Should school be mandatory?

Should school be mandatory?

In 1970, Austrian philosopher and Roman Catholic priest Ivan Illich said that like the separation of church and state, society needs a corresponding right protecting people from state establishment of education.

According to Illich, this right should read: “the state shall make no law with respect to the establishment of education.”

And Illich wasn’t alone in advocating against mandatory formal schooling.

Seven years later, US teacher, John Holt, founded ‘Growing Without Schooling’, which was America's first home education newsletter.

Holt believed that children did not need to be coerced into learning; they would do so naturally if given the freedom to follow their own interests and a rich assortment of resources.

This line of thought came to be called unschooling, which is defined as “allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear”.

While the idea might seem ludicrous to many educators, there has been a noticeable trend away from mainstream schooling in several countries, where the academic benefits of learning at home have been highlighted in inquiries and reports.

For example, a 2014 parliamentary inquiry in Australia found home-schooled students out-performed mainstream school students across literacy and numeracy in all year levels.

A survey by Home School Western Australia revealed that the number of Western Australian students registered for home schooling has surged more than 50% in the past five years. Last year, there were 3,464 students registered compared with 2,211 in 2013.

And this trend is not just in Western Australia. Recent data released by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) reveals a significant increase in homeschooling applications in 2017.

Whilst school enrolments for public schools increased by 0.2%, Catholic schools went down by 0.3%, Independent up by 0.1% - and in NSW, homeschooling registrations increased 18%.

In the UK, nearly 30,000 children in were homeschooled in the 2016 to 2017 academic year – an almost 100% increase from 2011.

One of the factors driving this trend in the UK is a low threshold of regulation and monitoring of home educators. In other words, any parent can choose to home educate their child, and there is no requirement to inform local authorities.

However, this also means that local authorities are neither required to monitor who is home educating or how they are doing it – and herein lies the problem: no one is keeping an eye on the parents.

Martin Myers, a lecturer in Education, University of Portsmouth in the UK, said there needs to be a national register of home educated children, and the monitoring of their well-being.

“This would not impose on parental choice, it would simply help to monitor what, can at times be, something of a grey area within the UK education system,” Myers wrote in The Conversation.

“Ultimately, what all this shows is that for many families there is a real need for home education, because of problems with schooling, bullying or racism. And in this way, home education is not always a lifestyle choice.”

But even when it is, says Myers, this decision should still be respected.

“As our research shows, choosing home education is a difficult and challenging decision – but one that is often made with the best interests of the children in mind.”