THE notion of illiterate parents being allowed to provide education to their children has been firmly rejected by legislators at the joint select committee (JSC) of Parliament which is reviewing the Jamaica Teaching Council Act (2022).
Arguing the point on Thursday at a meeting of the committee, which heard submissions from homeschooling families, Government Senator Natalie Campbell Rodriques shot down the suggestion which arose during discussions. She stressed that she would not be supportive of any such provision, and also wants persons who homeschool to undergo a police record check. She said legislators are not against homeschooling, as demonstrated by the fact that the JSC had agreed to hear late submissions from the group, but that children had to be protected.”
While homeschooling is not in itself [intended] to replicate what happens in the classroom, we have a right to protect children at any cost. We must always err on the side of protecting the child — not religion, not parental preference, but what is best for the child. If we allow someone who is not able to read and write to a particular level to be responsible for educating our children, the country will pay the price for that in the future. We cannot allow persons who can barely read and write to impart curricula to our children — under no circumstances should that be allowed,” she insisted.
Campbell Rodrigues, however, agreed with the families that the provisions on homeschooling in the JTC Bill need to be fully fleshed out.
She argued that children need to also be protected from abuse in the home. “It cannot be where the Government has no place in homeschooling. We have a place and we will always maintain that place in the effort to protect our children from abuse and ensuring that they are taught properly,” she stressed.
Campbell Rodrigues said homeschoolers do not have to be qualified teachers, but there has to be a base standard, “If you can barely read, you shouldn’t be homeschooling.”
Royena Murphy, who told the committee that her family has been homeschooling for nine years, pointed out that even in situations where a homeschooler has challenges, there are other avenues which can enable effective at-home education such as enlisting the help of a tutor, and co-op parent groups. “There are many ways to homeschool without the parent teaching the child, so if the parent feels inadequate or that they need assistance, then there are other avenues to explore; there are many hybrid ways but it’s still a homeschool environment,” she explained.
The senator said even with those options there is still the danger of parents who do not recognise their own inadequacy to teach. “That’s where the problem is. What of the parent who is so caught up in their own self and their own abilities that they do not recognise that they can barely read and should not be teaching their child? We have a responsibility to protect those children from the parents who do not recognise that they do not have that capacity.
“Regarding the suggestion that persons should be required to have a clean police record in order to teach at home, parent Danielle McNish questioned the need. “If you are to register that you are a homeschooler, you can only do so when your child attains the age of six, which is school age. If I as a parent decided to keep my child at home between zero and five, why is it that suddenly at six I need a police record if I want to keep them home longer?” she asked the members.
The committee also heard submissions from the Vitali family, and the Jamaica Association of Homeschoolers.