The majority of Australian children attend conventional state or private schools, but in the last five years there has been a growing interest in alternative models of education.
Options like Steiner education, Montessori schools or home schooling are gaining popularity and credibility thanks to an increase in regulation and a wider availability of information.
So, why might you consider a non-mainstream education option for your child?
One of the major reasons families explore alternative education models is that they feel let down or frustrated with conventional schooling. In some cases, this might follow a specific experience, like a child being bullied or not supported in learning difficulties. In other cases, parents simply want to consider the benefits of other ways of teaching rather than accepting the standard model.
Thanks to online information sharing, parents have access to the latest research and outcomes from a variety of educational schools of thought. We no longer necessarily just ‘do what everyone else does’ when it comes to parenting – and education is no different. We watch mainstream education itself evolving and being reformed, giving us greater confidence to try some of the alternative models, once thought of as marginal or too extreme.
What’s more, schools that were once maintained independently – including home schooling environments – are now all regulated. Safety, teacher credentials and basic adherence to national learning outcomes are monitored as closely as they are in mainstream schools, making them appealing to a wider cross section of the community.
One of the common criticisms of alternative learning is that children won’t know what’s hit them when they get out into the ‘real world’. Supporters of home schooling, Montessori and similar philosophies see this quite differently.
Home schooling can allow children to learn in a natural context, getting hands-on with science in their own backyard, for example, which some families see as highly valuable. Montessori teaching happens in a multi-age classroom, with a focus on purposeful activity rather than abstract games or resources. Students are guided using tools like kitchen gadgets or garden materials, making their learning quite ‘real world’-oriented in many ways.
Australia has an excellent distance education program thanks to its disparate population. But even for urban dwellers, getting to school can be challenging if public transport is limited, parents don’t drive or children have health problems. Distance education brings school to you via post, phone and online delivery.
Distance education is also an alternative to home schooling for parents who like the philosophy of keeping kids at home, but want the additional input of teachers. Both systems are regulated, but distance education offers online tutoring, social meet ups and access to libraries and facilities at designated school campuses, whereas home schooling requires parents to manage the teaching.
Another reason to choose alternative education is the developing interest in child-led learning. This philosophy suggests that children learn best by exploring what’s interesting to them at different developmental stages. For example, if your five year old asks questions about the night sky, it might be a cue to explore the science of stars or how to spell words associated with the sky.
This way of teaching is common in Australian pre-schools, but comes to an abrupt end in formal education when the Australian Curriculum needs to be followed. Home schooling, as well as models like Steiner schooling, embrace the child’s inquisitive, creative nature and let them dictate the pace of learning.
Some of these approaches keep parents closely involved in their child’s education. Many families enjoy the bonding and connections that happen this way; parents may indeed see it as a responsibility to educate their own children at home, for example.
Choosing the right school for your family is all about research, attending open days and asking questions! One thing is certain though, there is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ school of thought when it comes to education.
For more help and advice on choosing a school for your child, download our comprehensive all-inclusive EDUCATION GUIDE 2016.