Home education on the rise in Europe
Homeschooling | More families across the pond are homeschooling, but laws against it persist in many countries
by Katie Gaultney
Posted 1/21/16, 10:15 am
Despite many European countries’ statist policies making home education difficult or even illegal, homeschooling appears to be on the rise in Europe.
In England, data recently gathered by the BBC from 190 local school systems show a 65 percent increase over the last six years in students learning at home. The U.K. now has more than 36,000 home-educated children. But experts say this number might be vastly understated.
“It’s probably a much larger increase, since students are only noted as being ‘home-educated’ once they’re removed from the public-school system. If they’ve never been in public school and are homeschooled from the start, they’re not included in that 36,000 figure,” said Mike Donnelly, director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Other countries appear to be following suit, although exact numbers are hard to pin down.
“I see a growing interest in home education all over Europe and all over the world, even in countries like Germany, where it’s illegal,” Donnelly said. “More and more countries are grappling with it as a matter of policy, which indicates that there’s more demand.”
According to the information volunteered by local British authorities, more parents are choosing to educate their children at home because of conflicts with local schools, children’s special needs, bullying, religion, and lifestyle factors.
Donnelly cited Ireland as a specific example, where parents are increasingly unhappy with the way schools are undermining the value of marriage. Many families also choose to homeschool their children to avoid the sex education curricula used in many European countries.
“The content of these programs is often explicit and many parents object,” said Robert Clarke, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom International. “Human relationships are represented in a manner that parents may reasonably think damages their children.”
European statistics on home education are hard to come by, due in large part to the under-the-radar nature of homeschool families. In Spain, for example, homeschooling is not explicitly legal, and the “family-centric” nature of the country means authorities may turn a blind eye to those who educate their children at home. France and Ireland require parents to register their children as home-educated, but—particularly in Ireland—some parents object to the registry and choose not to report their homeschool status. Italy’s strong Catholic influence means traditional values are still prevalent within the school system, so fewer families homeschool.
While exact homeschool figures are sparse in most European countries, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reported that in the 2011-2012 school year, 91 percent of homeschool students had parents who said that a “concern about the environment of other schools” was an important reason for homeschooling their child. Both Clarke and Donnelly said that sentiment was true in Europe, as well, where parents are withdrawing their children from state-run schools over moral convictions and concerns about the manner in which children are taught.
“You have some people who are not religious at all, but they’re looking for a different kind of education system for their kids. Less structured, more child-centered,” Donnelly said.
Dissatisfaction with the rigid school system in his country led Sergio Saavedra Morales, a father of three in Almería, Spain, and his wife Cristina to homeschool their children.
“School doesn’t seem to be the ideal place for kids to learn by themselves, to pursue knowledge, to get involved with the environment, to understand life,” he said. Morales suspects the state’s support of the public school system is to maintain a social equilibrium, enabling more adults to work and stimulate the economy, rather than to foster positive child development.
The opportunity to customize education to a child’s “individual abilities and needs” appealed to Valerie Schwarzbauer of Vienna, Austria, as well.
“I am a teacher, and there was this one moment when I came to realize that I don’t want to teach strangers when I can teach my own children at home, one-on-one, not one-on-twenty-five, and using a curriculum catering their interests, skills, and needs,” she said, adding that her Christian faith compelled her to “bring up children the best way possible, with the help of our Lord.”
Irina Shamolina, a home educator in Moscow, Russia, has noticed an uptick in the number of homeschoolers in her area. She cited the “deterioration of public education and growing awareness of homeschooling opportunities” as major growth drivers. Along with a majority of Russians, Shamolina belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church, which she says has helped grow the movement.
Anecdotal evidence for the expansion of homeschooling in Europe abounds. Donnelly recalls recently meeting a Catholic priest from Poland, where homeschool families are required to have a formal association with a local school. The friar, who runs such a school, noted a marked increase in the number of home educators contacting him to affiliate with his program.
However, the boom is not without barriers. Many European countries, including Germany, Sweden, and Greece, have banned home education or made it difficult through strict reporting requirements such as in Switzerland and Ukraine. Even in Austria, where homeschooling is legal and without rigid controls, home-educated students must pass a state-administered standardized test to commence to the next grade level, which means Schwarzbauer and her fellow Austrian homeschool families often find themselves teaching according to the public school system’s syllabi. Following the BBC’s report on the growth of home education in the U.K., the country’s education secretary, Nicky Morgan, vowed to tighten regulations on homeschoolers, citing radical Islam as a concern.
“People in the majority party in [the British] government and in the Labour party are rattling their sabers against homeschoolers, suggesting that the homeschooling community may be a place where Islamic radicals are imparting their ideologies. They're using that as a legitimization for cracking down on homeschooling,” Donnelly said.
This week, members of the British parliament will be debating the government’s plans to regulate so-called “out-of-school education settings.” According to Clarke, the meeting is part of a wider discussion in the U.K. and Europe regarding homeschooling and the freedom of parents to decide the manner in which their children are educated.
“There is a fear in Europe that homeschooling may create parallel societies, [where] allowing parental choice to educate children at home might create a fracture in society,” Clarke said. “This fear is misplaced; pluralism in a democratic society should be celebrated. We ought to allow different viewpoints and respect the right of parents to raise their children with values that may not align with other people’s views.”