We have skimmed the surface of the home schooling debate in this forum. The following Barbados Advocate editorial adds to the discussion – Barbados Underground
The issue of home schooling for the island’s children is not one that has raised its head on a frequent basis in the past 50 years of our independent status. This is somewhat surprising, given the prominence that has been accorded to the incidences of bullying, illicit drug experimentation, precocious sexual conduct and illiteracy among those who attend the public institutions of learning. However, with the recent prosecution and conviction of a couple [who chose, for religious reasons, to home-school their two children] for failure to ensure that their children received full-time education suitable to their age and ability by regular attendance at a public or private school or in any other manner satisfactory to the Minister, the matter has sprung to the forefront of local public discourse.
For us, the issue is but another instance of the conflict between private autonomy and state regulation. The subject matter of a recent editorial- the prohibition of junk food is another. The question is, should the state be free to regulate the choices of citizens in these contexts or should it have to demonstrate an overarching reason for doing so?
It is generally accepted that there are a number of areas where the state chooses not to intervene into the private life of the citizen, whether for the reason that the state has ceded authority in that space by the guarantee of a fundamental freedom or that it has simply adopted a policy of non-interference. Should the education of one’s children fall into the latter category?
For example, even though it might present a cogent case for ensuring the health of its citizens in light of the existence of taxpayer-funded state-provided health care that exhausts a large proportion of our limited financial resources, the state has chosen rather to opt out of decreeing a national diet and even of prohibiting the consumption of certain substances recognized as injurious to continued good health.
In addition, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience precludes the state from enforcing a prescribed form of religious observance of the individual citizen.
So far as education is concerned, however, the national policy appears to be one of regulation in the national interest. Hence, the Education Act, Cap. 41, in its long title, declares as one of its intendments, “to provide for a coordinated and effective system of education related to the needs of the people of Barbados…” and section 3(e) of that Act includes among the functions of the Minister that of contributing “toward the spiritual, moral, mental, physical, social, cultural and economic development of the community by ensuring that efficient education is available to meet the needs of Barbados…” This provision suggests that the national education system is to be directed toward the total development of the individual so as to enable him or her to become a better citizen, a necessary component of a better community and nation.
Should a citizen be free to opt out of this paradigm? The arguments appear to be equally balanced on both sides and it is noteworthy that the local statute at section 42 (1)(b) contemplates the lawfulness of home schooling so long as it is “in a manner and to a standard satisfactory to the Minister”.
There are those who endorse the thesis embraced by an Indian professor of human resource development that home schooling offers child-centred learning and preserves the uniqueness of the child that is often lost in an overcrowded classroom”. Others cling to the view that the classroom is more than an incubator for learning formulae and concepts and also teaches the social skills equally necessary for good citizenship.
Let the debate continue.