“an education”

It’s been a little hectic around here! Hen’s parties, bridal showers – the usual. I kid, but yes, it’s been hard to find time to write anything lately.

As such, and to commemorate the end of another year of study, here is the last in the series of articles I wrote for my feature writing subject. This was the major, and last, item in the folio – the final stand, if you’ll excuse my dramatics. Enjoy!

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More families are straying off the beaten track and opting for a rather unconventional path.

Walk around the University of Queensland during lunch time and you feel like salmon swimming against the current. But Kalika Kabiotis, 19, quite enjoys the challenge. She deftly guides herself through the torrent, navigating through the stream of students and teachers alike as they hastily barge their way through towards the campus refectory. Nobody takes a second glance at Kalika, and why would they? There is nothing particularly unusual physically about the Bachelor of Music student. She has 10 fingers, 10 toes and a perfectly functional body. She has frizzy black hair, and dresses like a girl her age would. But there is, in fact, something that sets her apart from the rest – she was homeschooled.

One sentence from this Ormeau girl is all it takes for you to sense a departure from your typical 19-year-old Queensland girl. For starters, the Indiana native still has her American accent, having moved to Australia at the age of 13. However, it’s the way she strings her sentences together that really captures your attention. The noticeable lack of “like”, “yeah” and “you know?” from her speech demonstrates a sense of articulation not representative of her age; the type you would be hard pressed to find from many a teenage conversation.

It’s hard to say how many others are out there like her. The last official study carried out by Education Queensland, back in 2003, found just under 1500 students officially registered with the government. However, as many parents do not register their children – through protest of the system or simply due to unwillingness to go through the paperwork – it is highly likely that this figure is incorrect. What is likely, however, is that home schooling students are not as uncommon as people think.

Currently in the second year of her degree, Kalika has adapted well to the university student lifestyle. But this wasn’t always the case. Having had a lack of interaction with people her age, she initially felt like a fish out of water. Moving to a different country didn’t help either. Kalika found herself struggling to find friends. “I didn’t know how to be myself around people my age.” Her parents had encouraged her to go to their local youth group to socialise. However, having been around her parents all the time at home, she found herself calling adults her friends. She felt more comfortable around them. Their seriousness, their demeanour – it was all she knew. This made university all the more disconcerting. “Everyone was more chilled about study and the ways of the world. It was weird.” The outgoing and random nature of youth didn’t compute with her.

Since the curriculum “pretty much explained itself”, very soon Kalika became her own teacher. Studying at home from eight in the morning until sundown didn’t bother her. Having always been a studious person, Kalika believes her self-discipline allowed her to retain more from her 12 years of school than most of her peers. however, she sometimes finds herself feeling nostalgic for days that never were. It’s the little things she misses most. No high school friends to joke with about past teachers. No shared memories. That’s not to say she was forced unto being home schooled.

It was a personal choice of Kalika and her brother Nick, 20, to drop out of mainstream schooling back in Indiana. Her Greek and Japanese heritage gave her an appearance that wasn’t much appreciated by the six-year-old Caucasian kids of her school. At first her parents tried to make their own program, through books bought at their local supermarket, but that didn’t work out as well as hoped. So they decided to do what most home schoolers do – sign up to do a set curriculum through an organisation. When they moved to Australia, they switched from American organisation A Beka to Australian Christian Academy. However, Nick decided home schooling was not for him after all, and enrolled back into mainstream schooling soon after arriving in Australia. Kalika concludes that Nick just couldn’t cope with the home schooling lifestyle. “I think [school] suited his personality better.”

Despite both having gone through the schooling system, Terry Harding and his wife Diane decided to home school all five of their children. While Diane did the bulk of the teaching, Terry was busy with the political side of things. The erstwhile general manager of Australian Christian Academy, he is now involved with two organisations: Australian Christian Home Schooling and Australian Christian College – Moreton. Terry is no stranger to the finer points of the home schooling movement, having completed both his Masters and Doctorate on home schooling at the Queensland University of Technology.

