Why more UAE parents are homeschooling their kids

Why more UAE parents are homeschooling their kids

Dubai - Say the word homeschool to anybody and you're likely to get two reactions. The first is of people recoiling in horror, and the second, a look of bemusement.


Kelly Clarke

Published: Mon 21 Nov 2016, 10:44 PM

Mother of two, Gina Robbins, has been doing it for five years. Samia Imam has been doing it for four years, and Huda Farid has been doing it for three years.
But what is it that all these women have in common? They homeschool their children.
Say the word homeschool to anybody and you're likely to get two reactions. The first is of people recoiling in horror, and the second, a look of bemusement. 
Although many believe it's the lure of affordability that draws parents to play the role of teachers, that's not the only driving force behind making such a decision. 
For these parents, their reasons for doing so differ. 
Spending just Dh3,000 a year to educate her boys at home, US expatriate Gina Robbins said the low costs are a bonus - especially in a country where tuition fees are high - but the quality of teaching was her driving force. 
"I realised that I could give my children just as good an education, if not better, than if they were in a public school." 
Although other factors played a role in her decision-making, she said she enjoys having the option "to teach at a higher level" when her boys are excelling. 
Initially, Robbins did have reservations about the process, questioning whether her boys would have the opportunity to get into a good college after being homeschooled, but those feelings have been dispelled. 
"I am confident now that when the time comes to really address these questions, we will have met the mainstream expectations." 
Teaching from a US curriculum online, Robbins sets all her learning techniques. 
Her schedule starts at about 10am and concludes by 4.30pm. 
In a typical day, her boys -aged five and eight- will take about 45 minutes for lunch, with the remaining hours filled teaching subjects such as science, social studies, and reading. 
But when asked if homeschooled children run the risk of being isolated from their peers, she refuted the claims. 
"This is a misconception. I can only speak for my family, but my boys do great in social situations." 
Canadian expatriate Imam has three boys aged 11, eight and six. 
Annually, she spends about Dh60,000 homeschooling her children, including academy registration, classes, textbooks and educational field trips. 
Spending more than the average parent, Imam took the decision to teach at home because her son did not enjoy school. 
"I was upset at this despite the high tuition fees and his young age. He enjoyed doing his own craft and learning projects later in the evening." 
She said the tight schedule that school life imposed on her child was "very restrictive" and she found that homeschooling was more amenable to exploring legitimate academic interests. 
Taking on the role of teaching guide, Imam does not follow one particular curriculum, instead she chooses a more "eclectic approach". 
Registered with an American accredited homeschooling academy, she said as part of the program, her boys are assigned a licensed teacher as an advisor too, who helps develop Individual Learning Plans (ILPs). 
Speaking to many homeschooling parents, they were of the consensus that reforms should be made in today's education system, as it is no more just about learning information. 
And for mother of two, Farid, it was this learning approach which put her off school. 
"Traditional school didn't factor as a priority in our family," she told Khaleej Times. 
When her oldest daughter turned four, the family was transitioning between Doha and Dubai and that created an obstacle when it came to a permanent schooling option too. 
Although Farid has not ruled out traditional school later down the line, she said the long hours and rigid structure does not suit children so young. 
Spending just Dh5,000 a year on her daughter's education, she does not follow a specific curriculum. 
"This year, I purchased some books to use as a benchmark to see where Zainab is according to her age. Our focus is for our kids to learn manners, be conscious of the world around them, life skills and whatever else interests them."
- Kelly@khaleejtimes.com
Trends for homeschooling on rise
Homeschooling may be a little explored topic in the UAE but it is a trend which is increasing among parents and students here. 
Homeschool Global, an accredited home education services provider, has experienced significant increases in both the UAE and the Middle East in recent years, with a growth rate of more than 30 per cent, Director Ryan Gallagher told Khaleej Times. 
At present it has about 200 students in the region, and this was the driving force behind opening its Homeschool Hub offices in Dubai in September. At Homeschool Global, students pay on average about Dh6,000 per year on their education. 
Similarly, Ekta Dhameja, digital marketer at iCademy Middle East, said the number of people opting to homeschool here is increasing. 
"We have over 700 students enrolled with us across the UAE and we have a huge mix in terms of nationalities, because of the flexibility offered." 
In comparison to the last academic year, Dhameja said the online school - which is registered by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) - has witnessed a 12 per cent increase in student enrollments. 
When it comes to homeschooling in the UAE, parents can opt to follow different online curriculums which are accredited and licensed through different International accrediting agencies. 
Sumaya Saifudin, the Mena Program Director for Clonlara School, said its program gives students and their families in the Middle East region the "flexibility and freedom to choose how and what they want to learn". 
"Our Advisors work closely with each student in crafting an education plan that is tailored to their unique learning style, needs, and goals." 
The cost to homeschool through Clonlara ranges between $1,300 to $4,150 annually, depending on grade level and the type of program chosen. 
And all of the programs are accredited through both American and International accrediting agencies. 
When asked if there was a particular demographic favouring the homeschooling approach, Gallagher, Dhameja and Saifudin all relayed the same trend. 
"Many parents are looking into and enrolling with us at the start of the early years (K1 & 2)," Gallagher said. 
And within the expat community, Saifudin said she has witnessed a "slightly larger number of elementary (primary) age children being homeschooled". 
"However, I have started to see an increase in high school (secondary) aged students, especially using online homeschool programs." 
Although the reasons for homeschooling vary from household to household, Gallagher said the main reasons for choosing it tends to be dissatisfaction with the quality and price of the available schools. 
And Dhameja agreed. 
"Parents are opting for homeschooling due to several reasons. Cost is one and lack of teacher support is another. One teacher amongst 25 children just doesn't work. All children learn at their own pace, some need additional support and some are following a different passion."

