Home schooling in the modern world

By Morgan Dyer

A conversation I had with two strangers a few weeks ago has been playing on my mind.

I was visiting my family in Ballarat for the weekend when my mum suggested we go to Clunes — a small town half an hour outside the city. Mum wanted my opinion on Clunes as she and my dad were looking to buy property in the area.

The town has a population of just 1700 so I was surprised to see it alive with people at three different cafes, two modern restaurants, a wine bar, wineries, several different shops and an art gallery.

Clunes has an unusual mix of Melbourne weekenders, people who have recently moved to the area and the true Clunes locals who were born and bred there.

After lunch at a restaurant that should feature in Australian Good Food magazine, we walked over to a business across the road. Slabs of wood lined the walls, waiting to be bought and made into custom pieces which would be passed down to family members for centuries.

Looking in amazement of the special pieces, we started chatting to the owner and his daughter, who would have been no older than 10.

They were captivating to listen to and kindly told us their background, the history of their showroom, their plans for the future and about the town itself. The conversation involved the young girl as much as it did her father; it was surprising to see such a young child so involved in a conversation with adults.

It was even more of a surprise when she said she was home-schooled, along with her brothers and sisters.

I, naively, had always imagined home-schooled children to be quirky, different, and not up-to-date with modern times; but this young girl was far from so. Her intelligence was obvious, but at times she still spoke about the type of things that every other 10-year-old would talk about, and throughout our conversation she showed me a range of things on her iPad.

This girl probably knows more about technology than I do.

She showed me a range of different websites her family uses for the business, and said she often helped her dad transform, design and create new ideas for it. She even showed me a website that I could use to help find stories and search old newspapers.

Growing up, having attended public and private schools for 13 years, the idea of home-schooling was a foreign concept.

However, across Australia there are about 20,000 children who are home-schooled, and about 5000 of them are in Victoria.

Parents who home-school their children must apply for government permission and must regularly submit progress reports.

I discovered an article on the website theconversation.com which reported that home-educated students scored higher than the state averages across every measure in the NAPLAN tests and continued to do so even if the child returned to mainstream school.

Home-schooling is an interesting concept to explore as technology continues to advance and people have access to millions of resources at the touch of the button.

I know very little about the family from Clunes, and they did not go into any depth about why they chose home education; but from an outsider’s perspective, it works well for them.

In the past few weeks I have been thinking about how different people live, and it's changed how I see them.

People who don’t participate in certain mainstream activities are not any less normal or connected to a modern lifestyle than the average person.

Any in the case of the girl from Clunes, I suspect she is more connected than most.