Homeschooling In Singapore: Can You Do It Too?

What if the perfect school for your child was at home? It’s a daydream that may seem appealing, especially in Singapore’s demanding academic environment, but few parents have made it a reality—according to Ministry of Education (MOE) figures, about 500 students have been homeschooled, from 2003 to 2014. 

The prospect of being a child’s only teacher can be intimidating, yet for some parents, the potential pay-offs are worth the gamble of keeping a child away from formal schooling. Former teacher and blogging mom-of-four Justina Tey says that one of the reasons she chose to homeschool her eldest child, now seven, was the desire that learning “not be compartmentalised, but weaved into everything we do.”

She writes on her blog: “We learn everywhere, at the table, at the supermarket, while taking care of our little brother. We don’t just learn from books, we learn math through making pancakes. We learn geography while walking in a park. We want [our kids] to know it is OK to stand while reading a book, it is OK to fidget because all little [kids] do. We want to be able to fit learning to the child, and not vice versa.”

Justina shares her homeschooling experiences here, and below, she gives a candid account of how she arrived at the decision to homeschool all four of her children eventually, and what her life looks like now.

How did you and your husband broach the topic of homeschooling? Did you consult anyone else?
We discussed about how we were going to cope with homeschooling—not just one child, but a few—and what were the options available for us if we were to go ahead with it.

We did chat with our eldest son, and tried to tell him what each route would involve. For example, a mainstream school would mean he would have to wake early and be away from home for half the day, but he would get to make new friends and learn new things from teachers, while homeschool would mean a slower pace, a smaller group of friends, and I wouldn’t be able to attend to his questions sometimes. Being the introvert that he is, he was all for homeschooling, and I think it suits him because my son needs so much down time away from people, to do his own thing! We also had a similar talk with my second son, age five, who is also for the idea of homeschooling. We’ll probably have the same chat again when he is six, as well as for our younger kids in the future.

We made the decision without consulting other family members, however we did talk with other homeschoolers and we attended a sharing session on homeschooling before taking the plunge.

How long did it take you to come to a decision about homeschooling? Was there a moment where you knew it was right, where you both were ready?
No, there was no moment. We ping-ponged, we chatted about it, we shared articles about education, and finally we thought we’d give it a go. It probably took over a year of thinking through and exploring the option before we went ahead with it. I think many of us don’t ever feel up to it or ready, and it’s a long-drawn process of figuring out what works for the family and what doesn’t.

If one has decided to homeschool from Primary 1, what are the submission requirements? The MOE page for homeschoolers doesn’t provide many details.
You’ll need to write or call the MOE’s Compulsory Education Unit and request for the form to apply for exemption from compulsory education the year before your child is to start Primary 1. The form is a simple one requiring various personal particulars, as well as your reasons for wanting to homeschool. That aside, you will need to provide various educational certificates for the parent who would be doing the homeschooling, an outline of the curricula or approaches that you intend to use, as well as a proposed weekly timetable for your child. Detailed lesson plans are NOT required. 

How did you put together a homeschooling curriculum, and how much time did you spend doing that? Do you break your curriculum down into what you have to achieve daily as well?
I read up on various resources from homeschooling blogs, and chatted with other homeschoolers who shared their resources. I also read books on homeschooling. It’s hard to pinpoint a timeframe since a lot of this information was obtained organically. I’m still working out what we need to cover, and I’m taking it year by year. Currently, it’s more of finding out what works for my eldest two, and changing out what doesn’t work. It’s hard to be very structured right now because of my younger ones and our recent move to a new home. I hope to be more organised after we settle down from our move.

Is there an interview with the MOE that you have to go through before you’re granted approval to homeschool in Primary 1?
Yes there is. An MOE officer from the Compulsory Education unit conducts the interview. It’s more like a home visit and a chit-chat session to see that the child has a suitable environment for learning at home. You’ll discuss what you’ve planned in the curriculum details that you have submitted in your application. The officer will look through it and ask what you’ve planned for the aspect on National Education, and chat with the child. The officer will also brief you about other requirements, such as submission of progress reports.

Will you have to send a progress report to the MOE every year?
Yes, we have to, to briefly share about the work we’ve covered in the year.

How long do you intend to homeschool your kids?
Right now we think we’ll probably homeschool all four for the Primary years, and then decide how to go from there after the PSLE [Primary School Leaving Examinations]. We are likely to continue all the way, if we can manage!

At which point do homeschooled kids take a national exam? Is there a homeschooling link where these essential details are posted?
Local homeschooled students have to sit for exams in Primary 4. And no, most of this information isn’t available online. I hope to collate the nitty-gritty into a post when I have time!

Do you have the freedom to plan a curriculum to suit your child’s interests if, at the end of the day, the national learning objectives must still be met?
Yes and no. Some parents choose to go with their own curriculum, and take one year to prepare their kids for the PSLE, while others stick to the syllabus for the PSLE from the start and supplement their child’s learning with other curricula or resources. I think it is possible to work around the syllabus, meet learning objectives, and yet cater to a child’s interests. Homeschooling tends to free up more time for the child to pursue his own hobbies and interests, since learning is more focused and less time is “wasted” in areas like classroom management, transit, and so on.

Could you give us an estimate of how much you’ve spent on curriculum resources and learning materials for the Primary 1 year?
I can’t put a finger on it, since a lot of our learning is based on “living books,” which we would have bought even if we were to send the kids to mainstream school. I do spend a fair bit on books, perhaps 1k a year. 

Does your eldest son take enrichment classes?
He takes swimming and cello lessons, and the kids attend a weekly Chinese co-op. We are looking at hiring a Chinese tutor as learning Chinese is our main challenge.

Half the year has gone by! How has your progress been?

We’ve been doing a lot of reading and Math practice using the MOE texts and workbooks, and a curriculum called “Life of Fred.” 

Were there personal dreams you had to put aside when making the commitment to homeschool your kids?
I’ve always wanted time to pursue various crafty hobbies like sewing, however, it isn’t possible now since time (and energy) is in such short supply! These days, I’ve hardly any time to blog as well. I don’t have that slice of time that most stay-home moms have when their kids are in school, to do my own thing. But I guess that forces me to think about what is important to us right now, and prioritise.

Were you apprehensive about the homeschooling experience?

I was because I am an introvert, and being with four littles 24/7 can be draining. However, I’m finding ways to cope with that—thank goodness for toilets to hide in! But I must say I’m not the kids’ only teacher. They learn from many others, from the parents who run our co-op, the grandparents, the swim coach and cello tutor, the aunty at the market who teaches them to give the correct amount of money when paying for kueh. And of course, the hubby, who takes the time to read to them every day. They say it takes a village to raise a child; I think it also takes a village to school a child.

You were a former MOE teacher. Does the experience come in handy, or is it a different ballgame teaching your own kids?
I taught Biology and Science in secondary school for slightly over five years. It’s different teaching my kids; the stakes are much higher, plus I am used to teaching teenagers! The approach is vastly different, since in school you’re running classes with 40 rowdy students and managing behaviours, while at home you’re focused on just your own kids, and you tend to learn alongside them. That’s one lovely thing about homeschooling: You know your kid’s interests and what gives him the spark, and you can look for ways to ignite that. In school, a lot of time and effort is spent on classroom management.

Interested in homeschooling? Join the discussion here.

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