In the Mendoza household, learning knows no age and boundaries.
When he was nine, 10-year-old Edan started exploring basic botany his way: he grew and cared for small carnivorous plants that he was curious about.
Around the same time, his now 13-year-old brother, Elijah, signed up for a free online course on coding that taught him how to program, build and design websites and applications. He also built a stock portfolio and joined his dad in giving financial seminars.
The brothers, as well as their three other siblings—aged eight, six and three—are homeschoolers.
“It is the dream of every educator to have a child learn based on their interests at their pace. But how do you achieve that in a big school with 30 to 50 students and you have limited time?” said Edric, the two boys’ father and a staunch advocate of homeschooling.
Edric, a TV host, is also the president of Homeschool Global (formerly TMA Homeschool), an accredited organization that provides comprehensive homeschool services to more than a thousand students in the Philippines and 20 other countries.
“Now, the reality is because [mass education] is so cookie-cutter, everybody gets the same thing. It’s no longer customized or personalized even if we want to. But homeschooling allows that to still happen [for us],” Edric told the Inquirer in an interview.
A growing trend in the Philippines, homeschooling allows parents to take full charge of their children’s education at home with a personalized or do-it-yourself curriculum.
Homeschooling is accepted by the Department of Education (DepEd) as long as parents who will take the role of a teacher or facilitator are college graduates and able to provide at least four hours of instruction for kindergarten to Grade 7.
Although homeschooling parents could either get training, instructional materials and school curricula through organizations accredited by the DepEd or do it independently, they still have to be supervised by the department.
Gerry Argosino, who homeschooled his son who is now in college, said more Filipino parents are now trying to take the responsibility of educating their children, especially with the disproportionate teacher-student ratio in regular schools.
Currently, the Philippines has 700,000 licensed teachers in public and private schools who carry the weight of educating 15 million children.
The lack of schools and the worsening traffic, particularly in Metro Manila, are among the reasons why many parents are opting for homeschooling their children, said Argosino, who is also managing director of Homeschool Global.
Key to stronger families
Homeschooling, Argosino said, is key to building stronger families because parents become more engaged and they can actively monitor and catch their children’s interests and nurture them in the truest sense.
“Homeschooling is an education option whose time has come. It’s not just an alternative for sick children or for those who need special supervision. Parents with ‘normal kids’ are also choosing to homeschool,” he added.
Homeschool Global figures show that there are more than 12,000 homeschoolers in the Philippines, of whom 7,000 are affiliated with more than 15 homeschool providers that comply with DepEd standards and requirements.
In 1997, the DepEd (then the Department of Education, Culture and Sports) issued a memo proposing the implementation of a home education program, mainly to provide an alternative delivery system of educating children who for some reason or circumstance could not attend formal school.
The proposal was a recognition of parents’ primary responsibility in training and educating their children, especially in their formative years, as stated in the Constitution.
For some people, home-based education is a strange alternative to conventional schooling, but for Edric and his wife, Joy Tan-Chi, it is the right choice for their five children.
Their homeschooling journey started more than a decade ago when they let their eldest son, Elijah, choose between going to a Montessori school twice a week and being homeschooled for the better part of the week, and forgoing conventional school and being homeschooled all week.
The boy chose homeschooling.
“So then, we homeschooled the rest of our kids,” Joy said.
While the decision meant “total lifestyle and perspective change” for the family, Joy knew what she was getting into, having been homeschooled from Grade 4 to high school by her mom, a Christian missionary.
“It was one of the best experiences of our family. We had one family culture,” she said.
“Today, you want to have this family culture [because] there are so many competing cultures—peer and the media—that it’s very hard to influence your kids to accept the values you want them to have,” she said.
“School work” for the Mendoza siblings begins at about 8:30 a.m. after they have eaten breakfast and taken a shower. At their desks in a room dedicated to study, the children work on the academic tasks set for the day—five hours for the older ones and two hours for the younger ones.
In the afternoon, they are free to play or pursue other interests. They also go out to attend martial arts class, art workshops or take piano and violin lessons on certain days.
This is in stark contrast to the “frenzied cycle” millions of other children go through every day to get good education: wake up early to make it to class through horrendous traffic and go home in time to finish their homework.
“It’s innate in children to want to learn. Our goal is to give them a higher vision, guide them along that desire [but] once you quell it or force it, create all these systems, [you] crush their desire to learn. Motivating them to learn then becomes a struggle,” Edric said.
The Mendoza couple said they always tried to create a learning environment wherever they went so that their children learned beyond the comfort of their home—it could be in a fast-food restaurant brushing up on world geography or on the way to the car doing math drills or up on a mountain picking up life skills.
“The world is their classroom and that’s the truth in a literal sense,” Edric said.
For Joy, homeschooling has allowed her to build a stronger relationship with her children, helping them develop the love for learning. This relationship often comes in handy when the children are not enthusiastic about a particular topic or subject, she said.
“I’d come alongside my kid and I’d ask, ‘Are you OK today? You want a massage from mommy?’ It’s very different, it’s so personal,” she said, noting that this cannot be replicated in a traditional classroom.
Other homeschooling advocates also vouch that one-on-one instruction helps shy children build up their confidence and removes the perception that they need to compete with other children to feel better.
They also say that homeschoolers are more socially mature, as they get to interact with not just peers their age but across age groups—younger and older children and adults.
Homeschooling, however, has its challenges. Parents, Joy said, have to be resourceful, given their limitations in teaching a particular subject, and to be extra patient.
Sometimes, mothers choose to quit their jobs to homeschool their children, but there are some who manage to teach their children while working full-time, Joy said.
“When you are with your children 24/7, all the ugly parts of you get exposed,” she said. “Because you are invested in a very personal way, when they are not complying the way you want them to, sometimes you feel irritated, frustrated and pressured.”
“A lot of [parents] realize in the process that you have to fill your own tank emotionally and spiritually to homeschool well because when you homeschool out of emptiness or trying to make your kids brighter than conventional schoolkids, the homeschooling experience gets corrupted because then you start to pressure your child,” she said. TVJ