Homeschooling as we know it in today’s world is still very new in Africa. It is practised mostly by expatriates and the middle class in society who would typically enroll their children in private schools. Although homeschooling as a concept was practised in Africa as the mainstream traditional education system before the 1800s, it has now returned in a different form to a different generation.
The African homeschooling model and why it is taking a different form
In East Africa, modern homeschooling for the African family begun about 20 years ago and is now becoming more common, even though the majority of people have not heard of it.
Many African governments are still trying to enroll every single child in a public school which results in overcrowding since there are not enough schools spread over all parts of the country. The alternative, private schooling, is expensive. Parents looking for an affordable, quality education settle on homeschooling where they can control costs and maintain quality. In addition, adult literacy programs are common to educate those who grew up without schooling and also account for a rise in demand for homeschooling.
The culture of an urban African family
The culture of African society in general is built on community collaboration. A typical household in an urban setting is composed of the nuclear family as well as extended family. It is not uncommon to have a parent, sibling, cousin or nephew living with a family permanently or ‘seasonally’. And in most households where there are young children, you will almost always find a nanny who lives with the family.
It is also typical to hire some kind of help to run the operations of a household, ranging from cleaning, cooking, shopping, transport, gardening, sewing etc. The priority for most people is being able to find someone to help with these extra daily tasks which they themselves are unable do. This is because most people work full-time away from the home, which does not allow enough time to do all the chores needed to run a household. Unlike first-world countries where most routine chores and functions are automated, in East Africa, most things require human labour.
This kind of community collaboration therefore creates many jobs for people living in an urban setting. You can typically find the following along the way home in your urban neighbourhood: a house manager, tailor, shoe repairer, cleaning lady, vegetable store, grocery store, motorbike delivery man, taxi, hairdresser, and someone selling cooked food.
The culture of community support when applied to homeschooling creates jobs for many service providers who support the homeschooling community. Most parents don’t think about how they can teach their own children but how they can get someone else to help them teach.
There is a proverb in Lunyoro (Bunyoro) that says “Omwana takulila nju emoi”: “A child does not grow up in a single home”.
Why do people homeschool?
There are a number of reasons why families are choosing to homeschool. The most common reason is dissatisfaction with the quality of education offered in schools, both private and public.
What schools generally offer is an education system that teaches students to study so that they can pass exams. The exams are a key milestone in the life of a student and tend to define who they are: a bright, average or poor student. Society tends to judge people based on their exam grades and the chances of completing tertiary education are slim if a student doesn’t attain good grades. This creates a lot of competition and puts pressure on the student who ends up overloaded with homework. In this way, they cannot strike a healthy study/life balance.
Despite some schools striving to offer a balanced education, it still inevitably becomes less of a priority when overtaken by academic goals and the pressure to perform. Parents who are paying high fees, especially in private schools, feel that they are paying too much and receiving too little in return. They move from school to school looking for a balanced education yet keep finding the same thing. Eventually, they opt to homeschool in order to create the desired balance they have been looking for.
The African homeschool model
Most families begin the homeschool journey by looking for information about homeschooling and how they can obtain help from a local homeschool group or community. It is common for families to hire a teacher at home as most mothers are committed outside the home or are not confident in taking on the role of a teacher. Others form a group and work together, each contributing in their areas of strength.
Those mothers who become competent in homeschooling become a support system for newly-joined parents. This support system then becomes a co-op of families working together in various ways, both academically and non-academically. Group programmes include: curriculum support, homeschool training, field trips, sports, the arts, socialisation, moral development, language training etc.
The African homeschool model is thus one of community collaboration, reflective of African society as a whole. It works well to collectively solve the problem of an unbalanced education. Parents are able to allocate enough time for students to learn essential life skills and morals, develop gifts and talents, socialise, explore and research interests, and to read widely. This makes learning more practical and allows students enough time to master and excel in academics at their own pace. All of this is not overseen by one parent alone, but through different service providers and surrounding communities.
The goal in African homeschooling is not just to provide an education adequate to pass exams, but to fully develop the potential of every student to find their passion and make a positive and unique contribution to society. Grades are there as a guide to mastery of concepts but not to define who a student is or what he/she will become in future. They don’t make or break the life of a student.