Homeschooling – it refers to the educating of a child at home, which is usually done by a parent. Globally, around 2.5 million children were homeschooled in 2019.
It is rare to hear about someone from Singapore who’s gone through homeschooling, let alone used to live in Mongolia. My parents homeschooled me from 2009 to 2012. In 2009, my family packed up our things and moved from Singapore to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The reason for this was that my father was a missionary and felt a calling to help the Mongolian people.
One of the biggest changes in our lifestyles was education. Before we moved, my parents had enrolled my brother and I in a primary school as most Singaporean children were. My brother and I were 11 and 8 respectively when we migrated.
There were the 3 educational options we had in Mongolia
My parents ruled out the first option as all schools in Mongolia were conducted in Mongolian, which my brother and I did not understand. The second option was too expensive for my parents. Thus, we settled on homeschooling.
Many preparations had to be made, such as considering which the curriculum. Since I was still learning basic concepts, it would be easier for my mother (who would be the main educator) to teach me using the Singaporean syllabus. Thus, most of my education materials would comprise Singaporean textbooks and assessment books. As for my older brother, they enrolled him in an online international Christian school called NorthStar Academy. Apart from garnering materials, my parents also sought advice from parents who previously homeschooled their children to be better prepared.
In Singapore, school comprised waking up as early as 7.30am to go for lessons, where teachers planned lessons to teach my peers and I. In Mongolia, schooling was much more free and easy. The days of waking up early to rush into a uniform were replaced by 9am strolls into the kitchen to fix my breakfast before heading to the living room for lessons in my pajamas. Each day, my mother wrote my schedule on a to-do list. My mother would list the pages I had to go through for each textbook and assessment books while my parents were attending language school. For questions or problems I encountered, I would ask them when they returned. Looking back, I realised that this has helped to instill in me a habit of independent learning.
Though homeschooling came with a lot more freedom to learn at my own pace, there were some downsides too. Although I had my brother to socialise with, loneliness was a problem. At that age, my brother and I also had many differing interests and did not always see eye to eye. Additionally, I spent majority of my time cooped up at home and did not have a chance to make any friends.
Another downside was that homeschooling involved a lot of trust in my brother and I to complete our work. As a child, you do not recognise the importance of education and succumb easily to distractions. On days my parents were not present, we would sneakily watch television and ignore our schoolwork. I remember this resulted in an incident where my mother suspected we weren’t finishing our work. She tested me on the summary of a book that she tasked me to read, but I could not answer.
My parents realised that my brother and I weren’t coping too well and sought alternatives to our current arrangement. One alternative was to send us to boarding school, the other was to a homeschool co-op. They had recently discovered this school known as the homeschool co-op, which was where many missionary children were attending. The concept was basically that the co-op served as a “school” for homeschoolers. They would allocate students to a desk and students would follow their own homeschool curriculum during schooling hours from 9am to 1pm. Afterwards, there are after-school classes such as art, gym and creative writing. Parents of the missionary children volunteered to be teachers for these classes.
The idea thrilled me as I was excited to meet other children my age and I had assumed that my schooling would resume to the normal structure that I had in primary school. To keep it short, it was unlike my expectations but in a good way. In the co-op, I met other children my age, yet they came from different ethnic backgrounds. There were many American, Korean and German missionary children and it gave me a lot of opportunities to learn about other cultures. Additionally, I felt more motivated to complete my schoolwork together when I was surrounded by my peers.
The co-op gave me a platform to enjoy the freedom of homeschooling without compromising on giving up the socialisation opportunity that schools provide students.
Overall, the homeschooling experience was something unique that shaped part of my adolescence. Granted, homeschooling may not be for everyone and depends on the ability to access to resources or support systems. However, I hope that my experience will inspire others to look beyond the standard curriculum and consider pursuing alternative ways of education.