Three's A'loud

Public, private or home school

A very wise man once said that education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. Essentially proving his own theory, this same man left school at the age of 15 because he found it dull and rigid, and then grew up to become one of the most celebrated minds of the 20th century.

As parents in the 21st century we all aspire to give our kids the very best opportunities, even though all of them can’t be little Einsteins. Historically, most of our nation has been educated in the public school system. But with ever increasing concerns about this model and even Angie Motshekga publicly stating that “perfection is not a standard her department ever aspired to”, more and more parents seek alternatives to the increasingly bigger student/teacher ratios. Many believe that private schools are the ideal - preferably one with a rich history and/or a book and a movie made about it. Tradition, discipline (and textbooks!) might be just what our youth needs. And then there are those that I personally consider super parents. Those that forfeit careers and free time to home school their children. Surely that is the ultimate gift you can give your child? Or is it? What are our options and which one will give your little bundle of joy the best possible head start in life?

The pros and cons of public schooling are widely known… and vary dramatically from literally one suburb to the next. Most city public schools have well established sporting facilities and teachers are generally dedicated and passionate about their jobs (certainly the teachers I know are not doing it for the money!) On the other hand there are huge classes, and an alleged decline in discipline and standards.

At the other edge of the spectrum, the 2013 SA General Household survey indicated that 6% of the population at the time were attending private schools. This figure is said to have increased significantly since then. With an average student-teacher ratio of 16:1 this is often a no-brainer for high income families but more and more middle income families are also willing to pay between R100 000 and R200 000 a year for a private school education. But is it worth all the extra money?

“Sometimes it simply isn’t.” says *Andrew, a CA from Pretoria who moved his 12 year old son and 16 year old daughter to public schools in 2014. First of all the private school his kids attended since they moved from Cape Town in 2012 did not have adequate extracurricular facilities and the subjects available were not as diverse as they currently have access to in public school. But his biggest issue was the constant pressure to compare to the other kids… and their parents. If it is not about who is dropped off in the most expensive car then it is about who has the most elaborate vacation destination lined up. But the final straw for him was the Sweet 16 parties his daughter got invited to. Champagne-fountains, live bands and decor to match most weddings were at the order of the day. So much so that when it came to planning her own party, she got so anxious that she got an ulcer and failed an exam for the first time in her life. He now pays R72 000 less per year and both kids have more friends and they perform well above average academically.

Although “keeping up with the Jones’s” is one of the most mentioned drawbacks of private schools, there is a very long list of advantages. A 2013 UK study involving more than 225 000 students found that private school graduates are a third more likely to be in a top graduate position several years after finishing their degree course. Not only did they find that most private school graduates get more individual attention, researchers at Bristol University claims that private school graduates “have access to far more influential social networks” which gives them a significant advantage later in their careers and personal lives.

But what if you considered both public and private schooling and the pros and cons still don’t steer you in a clear direction? Maybe home schooling is an option for you. Under the apartheid government, home schooling was illegal in South Africa. In 1994 Andre and Bokkie Meintjies were even jailed and their children were placed in an orphanage because they educated their children at home. However, a few years later home schooling was legalised and since then it has been the fastest growing education model in the country.

Home schooling might also be the option that is most criticized. Personally I am the first to admit that I would never cope with home schooling my kids. I have a very demanding management position with ridiculous hours, yet no day at work has ever been as frustrating as some of the deliberations I have with my 5 year old. I am embarrassed to admit I often breathe a sigh of relief after dropping my kids off at school in the morning. I honestly feel they are in much better hands with someone more qualified to not wring their pretty little necks. Not one person on my staff gets even close to questioning my every instruction like my 7 year old can. Other home school critics are mostly concerned that home schooled children don’t get enough exposure to social situations and don’t learn to fend for themselves in the big bad world. However, as with every other education model there are always two sides to a story.

Rista and Steven Bampa from Parys have three sons and made the decision to home school their kids years before the children were even born. Before deciding on a curriculum (there are literally hundreds to choose from), they had a personality analysis done for each child. Children are auditory, kinaesthetic or visual and each of these personality types learns differently. I did not even know that. I often think my kids do things just because it’s fun to test mommy’s voice range (sometimes only dogs can hear the things I tell them.) Anyway, knowing their strengths enables Rista to work at each child’s own pace and get the best possible results. Their eldest has since been diagnosed with high functioning autism. At 6 years he can read Afrikaans and English fluently, but his 4 year old brother can draw better than he can. In a public or private school this confident smart little boy would have ended up in the special needs class and quarterly updates would have always informed his parents how far “behind” he is. Under his mom’s attentive and understanding eye however, he has just completed his first “100-books-read” challenge – a pretty remarkable feat for a 6-year old. Furthermore these boys have no issues with social interaction and attend various extracurricular activities. At around R7500 per year for the two boys in grade R and grade 1 (thereafter it becomes cheaper) this is also one of the most affordable schooling options. Rista does not feel the need to defend her choice to home school. She firmly believes that every family is different and as long as you do what is best for your children and build a strong relationship with them, you are on the right track.

I wholeheartedly agree, and would like to add another thought: as parents, we really need to stop judging and start supporting and celebrating each other’s choices.

Chances are that, right about now, you discover the pros and cons listed in this article does not give you any clear answers. More bad news: research also won’t assist you – you will find a survey or analysis supporting virtually every angle. Furthermore the opinions of family and friends won’t help you either: they only speak from their own experience and prejudice.

There is only one solution: drown out the noise, go home and build an intimate personal relationship with your children. If your son wants to be a politician then the social networking he will do in a private school can prove invaluable during his career (and help him to secure many future tender contracts!?) And if your daughter is an extremely talented dancer, wouldn’t you put her in a school for the performing arts rather than sending her for extra math classes at her public school? Draw a picture with your child. Play hide and seek. Learn about their passion, their strengths, their challenges and dreams. Because in the end it is not about the prestige or the money or the being-a-better-parent-than-your-neighbours-are. It is about your child reaching their full potential, and they can only do that if they are happy.

Maybe Aristotle said it best:

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

This article was first published on Master of Quills

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