Mary Muriuki, 48, knew the type of education she wanted for her two children, Mishel and Matthew, and it was not the Kenyan one.
Having lived abroad for over five years and seen a difference in the academic and social persona of children who had gone through other education systems, she was wary of the gaps in ours.
The system, she argued, limits ability and potential because it is geared towards passing exams. She wanted life skills for her children, not merely academic knowledge.
When she returned to Kenya, Mary made two decisions: That her children would be educated at home, and that she would leave her job as a banker to tutor them.
“I knew the values I wanted to see instilled in my children,” says Mary, “and I wanted to be present as they grew up.” Both of these life goals would be achieved through home-schooling.
NURTURING INNATE SKILLS
When Mary started home-schooling, Mishel was six.
The curriculum Mary started with was popular for its orientation towards Christianity.
But as Mishel advanced to “high school” — and as she discovered Mishel’s talents and strengths — Mary became choosy. “I focused on curricula which would nurture Mishel’s natural skill in arts and music.
So we didn’t bother with physics and chemistry because they didn’t fit her interests.”
Mary planned and developed the curriculum as they went along: She selected what she felt was best for Mishel from a variety of local and international curricula.
Her home-school timetable included outdoor activities for afternoons. As Mishel progressed, Mary got other tutors to help.
Instead of grades as a measure of performance, Mary compiled a portfolio.
“The portfolio is a record that shows Mishel’s achievements and milestones. It illustrates her talents and strengths, her dreams and future ambitions.”
Local public universities do not recognise this portfolio, but there are international schools that accept it as a measure of performance.
Based on her portfolio only, Mishel was admitted as a Second Year student for an undergraduate degree in business at DALC, a higher education institution.
Mary’s aim is to incorporate Mishel’s love for the arts and music with business knowledge that would allow her to start her own business.
Mishel, who was a contestant in the on-going music talent show, Tusker Project Fame, enjoyed home-schooling.
“Learning was so much fun. I got to study things which interest me,” Mishel says. “I don’t think I missed out on anything being home-schooled.”
NO EASY TASK
Mary’s approach to home-schooling is similar to what Dennis Otieno, a special needs educator with Kipepeo Therapies, applies for his students.
“The focus when educating children with special needs is not sitting exams. It is how much they have learned and whether they have achieved the milestones established at the start of the school year.”
Home-schooling structure Mercy Wangai, 33, the mother of one child, has been educating her son at home for the past one year.
Financial reasons drove her to make this decision.
Mercy notes that Ryan, six, has become better mannered, more inquisitive, and more confident.
He is also enthusiastic about learning. Mercy is a teacher. She understands the positive impact of one-on-one interaction on the growth of a child.
And while she appreciates that it is no easy task, Mercy is considering home-schooling Ryan until his late teens, but her husband is sceptical.
“I understand his scepticism. There isn’t sufficient information on home-schooling — what curriculum is best to use, whether his knowledge will be sufficient for him to get employment later, and whether institutions of higher learning will accept the home-schooling qualifications before they enrol him.”
David Musila of Nairobi Home School addresses these concerns. Started in 2009, the centre provides professionally trained tutors to educate children at home.
“We advise parents on the curriculum to select, depending on the age of the student. For the younger students, one curriculum is sufficient.
For the older ones, we borrow from different curricula — British, American, Cambridge, Singapore, 8-4-4 — and tailor it to the student’s individual needs. The timetable is prepared around this curriculum.”
The student, parents, and tutor set goals at the beginning of the school year and progress is measured against these goals.
In addition, at the end of the school year, depending on the curriculum, students sit exams at various exam centres across Nairobi.
Other students sit the local national exams privately. Students then proceed to regular schooling at university.
To ensure that the children are also social, Musila says they have partnered with local organisations to access their facilities.
“Outdoor activities are slotted in the timetable at least twice a week. Students engage in music, dancing, cooking classes, and sports. We have also access to libraries.”
The cost of home-schooling is, expectedly, higher than regular formal schooling.
But the benefits of home-schooling a child, Musila emphasises, outweigh the costs.
“Students learn at their pace and the personal relationship they develop with their tutors enhances their sociability, open-mindedness, and independence. Best of all, the competition found in regular schooling does not exist among the students.”
Prof Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology supports home-schooling because it instils values.
“Home-schooling focuses on learning and mastering concepts, not scoring good grades.”
There is a noted gap in the current education system because it has not adequately considered home-schooling as a form of education.
All hope is not lost, though. In the long run, Kabaji says, home-schoolers will be integrated into the job market because employers are shifting focus from academic qualifications to performance and delivery.
What you need to know about home-schooling
- The option to home-school should be right for both the child and the parent.
- You do not need a teaching certification to educate your child at home.
- There are numerous local and international curricula to choose from.
- Blending them is an option available to every home-schooler.
- Children who are home-schooled are not socially handicapped.
- Home-schooling is not a direct saving on regular tuition fees for formal schooling.
- Support groups are available for parents who choose home-schooling.