Last year while we travelled, our oldest child was supposed to be starting school in Australia. Well actually he was only just eligible for school … by 2 days! When we made the decision to travel for the entire year rather than send him to school we weren’t too worried. We would do some homeschooling on the road, play educational games, take him to as many educational destinations like museums as possible and the amazing opportunities and experiences that he’d encounter would make up for the rest. And of course if we failed woefully as road educators the worst case scenario was that he would start school a year later and be the oldest child in his class by a few days.
This year it’s not as easy. In June, Noah will turn 6. The legal requirements in Australia are that all children be enrolled in some form of approved schooling by the age of 6.
In October last year I started the process of enrolling him in distance education through a school in Australia. I spoke with the teachers and found them to be amazingly helpful. The fact that he was almost on Grade 2 maths by Queensland standards was no problems, he’d skip ahead a year with maths. We were going to be in Australia in January and April so that I could pick up the course materials. Perfect, problem solved – we had a school. And then I saw the fees: $2500AUD per year, including postage, to be paid upfront.
That’s almost the same cost as sending Noah to a private primary school in Penang for a year! The postage component was $1400, with the return postage fees still on top? If that figure is a true reflection of the cost then maybe I should give up on blogging and start a international postage service. As for $1100 in fees, well that’s a lot of money for a course that essentially I have to teach to Noah myself! To quote a famous Australian film, the Castle, ‘tell them they’re dreamin’.
Of course it’s not entirely the schools fault. Every distance education school I’ve looked at in Australia has similar fees set by the Government. You see we are enrolling our son in Distance Education by choice, a choice that the government doesn’t seem to approve of. If we were living in a remote area distance education would be free, except for the cost of postage within Australia. But we’re going overseas and travelling, showing our child the world, teaching him in a 1-1 situation rather than 30-1 like in classrooms and choosing to spend more time with him than most kids see of their parents! Yes I can see how that’s looked down on! To be honest I don’t have that much of a problem with the fees, although I think they are a bit high. The postage is the sticking point, especially consider we would be home to pick up half the years content in person! I started looking around but the only other distance education school we could apply for, as they work on catchment areas, couldn’t even build a website so my confidence in their ability to work remotely with us wasn’t high. It turns out they still use cassettes. Who travels with a cassette these days?
Onto Plan B
So then I started considering homeschooling. After talking with friends in Penang who homeschool I found a maths and literacy program I could follow, for a lot less than Distance Education. Perfect! With unschooling for the rest we were set! Or so I thought! In Australia it’s not just as simple as saying ‘I want to homeschool my child’. Legally you are required to register for homeschooling after the age of 6, develop a curriculum outline and sit through interviews with Department of Education officials proving that you can meet the Australian standards for education for that year. A hassle, but no problems, I can do that!
And then I hit the next bump in the road. From what I can see, legally children can’t be enrolled in homeschooling if they are travelling outside of Australia. I’ve read all the legislation I can get my hands on, scoured online forums … and everything all points to the same thing – if you don’t have a house (or caravan at a push) with a dedicated desk that occupies space within Australia then you can’t legally homeschool! And since you have to sit through an interview it’s not just as simple as writing down Grandma’s Australian postal address and faking it! The only way that its possible from what I can see is IF Noah had of attended a school in Australia for a year or two and had a letter from that school providing him with an exemption from school for the year or permission to homeschool. But of course Noah hasn’t attended school yet in Australia.
Plan C, D, E and ???
So what do we do? The short answer is I have no idea. As far as I can see we’re fine to just do our own thing until the day that Noah turns 6 but after that? At the moment I have no clue what the implications are if we don’t legally register Noah for schooling by the age of 6. Are we fined? Sent to jail? Branded with scarlet letters or made to wear ‘I am a bad parent’ t-shirts? Do we loose any rights to government benefits or subsidies? Do they even check? Or do we just need to start saving up for distance education or look further abroad for schooling options? Or start speaking to every teacher I know to try to get a letter of exemption? Do you have any suggestions for us? At the moment we’re open to any realistic solution. Actually even frivolous, ridiculous solutions are sounding good at this point!