Like many other home schooling families, for the Hardings it was religion, among familial and academic reasons, that proved a major player in adopting the home schooling lifestyle. They wanted to make sure their children would receive an education that would reinforce their beliefs. Why not, then, simply send them to a school with Christian values? It was a belief that children should be learning within their communities, rather than restricted from it in school, that convinced him. “What we were after was a holistic sort of social experience.”

It’s the F word of the home schooling debate – how do the kids make friends? There are those who say that home schooling doesn’t allow a child to have sufficient social interaction or, as in Kalika’s case, not enough interaction with people her age. While parts of this may ring true, Terry is adamant his children did not miss out. If anything, he believes his children were schooled in a more natural environment. All the time spent at home also meant the Hardings were able to form a tight-knit bond. “My kids are my best mates.” At some point in time, all five of his children had a taste of mainstream schooling. Although they enjoyed the social dynamics of school, they all eventually chose to return to their roots, finding home schooling more liberating.

That’s another point pro-home schoolers rally behind. Children are allowed to study and learn at their own pace. As such, they can rapidly cover topics, resulting in a plethora of free time. Terry encouraged his children to use this time to pursue something they were passionate about. His eldest son, Daniel, obtained a Bachelor of Information Systems at the age of 19. It was the experiences Terry witnessed in his home town that made his mind up for him. “When I was much younger, I saw what [the pressure of year 11 and 12] was doing to young people. I saw a couple of kids commit suicide.” He questions why anyone would want their kids to feel that pressure. “I wanted [my kids] to enjoy life.”

Having been an educator for more than 10 years in Hong Kong, Connie Hon has nothing personal against mainstream teaching in schools. “I love school, and I know what school is like.” On the flip side, having been an educator for more than 10 years, she also has her own educational ideals. She had always wanted to try home schooling with her children. When moving to Australia, she decided to familiarise herself with the local educational system before making any decisions. Aside from that, it was simply a case of the nerves. “I was too scared to start. I was not very confident at all.”

With support from her husband Ming, Connie eventually decided to do the deed and took all three of her daughters out of school. “We decided just to try one year and see how we go.” Her eldest two, Hannah, 22, and Joannah, 19, had been taken out of grades 10 and seven respectively, and found the change more taxing than her youngest daughter Priscilla, 14, who had been pulled out of grade two. It wasn’t a smooth transition. Connie’s voice drops. “It was very hard for the children to grow up in school only to be pulled out of it. Very hard.” She concedes that, while she doesn’t regret her decision, if children are uncooperative they shouldn’t be forced into doing something they don’t want. After one year, both Hannah and Joannah decided to opt back into the schooling system, while Priscilla was willing to try another year.

All three of the Hon girls are extremely sociable people, one of the factors Connie had to take into account when deciding to home school. Along with Terry, she believes that Priscilla isn’t missing out on anything. It’s not that she sees the socialisation in school as bad – only that it’s not enough. “Children cannot become wiser by only mixing with people on the same level as them; they can become wiser with people who are wiser than they are.” Connie calls it ‘vertical socialisation’ – socialising with people of varying ages rather than just people of your own age. She affirms that Priscilla is more mature in handling relationships. “[Socialisation] is not an area to worry about.”

Priscilla used her spare time to dabble in a range of different activities, from swimming to piano. That is, until she found the one thing she was truly passionate about – tennis. Having time on her hands to practise her craft, it wasn’t long before Priscilla was soaring above the rest. Last year, she won the Optus 14s Australian Championship, and it doesn’t seem like she’ll be slowing down any time soon. Priscilla recently helped Australia qualify for the International Tennis Federation World Junior Cup alongside Sara Tomic, sister of Bernard Tomic and, more importantly, someone Priscilla counts as a friend. She also helped convert Sara and many of her other similarly ranked tennis friends to home schooling. Connie says parents didn’t know that there was another option. “It’s all about making an informed choice. But if you think you can have a go, then do it.”

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