11 April 2014
A Proposal by a group of homeschooling families to the Education Bureau
It is our hope that through regular and cordial exchanges, we can enhance mutual understanding with the EDB. Homeschooling is a growing global trend. In Hong Kong, it has been practising for some time. There is however still a lot of misunderstanding about it in the community.
As dedicated parents who have actively made a choice and work hard to offer an education more suited to our children's needs and interests, we and our children feel the joy in the process, but also suffer from the stress for not being recognized, even worse, to be thought of doing something illegal or mistaken as over-protective, anti-social, or being tagged with other undesirable labels rooted out of society's ignorance about the issue. Yet, far from neglecting our children, we have probably done much more than a lot of parents who have left the task of education nearly entirely to schools.
To make us feel slightly better, this misunderstanding has been experienced by all homeschool communities around the world. Therefore, we would like to reach out to explain to the community, in particular to the EDB, as we feel it is important for the education policy maker and its staff to understand this issue, so the current and future generations of homeschooling families can live under a predictable and stable policy.
Homeschooling is not something that will come and go. It is a global trend that is set to grow, partly because parents are more educated, partly there is a stronger pursuit of a work-life balance, partly because of the over-demand from schools, partly because of the advance of internet and availability of quality and free online education platforms like Khan Academy and Cousera, and many other more avenues to learn besides schools.
Homeschool families in Hong Kong, like in other places, choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but all point to a desire to provide a more suitable education for our children. We want to stress we are not against schools. We recognise schools are an important element in the education system and they are suitable for some children. We are simply exercising our right to choose. The government is doing the society a lot of good for providing education to those who do not or cannot choose. We hope that our choice and our dedication can be recognized by the government and society.
- To make homeschooling a recognized choice of education, and
- that homeschool students can enjoy the same rights as school students.
- Homeschool families can be given high autonomy about choice and mode of education, including the choice of examinations.
Our proposal is based on the following existing provisions in international and local laws and policies:
1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 26
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
2. Hong Kong Basic Law Article 137
Students shall enjoy freedom of choice of educational institutions and freedom to pursue their education outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
3. Education Ordinance
Section 3: INTERPRETATION Version Date: 01/07/2007
"school" (學校) means an institution, organization or establishment which provides for 20 or more persons during any one day or 8 or more persons at any one time, any nursery, kindergarten, primary, secondary or post secondary education or any other educational course by any means*, including correspondence delivered by hand or through the postal services; (Amended 38 of 1983 s. 2; 42 of 1993 s. 2)
(*This enables home or other outside-of-school learning)
4. Section74: Power of Permanent Secretary to order attendance at primary school or secondary school
Where it appears to the Permanent Secretary that a child is not attending primary school or secondary school without any reasonable excuse*, the Permanent Secretary may, after making such inquiries as he considers necessary, serve upon a parent of the child an attendance order in the specified form requiring him to cause the child to attend regularly as a pupil the primary school or secondary school named in the attendance order.
(3) This section shall- (c) not apply to a child-
(iii) who is attending regularly, or is an inmate of, an institution (other than a school)** which is regarded by the Permanent Secretary as suitable for the child.
(* allowing broad interpretation)
(** enabling home or other outside-of-school learning)
- Status for non-Hong Kong permanent residents:
According to the EDB website FAQ on universal basic education:
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is committed to provide nine-year free universal basic education to all eligible local children, including non-Chinese speaking ethnic minority children. Under the existing policy, all parents must send their children (aged 6 – 15) who have the right of abode* in Hong Kong to attend schools.
(* This enables non-HK residents to freely conduct home or out-of-school education, without the need of supervision from the EDB. But it excludes non-permanent residents from any right to education. )
- Code on Access to Information
The Government exists to serve the community well within available resources. To this end, it recognises the need for the community to be well informed about the Government, the services it provides and the basis for policies and decisions that affect individuals and the community as a whole.*
(*The majority of the population is ignorant about the legal provisions regarding homeschooling, and an application seems not to be met by guidance on the legal provisions in accordance to the code of access to information.)
7. Global Practice:
In most first world countries, homeschool is an accepted part of education landscape. It is also practised legally in Asia, e.g. Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan.
8. Taiwan experience:
Taiwan specifically legalized homeschooling (non-school experimental education非學校形態 實驗教育) since 1999 (Taipei since 1997). Parents can apply for homeschooling with the local education authority. They have to fill out a form detailing reasons and education plan, be interviewed by a widely representative panel, and if successful, furnish a progress report every year. They are not required to sit an exam every year.
Homeschool students enjoy the same right as any school student. They will be allocated a place at a nearby school. They can use facilities and resources in the school, can take lessons and exams (or not) at the school. They will be given a graduation certificate if they fulfil the ‘contract’ (education plan) they made with the education authority.
A Taiwan elementary school headmistress says cooperation with homeschoolers is not difficult. Despite not being supported by teachers at the beginning, now teachers are scrambling for homeschool students in their class because of less work pressure.
Legal perspective: As shown in pt. 3 & 4 above, the law in Hong Kong actually provides space for the practice of home education, but the general public, the education sector and even the EDB itself is treating it as if it were illegal. Without clearly providing a legal basis for home or outside-of-school education under the age of 15, EDB is neglecting the provision in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also the Basic Law, which offers an even more liberal approach, saying the ‘students’ have the freedom to choose.
Policy perspective: The EDB has been allowing some families, after investigation and interviews plus ongoing home visits, to practice education at home. We appreciate EDB officers’ understanding and work so far to provide for families in need for other-than-school learning environment, which is not easy for them under the current ‘obscure’ legal and policy arrangements. The official departmental policy conveyed to parents is at odds with the legal situation. Nevertheless, officers have been friendly and understanding, and have been giving parents a high degree of autonomy in education choice.
However, despite the presence of a policy towards homeschoolers and a form for homeschool application, this information is not available on the EDB website, and there is no known channel to make an application. When parents try to ask, the first response will normally be threatening, highlighting the possible negative effect of not going to school, which is a fine and imprisonment. Many will be scared away. However, it does not mean that they won’t try doing it ‘underground’. We don’t think this is healthy.
- EDB should have a separate registry for homeschoolers.
- Regular sharing between the homeschool community and the EDB to enhance mutual understanding.
- Make information available: A tab can be added in EDB website for people to access the homeschool application form, the various requirements and reach relevant officers for advice.
- The EDB can continue the current methods used to monitor registered homeschoolers.
- A school can be designated in each district to take homeschool students. Preferably those which have more facilities and resources to share or those who like to have the experience of having “exchange students”. Alternatively, schools can be asked to volunteer to be a 'homeschool link'. We expect a number of schools will be interested because of the prospect of having students with a diversity of backgrounds.
- The policy should be as liberal and flexible as possible, so as to minimize administration and maximize choice.
- There should be no requirements for compulsory examinations or assessments.
We hope, through properly recognizing homeschooling, dedicated parents can organize and conduct an education suitable for their children without fear and stress over their legal status, and can be aided to do so with appropriate government support.
This will relieve students who are not suited to the current mode of mass education at schools, and parents of the stress to keep trying different schools.
Expatriates will be more encouraged to come to work in HK knowing that there can be a choice to homeschool when they can’t get a place in international schools, which is common.
This will enable Hong Kong education to flourish, through the encouragement of diversity, and a happier population in general, when people are presented with choice. It will help relieve teachers’ workload in the long run and encourage teaching creativity when they are less stressed. It will also put Hong Kong on a par with the international league like Finland, USA, Canada, UK, and many others that have legalized home education.