Public School Alternatives – A Mother’s Perspective

Oct 25, 2019 | News

– By Amanda Benadé –

You may have heard of homeschooling, cottage schools, and online or virtual schools. You may wonder if there is a difference and experience some anxiety or concerns over this topic. Many parents are concerned about the impact on the social development of children in a homeschooling environment. You may ask: is it legal? What about sport and the arts? As a once homeschooling mother who experienced all the doubt and anxiety, I’d like to share with you some insight, advice, and information to help you in making an informed decision.

There are many reasons why parents may consider public school alternatives. Faced with the problem of overcrowded schools, limited student placements, safety concerns or having children with special needs, many parents are researching alternatives for their children’s education. It is important to realize that homeschooling is not for everyone, whether it be parent or child. Transitioning to homeschooling can be very stressful with limited options, information, support, and resources. It is in your and your child’s best interest to take the time to research all alternatives, including cottage schools and online/virtual schools, to find the most ideal alternative for both.

Homeschool vs Cottage School vs Virtual School

A homeschool by law requires the child to be educated in his/her own home. The parent is responsible to prepare all the lesson plans, teaching, activity planning, examinations, and grading. It is the parent’s sole responsibility to ensure that the child maintains the required academic standard, which may include the use of a tutor as long as tuition is conducted in the child’s home. Homeschooling is a fulltime responsibility.

Cottage schools are small (often home-based) schools teaching small groups of children and may follow a homeschool curriculum. Cottage schools are required by law to be registered as independent schools.

Online/virtual schools are legally recognized schools where online teachers and subject-matter experts provide real-time teaching through a live, interactive video conference environment. Students can easily connect with teachers and fellow students online and offline. Class sessions are usually recorded for replay.

Advantages and Disadvantages

One of the first obstacles parents encounter is the fact that most parents are not trained teachers and possess limited knowledge of foundational education, academic requirements, and curriculum options. Time is also potentially a huge obstacle. Homeschooling is a fulltime responsibility. In a homeschool environment, the parent is required to fulfill all educational roles in her (or his) child’s education. If the teaching parent is also the breadwinner – as in single-parent households – balancing your child’s education and your career is a near-impossible task. Constant attacks, interference, and restrictions on homeschooling parents do not help either.

You also need to consider the effect the transition may have on your child. There is no one-fit-solution when it comes to education. Not all children can adapt to a homeschool environment but may flourish in a cottage school environment. Visual learners may find online or virtual schools more suitable. The routine, fixed schedules and structure found in virtual school environments may provide the best alternative for students on, for example, the autism spectrum where the child needs the stability of routine and structure. Many parents have difficulty to maintain a routine and keep their children motivated or interested in their school activities, which in turn may lead to stressful and conflicted home environments.

My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger Syndrome) and as a result, I homeschooled him from grade 1. During grade 4 I placed him in a cottage school where he flourished until grade 9. After grade 9 I attempted to enroll him in an FET college and was informed by multiple colleges that they only accept the official Department of Education grades and not homeschool grades. I had to enroll him with a public high school from grade 10, where he thankfully flourished. When transitioning back to a public school, your child may have to write a placement assessment. If you decide to go the homeschooling way, be sure to register with the Pestalozzi Trust to protect your rights and safeguard against unlawful discrimination. One of the advantages of online schools is that they offer accredited examinations widely accepted by educational institutions.

It may also prove helpful to talk to young adults that completed alternative education to get a unique perspective on the obstacles your child may face. After experiencing high school, my son reflected on his time in a homeschool and cottage school environment. He adored his tutor and was in a safe, comfortable environment that allowed him to grow and learn at his own pace, which allowed him to finish matric a year early. He participated in watersports and private art classes, however, he did not have many friends and felt that he missed out on social events and experiences that form part of a traditional school environment.

With alternative school environments, parents have control over their child’s education. Students have access to more personal interaction and support which large classrooms cannot accommodate. Students learn to be autodidacts and to take responsibility for their education. Should they return to a public school environment, they often do not need to rely solely on the teachers to teach them. Virtual schools provide students with the opportunity to engage in a personalized learning plan while completing a specialized, structured, comprehensive curriculum and accredited examinations. Virtual schools maintain attendance and academic policies, with a set daily schedule. They support students with guidance and motivation while providing parents with academic progress monitoring.

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