Rafaela Bellini Panicker, a 44 year-old Brazilian expat in Abu Dhabi, has been homeschooling her three children - Mattias, 4, Benjamin, 5, and Samuel, 8 – all through. They have never attended a brick-and-mortar school.
With several parents currently going through a financial crunch owing to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, homeschooling is a viable alternative to mainstream schools in the UAE. On average, annual school tuition fees can range from Dh30,000 to Dh100,000 in the UAE, depending on the curriculum.
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On the other hand, parents can get good homeschooling options for $1,000 (Dh3,672) to $3,000 (Dh11,000) per year depending on the curriculum, according to Hale Education, an education consultant.
There has been a surge in interest in homeschooling from established online service providers whose tuition can be 90 per cent cheaper than what parents are paying brick-and-mortar schools
“If parents opt for homeschooling in the UAE for Term 3 [April to June], they risk losing their children’s places in the school in the fall and not being formally promoted to the following grade. Now that parents are essentially compelled to pay full or near-full term fees for Term 3, there has been a surge in interest in homeschooling from established online service providers whose tuition can be 90 per cent cheaper than what they are paying brick-and-mortar schools for a comparable [or in some cases, inferior] online experience,” said Peter Davos, founder and CEO of Hale Education.
“We decided to homeschool because we believe this is the best form of education for our own children, regardless of the financial benefits that this may bring. It takes time and dedication, but we love spending time with them, sharing our values with them, seeing them grow to pursue their passions and to be independent learners,” said Panicker, a stay-at-home mum who has a PhD in mechanical engineering. Her husband, aged 46, is a lecturer in engineering at New York University Abu Dhabi.
Options for homeschooling
Parents who opt for homeschooling can either purchase a full curriculum and materials, hire tutors, subscribe to online courses and add extracurricular activities such as sports and music or find free online resources.
“It takes a bit of time and dedication to put a curriculum together, but it is feasible. If only school fees are taken into account, there is no question that homeschooling is a much more affordable education option. Actually, a lot of families in the UAE choose to homeschool for that reason,” explained Panicker.
Depending on the income of the parent that has to leave a job, homeschooling can be expensive
With homeschooling, it is also essential that one parent must always remain at home full time to facilitate learning. This reduces homeschooling families to single income households. “So, depending on the income of the parent that has to leave a job, homeschooling can be more expensive,” the mum of three suggested.
Homeschooling parents also complain that most companies in the UAE that offer school allowances do not cover homeschooling expenses. This needs to be looked into as homeschooling turns out to be a much cheaper option for companies.
Upfront costs for homeschooling
Depending on the child’s age, homeschooling costs can be minimal. “For younger children, the investment should be in story books, but most activities can be found online. The older the child gets, there is more probability of costs increasing with computers, musical instruments and online courses. If accreditation is important to a family, they should check with the accredited institutions if there are upfront costs,” suggested Panicker.
Pros of homeschooling
- Children develop into independent learners
- They are free to follow their passions
- There is more time and learning flexibility
- Children can spend more time with families, which creates strong bonds, especially between siblings
- It takes a lot of time and dedication from the parent
- Many times, the parent who is the main educator, will abdicate his/her career to stay home and educate his/her children
Panicker suggested that parents do not need to rush into formal schooling with young children or invest in an expensive curriculum at that age. “The first thing parents should understand is that homeschooling is a way of life. Every aspect of our children’s lives is an opportunity for leaning: every chore they do, every animal they see, every trip they take. We need to use those opportunities to teach our children. Also, we must have confidence that we are the best teacher for our children. We don’t need to have a degree in education to teach our children. Without taking credit away from school teachers, but we know our children best,” she added.
Challenges of homeschooling
Making the transition to permanent homeschooling requires careful thought and consideration. This is undoubtedly an attractive option for parents, in terms of finance and flexibility. “But, they must understand that there will be gaps in their students’ social and personal development that must be addressed. Particularly in the younger years, home schooling requires the very active and daily participation of a parent. Once COVID clears, what kind of experience do you want your child to have? How well will home schooling prepare them to work in teams, develop their emotional intelligence and transition to a physical classroom environment? It depends not only on the homeschooling curriculum, but also on the parents’ support and the student’s personality,” observed Davos from Hale Education.