Is results-driven education really the best way to teach our children?

School – is it really the best place for children to learn? One York mum explains why she educates her children at home
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Caroline Hind thinks not. She is one of a growing number of parents who have chose to educate their children at home, and explains why for YorkMix

For home educated children 'there is no distinction between life and learning'

Every few years, and sometimes more frequently, someone will declare in the media that standards are slipping in our schools and examinations system. The answer to an increasingly fast-moving and competitive world is widely presumed to be more rigorous testing, a return to “basics” and “higher standards”.

Yet more than a decade of frequent – some would say frantic – testing and many more years of a prescriptive national curriculum finds the UK still languishing far from the top of international education league tables.

It is hard to see how more of the same could possibly be a solution. The more pertinent question would be: is a prescriptive, competitive, results-driven education really the best way to prepare our children for the world today and in the future?

A small but growing minority of us think not. Looking for ways in which our children can develop at their own pace, their natural curiosity nurtured and their confidence protected from coercion and tests, we have broken free from the confines of the National Curriculum. We are home-educators.

We believe that the process of learning and the experience of childhood is just as important, if not more important, than what children learn. The breadth and depth of knowledge needed in the world today is so vast and changes so quickly that no one knows exactly which series of facts children should be learning.

To be truly equipped for the future, it is more important that our children learn to question, research and evaluate.

To this end, home-educating families overwhelmingly choose informal ways of learning. This might include a project-based approach, leading to a variety of activities such as art, experiments, games, visits (to museums, historical sites, theatre, woodland), internet and other research, finding specialists to talk to, and so on.

Many families, like ours, combine elements of this approach with an “autonomous learning” philosophy. This allows children to follow their own interests, learning what they want, when they want and however suits them.

Crucially, there is no distinction between life and learning. Just as during the pre-school years, children play, ask endless questions, listen to stories, meet friends, go on outings, paint, make things, etc. There can be time for sport, music, gardening, cooking, board games, reading – whatever the family enjoys – and also time just to “be”.

The parent’s role is as facilitator rather than teacher. Parent and child might sometimes learn something new together but children are free to submerge themselves in whatever subject or skill they wish to learn.

This kind of learning is the deeper kind we recognise in ourselves when we are really interested in a subject. Much of formal instruction, with its emphasis on tests and memory, asks children to engage in what some educationalists call “shallow learning”, a type of learning that involves “pattern-receiving” rather than making use of our inherent “pattern-making” abilities.

There is nothing to stop children who have engaged in deeper, pattern-making learning from engaging in the shallow kind of learning required for exams. No one knows, however, to what extent a constant pattern-receiving education risks rewiring the developing brain and impairing pattern-making abilities.

What we do know is that both employers and universities complain that children are not being taught to think; that an overly-academic curriculum leaves little space for creativity; and that Britain’s most successful exports have been in the past – and are predicted to be in the future – in the creative industries.

The growth of the internet and the large numbers of children learning out of school mean that resources, support and social connections have never been easier for home-educators. We are particularly fortunate in York in having a wealth of leisure and learning opportunities that are available to everyone.

In addition, York District Home Education Support Group offers social gatherings, group activities and general family-to-family support. While education is compulsory, school is not!

For further information, see: www.education-otherwise.net

York District Home Education Support Group: telephone Katie 01653 648465 or Lis 01904 705149.  Email: yorkdistrict@yahoogroups.com