monthly events, growing professional network, and the overall learning experiences.
To explore homeschooling and home-educated students – a largely understudied group of learners – there are key questions.
What are the global trends of home education? The legal status and practices of homeschooling vary significantly by country and education systems globally. According to PEER, the latest online platform prepared by the GEM Report team and launched to describe countries’ laws and policies issues key to SDG 4, out of 211 education systems, homeschooling is allowed in 123 and exists in 153 of them. Even in countries that do not recognize homeschooling in law, the practice still exists.
How well does this group of children learn? Some studies have found that homeschooling promoted positive academic achievements and home-educated students performed better than brick-and-mortar peers. Others found the accomplishment of home-educated children not as high as that of children taught in schools. Other studies found little to no difference between college students who had been homeschooled and those who had attended schools, while student retention and graduation rates were also not significantly different. Overall, our knowledge is limited as many of the studies conducted on homeschoolers suffer from methodological problems that make their findings inconclusive.
Do homeschool learners lack cultural capital compared with their brick-and-mortar peers? Another major finding is that homeschooling status significantly predicted most cultural activities outside of school, other things being equal. Being homeschooled is linked to a higher likelihood of engaging in cultural activities. Based on the findings from a study that offered the most detailed description of cultural activities among different groups by gender, race, and parents’ highest education, my research sends messages to help policymakers, schools, and families understand each other better.
To me, a crisis is an opportunity to break from the past, to create something new. The education crisis we all face today is indeed a stressor, but more of a chance for everyone to think about and create a possible new education paradigm. The new paradigm needs to work more significantly for our new generations of students, children, and learners, including the homeschooled ones. Evidence in home education, especially during COVID-19, remains inconclusive, but I hope my research will encourage more discussions on best practices, parental involvement, and practical resources for home education.