Social Issues

Is Keeping Your Children at Home for School Illegal?

With teen suicide stories more and more frequently flooding our news screens, Hong Kong’s education system is coming under deepening scrutiny. Complaints about extremely high-pressured environments, inhuman expectations on children and overworked teachers have led a growing number of families in Hong Kong to pull their children out: home schooling is on the rise.

Families tout wide benefits of home schooling – from their kids having better health, to a renewed love for learning. There are even counter-intuitive claims such as parents having to spend less time teaching home school than they used to spend on helping kids with homework for traditional schools.

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Kit Tso and Ng Siu Fai, both educators professionally, started home schooling their two children several years ago. They have become a spokesfamily for home-schooling on their island of Ma Wan, and also for the wider Hong Kong community.

Is it Legal?

Home schooling is a grey area in Hong Kong law: “It’s not legal but it’s not illegal…” said Ng Siu Fai. “We have some friends who have had many home visits from the government. But we haven’t had any in all these years.”

The law in Hong Kong is very loose – The Ordinance has not specified how parents may lawfully home-school their children”1. As long as parents can prove that they are addressing the educational needs of their children, then they are not operating illegally.

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The lack of guideline may be what attracts many parents to start homeschooling their children, to get away from the rigid exam-based nature of the Hong Kong.

What are the benefits?

“The first thing we saw was the general joy for life returning,” Kit Tso said of his daughter when they took her out of the school system. Many home schooling families follow the principles of unschooling – the idea that children are naturally curious and have a love for learning. This leads to children being the engine that drives their academic progress.

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“The home environment is a lot more pleasant,” says Kit Tso, who admits he was disengaged in his children’s education prior to home schooling, and saw his wife and children take on all the stress of academics.

Do children fall behind their peers?

“We do have to think about what they’ll do when they want to go to university,” says Ng Siu Fai. But she says her son’s reading ability has soared since he left traditional schooling. “But we don’t believe in standard assessments.”

With no exams in home schooling, it is hard to assess whether home schooled children are at the same levels as their peers. But, home schoolers would argue that this is precisely the point. “Who says that children all should learn the same thing at the same time?” says Kit Tso.

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Lost Children?

There are no official statistics on the number of children being home schooled in Hong Kong. Perhaps without a formal system to monitor and track home schooled children, there is a high chance of children being mis-managed at home and not receiving a proper education. But there are currently no plans from the government to formalize the system, and so home schooling continues to be a grey area in Hong Kong.

Learn More about home schooling in Hong Kong: http://www.homeschool.hk

Words and images by Louise Joachimowski

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