HOME OR SCHOOL? Dubai speaks!
Faatimah Maryam Muzammil 
GEMS Our Own English High School 
"Homeschooling is not a very good choice as compared to regular schools. It does not let students interact with the society. How can kids build emotional intelligence when they only encounter family and other like-minded homeschoolers? Continued exposure to annoying people who are not your siblings is an integral part of growing up." 
Akhil Rahman Ashraf 
Abu Dhabi Indian School 
Abu Dhabi 
"Homeschooling helps parents create strong bonds with their children but the disadvantages of homeschooling outnumber the advantages. The expenditure on books and other reference materials will be high. Children will not be able to socially interact with other children. The entire responsibility is on the shoulder of the parents." 
Kristi Reeni Joies 
Our Own English High School 
Sharjah (Girls) 
"I totally oppose homeschooling. Children do not get to interact with other people, they will be spoon-fed by his/her parent. Schools have extracurricular activities which in turn boosts up energy to the child. I feel he/she may have a friend or two in homeschooling, whereas in a school the entire class will be friends. Home schooling may teach physical education but the children will not have a competitive spirit. In schools, there are qualified teachers for each subject."
Leeton Read 
University student 
"I can see the benefits of homeschooling, but it is not something I would opt for. Financial issues may contribute to the reasons behind homeschooling decisions, as well as the expatriate lifestyle. Some families often move every few years and so parents may be hesitant to pull their children in and out of schools as it can really affect their emotional well-being."
Jaineel Vora
The Indian High School 
"At school, one gets to interact with other children and has the opportunity to grow in many fields and learn much more. Homeschooling reduces the amount of interaction a child can have with peers. I also think homeschooling may result in a lack of discipline. The student may not value time like we do in schools. As we all know healthy competition makes us grow better, and homeschooling will lack that."
Connect with other homeschooling families: 
The Abu Dhabi Home School Association (ADHSA) has been actively building community since 2008 
Its self-appointed roles are: 
1. To encourage and advise each other informally by: 
. drawing from our collective knowledge and experience 
. sponsoring a weekly park meet up 
. running regular parent meetings 
. running the website and facebook group and responding to inquiries 
2. Provide educational experiences for students by organising: 
. field trips 
. musical theater 
. supporting extracurricular activities 
. supporting co-ops where families pool their skills and resources 
. sponsoring students to attend events (International History Bee and Bowl, World Scolar's Cup, GIMUNA) 
Compiled by Rebecca Lavallee, ADHSA
Home Schooling - It's not the easy or cheap choice...
...says Agnes Holly, Teacher at Deutsche Internationale Schule Dubai 
While for many years homeschooling was the choice of a select few, it is currently becoming a more popular choice in the UAE. Over the last two years, increasing numbers of parents are now weighing it up as one of the many options for their child's education. 
In addition to the traditional reasons for selecting this mode of education - such as a child's preferred pace of learning (either slower or faster than in a school setting) or special gifts, religious beliefs, areas of interest, areas of weakness that require additional time - more parents are now opting for this because of family finances. 
With companies cutting expatriate packages - while rents and school fees continue to rise - for expatriates of all nationalities educating children in the UAE has become a very grave financial decision. If a family has several children, fees can be astronomical. Add to that the high cost of added requirements, such as uniforms, books, compulsory iPads, laptops etc and the need to own a second car or hire a driver, and the sum becomes hefty. No wonder parents turn to the idea of homeschooling as a viable alternative. 
Homeschooling, if well done, can be incredibly successful. For the parents less able to prepare homeschooling materials, there exist many very reputable companies offering excellent programs of education, following a variety of curricula. These programs can then be supplemented and added to with all types of sports, drama, music and further extra-curricular activities of personal choice. These activities also take care of "socialisation," often mentioned as a shortcoming of homeschooling systems. 
For dedicated parents of multiple children, even if they are forced to sacrifice a second income, homeschooling may well be a route to educating their children. 
The UAE has much to offer children, from a wealth of activities, to libraries and adventure camps. However, despite all this, homeschooling cannot be considered either the easy or the cheap choice. Programs still cost money, less perhaps than some school fees, but they are not cheap. Books, equipment, instruments etc have to be obtained - either owned or borrowed. Homeschool only if all other alternatives have been very carefully considered first.

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