Calgary

Home school enrolment nearly doubles in Alberta

There are nearly double the number of Alberta students enrolled in home education programs this school year over last.

24,234 students enrolled in home school programs this year in Alberta, compared to 13,463 last year

COVID-19 restrictions in classrooms prompted Christina Im, centre, to home school her three kids this year.  (Christina Im)

There are nearly double the number of Alberta students enrolled in home education programs this school year over last, according to data released by the province on Monday. 

And some families who made the switch say they're glad they did, as they hear the news of huge numbers of students being forced into isolation because of COVID-19 exposure at schools.

COVID-19 restrictions in classrooms are what prompted Christina Im to home school her three kids this year. 

"We had just come from a different country. We were moving already, so there was a little bit of instability in our own lives trying to adjust to a new country," she said. "I couldn't wrap my head around, 'how can I put my kids into an environment where there's so much instability already?'"

Homeschool enrolment up

Im's children are among the 24,234 students enrolled in home school programs this year in Alberta, compared to 13,463 last year. 

Im says it was a steep learning curve and, by October, she thought maybe they had made the wrong choice. 

"I looked at my husband I was like, 'I think we made a mistake,' because it was so trying for me. I was like, 'nothing's happening at school. So I think we made a mistake,'" she said. 

"Then as I found my rhythm, we started to hear stories from our friends about their kids having to go get tested and having to come home and be quarantined and all of that. And, our kids were still able to have a routine, have normal things in place for them... and then I was like, 'oh I think this is the right decision for our family.'"

In it for the long haul

Judy Arnall with the Alberta Homeschooling Association said lots of families new to home schooling have fallen in love with it — and won't be heading back to classrooms post-pandemic. 

"A lot of families are just loving it. They love the family time and the children are so much happier that they're saying, 'yes, we were pushed into this this year, but we're going to continue in the fall because this is just fantastic'," she said. 

Arnall expects home school enrolment to continue to grow — especially if COVID-19 disruptions persist.

There was an increase by more than 10,000 students to Alberta homeschooling programs this school year. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"In an ordinary year, we get dribbles of people who pull their kids out of the classroom and home educate. But this year they've had to put their kids in virtual at home learning at younger ages," she said.

"And the whole fall was just a nightmare for them. Their kids weren't paying attention there. It was a struggle to get them to do the work. So we're getting more numbers of parents just ready to throw in the towel and say, 'I'm done... I'm just going to pull them out and start home educating.'"

Learning at home vs. home educating

Arnall said the most important thing parents must understand is that home educating is not the same as virtual learning at home. 

"When you're the person with your child behind the screen, you are doing a heavy workload of support, if not teaching, because generally kids are going to go to their parents first for questions, so they are taking a teaching role, even though they're not supposed to be," she said.

"Then we tell them, 'why not go all the way and take the full 100 per cent of the decision making?' And then you get to decide if your child hates an assignment, they don't have to do it. You can can teach them something else." 

Im said the one thing her kids are missing is social interaction with their peers. 

"They miss their friends. When restrictions allow, we do meet ups and we have a social time for the kids," she said. "I've joined a few of the homeschooling groups, and I've been told that what homeschooling looks like now during a pandemic apparently is very, very different from what the homeschooling community can be and will be, hopefully, once the restrictions are lifted."

Arnall said the association has lobbied the government to make changes to address the evolving situation.

"We believe if the research shows that children need to be with friends and peers and socializing for their mental health, we shouldn't divide children based on their their registration or what what type of education they signed up for this year."

The province responded to those concerns Monday by allowing home education students to participate in learning activities in facilities outside their homes if they follow the same guidance used for school re-entry. 

"Including daily health checks, cohorting, masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene," it said. 

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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