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The path less taken: Homeschooling in Singapore

About 50 children in Singapore opt for homeschooling every year, and parents who choose this route believe it offers flexibility and individualised attention for their children.   

SINGAPORE: Registration for primary school starts on Thursday (July 3), and parents of six-year-olds across the country will be watching the number of spots available at their school of choice very closely over the next few weeks. Families who have decided on homeschooling, however, have chosen to forego this uniquely Singaporean exercise.

On average, about 50 children opt out of the primary school system every year. Mr Koh Chin Gay and his wife Tan Peng Peng, for example, have chosen the homeschooling route for their three children, aged eight, six, and four.

On a typical weekday for this family, Mum is in charge of Mandarin class, while Dad heads the English "department". Mdm Tan does most of the teaching as a stay-home mum, but Mr Koh, who works full-time as a teacher, helps out whenever he can.

The couple are trained educators, but they believe that homeschooling, at the primary school level at least, is doable for most people. "All it takes is a devoted parent who is willing to give the best to his or her child," said Mdm Tan. "I think anybody can do it."

They chose homeschooling to give their children individualised attention, the flexibility to learn at their own speed and beyond the confines of any syllabus, and to ensure their children's values are in the right place. Said Mr Koh: "In terms of character development, behavioural management - it does the child a lot of good for us to homeschool them for the first few years."

Parents who wish to homeschool their children have to apply to the Education Ministry for an exemption from what is known as compulsory education here in Singapore. They have to give details about their home curriculum, and also show they have the resources and qualifications to educate their children full-time. There have been few rejections over the years - below 1 per cent. Homeschoolers must sit for the PSLE and about 30 to 40 do so every year.

The number of homeschoolers every year stays at about 50. There is a close-knit network of Singapore homeschoolers, including Singapore Homeschool Group, a social media group that only accepts parents of actual homeschoolers at primary level (seven years old and above) that has 433 members. 

Including sister groups for preschoolers and teenagers, this network has close to 1,000 members today. These families regularly organise group lessons, or what they call "co-ops" for their children, from public speaking to Mathematics. They even have their own Sports Day.

Associate Professor Jason Tan, from the National Institute of Education's Policy and Leadership Studies department, says homeschooling has benefits, but one concern is the lack of national oversight.

"No one really knows what's happening in these homes. So I guess for some people in government this is a big worry, because there is that lack of control, that lack of predictability that one has to a much greater extent in mainstream schools," he noted. "I guess the fact is that a lot of governments think that schools are important for socialising young people. That is why they want young people to be in schools together with their age peers."

The Kohs' answer for socialising their children is the "co-ops" they sign up for. But the jury is still out on homeschooling in Singapore, simply because there is as yet no long-term data and research on the subject.

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