Averting Danger through Homeschooling
The Coronavirus pandemic has forced some parents to explore alternatives when it comes to educating their children. Homeschooling on their own or with the support of a school has opened avenues unexplored by the country’s rigid educational policy that leaves no room for altering a curriculum to the individual needs of a student
As school reopening schedules are announced, parents’ concerns about their children’s welfare have yet to be appeased. With over 89,000 COVID-19 cases confirmed and over 600 people reportedly infected every day, the Coronavirus is still a major deterrent to things getting back to normal.
Parents have anxiously waited for the virus to abate so their children can return for the new school year. School openings had been delayed until mid-October with the Ministry of Education instructing each institution to comply with certain guidelines before they get the green light to accept students. Rules regarding mask wearing throughout the day, hand washing and reduced number of students in a classroom are expected to reduce the spread of the virus.
However, some parents are not sure these measures are enough. Imam Mahmoud Hassen is a parent to a first grader. After analyzing the situation in the country, he has decided to begin homeschooling. “I have old people in my family that are vulnerable to the virus. It’s hard to keep my child apart from them. I don’t want to risk my child bringing the virus from school,” he remarked.
Flipper School has allowed Imam’s child and other students the option of learning from home with online classes available twice a week and with the support of parents. Imam is an experienced university teacher with ample understanding on the type of support a first grader needs away from the typical classroom setting.
“There’s a high risk of transmission in schools. Social distancing or wearing masks inside a classroom are not a complete guarantee. Students go to their respective homes after gathering in this space. We’re still learning about the nature of the virus and how long it can live on surfaces. I don’t think we can control the situation while schools are open,” he reflected.
The lack of national framework for homeschooling has left schools and parents with the task of finding their own approach. According to Imam, Flipper School has decreased class sizes by half to 10 students per teacher, making it easier to trace infections if someone were to test positive for the Coronavirus. Not many schools have the privilege of online classes or such small classrooms.
He went on to state: “I don’t think schools have the ability to control the virus right now. Some schools are asking students to bring water with them so they can wash their hands. How many schools are able to provide sanitizers?” This question is even more pressing when one considers the financial difficulties public schools are likely to face regarding COVID precautions. Even with decreased classroom sizes and attendance in alternating shifts, public schools will still be crowded enough to risk the spread of infection. The behavior of kids dwarfs any degree of vigilance on the part of teachers to ensure tight conformity with precautions. Testing and tracing methods have not been established for schools and the existing framework for contact tracing seems to have collapsed as the Ministry of Health is mainly attempting to deal with the already infected and those in vulnerable states. Imam plans to return his son to school once the situation becomes safer.
Heran Tadesse began homeschooling her three children long before the Coronavirus pandemic revealed yet another group of gaps in the Ethiopian education system. The sudden closure of schools at the beginning of the pandemic, in March, indicated the problems students are likely to face without proper support from families, schools, and the educational sector. Unable to afford an international school, Heran had first sent her children to private schools but decided to homeschool them after her children were bullied and didn’t receive sufficient attention from teachers. “My son would come home crying. It was a traumatic experience. The facility was not enough for the number of children in the school. I didn’t have serious problems with the teachers, but the infrastructure and the teaching method were problematic. School should be a place where they love to go to. The way teachers talk to students is sad,” pointed out Heran while explaining her decision to resort to homeschooling.
Heran hired a tutor for her Kindergarten, 2nd, and 3rd grade children and they came up with a curriculum partially following the American Common Core educational initiative. Her children are also a part of Bingham Academy’s homeschooling program, an international Christian school in Addis Ababa that provides assessment and testing at the finalization of each school year. Bingham Academy requires all homeschooling families to provide their own curriculum, monitor their children’s progress and reach the goals of the chosen curriculum, adhering to their home country’s educational standards and expectations.
Her children are able to visit the Bingham Academy library and have access to extracurricular activities. Regina Family Center around Addisu Gebeya provides an ample playground and Heran’s children were part of the daycare program until they grew older and began to attend school. She is planning on homeschooling her children for a long time until she is able to afford an international school of their liking.
Homeschooling may be an option for those who can afford to stay home with their child and provide the necessary social activities children need in their daily lives such as play dates with other children. Heran has been able to find a community of families through the Bingham Academy and in the Regina Family Center, but not everyone has these opportunities. Many students from lower income households will be going to high risk classrooms this academic year, unsure of their fate.