(The original French article can be found here: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/special/2018/famille-ouest/index-1.html and the video article can be found here: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/tele/le-telejournal-alberta/site/segments/reportage/61682/famille-ecole-maison-calgary-josee-boutin-max)
ALBERTA, FIRST CLASS OF HOMESCHOOLING
Alberta is the province with the most children home schooling.
Between religious freedom and the need for autonomy, homeschooling takes many forms. More and more Canadian parents choose not to send their children to regular schools, and Alberta has the most homeschoolers.
The days begin early in Josée Boutin’s small home. At 5:30 am, it’s not uncommon for his 9-year-old son Max to be at work with his Lego. There is a morning exercise session with his mother and a reading period.
Max’s classes are held in the morning. He will then join other young people who are also homeschooled to play or participate in activities.
Three years ago, Max left school to study at home with his mother. “Max, at age 6, asked us in his child’s words to go to school in a way that I did not understand. He wanted to have school in the morning. In the afternoon, he had plenty of plans,” says Josée Boutin.
After researching and contacting family members who taught their children, she and her partner decided to try the experiment.
Max became one of the approximately 11,000 Albertan children to be educated at home. That’s almost half of the 23,169 children who did not attend regular school in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. These figures, however, exclude Ontario, where close to 6,500 children study at home, according to provincial data compiled by the Fraser Institute.
In Alberta, parents who want to keep their children at home must inform their school board. They must also choose a school board or charter school to supervise them. The child must meet a teacher twice a year.
BETWEEN BELIEF AND AUTONOMY
Homeschooling has a reputation for going along with certain religious beliefs. It is true that some parents wish to give themselves more control in the education of their children. However, Josée Boutin says that this is far from the case of all parents who homeschool. “I have known more parents for whom homeschooling goes with the values of their children more than their own values,” she says.
This is a a view shared by the Alberta Home Education Parents Society (AHEPS) President, Hali Fitzpatrick. Her association is one of many groups for Alberta parents who are educating their children themselves. “Some children have health problems and have to miss school frequently, others go on trips with their parents for long periods of time,” she says.
Some experts are worried, however. University of Calgary professor and researcher Shirley Steinberg notes a difference in performance between children who homeschool for religious reasons and those who do so for other reasons. She conducted interviews with many of them as well as with stakeholders in the education community.
“Many children who return to school after leaving for a few years for religious reasons are very poorly prepared. ”
She is also concerned that some children are being raised in closed environments where they are not exposed to ideas different from those of their parents. She says, however, that homeschooling can work well when there is good collaboration with a school board.
A CULTURAL AND STRUCTURAL DIFFERENCE
For Mount Royal University Director of Education Jodi Nickel, the high popularity of homeschooling is due in part to Alberta’s culture, which places great emphasis on individual freedoms and parental autonomy. This popularity is also fueled by the grants the province pays to parents.
“Families have more support here. Parents receive $1,600 per year per child,” she says. Half of this money goes to parents, the other half goes to school. Saskatchewan is the only other province to give money to parents who are homeschoolers,” she says.
WELCOMING THE FRANCOPHONE SYSTEM
Josée Boutin says that she has received much more support than a biannual visit. Max follows the province’s program under the supervision of a teacher from Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix. He goes there every week to take part in music lessons.
Josée Boutin meets regularly with the school administration and writes a blog in which she tells the story of Max’s progress.
“It works very well. It was a big surprise to see people who did not know us or have any reason to trust us.”
Books and activity books in French are used by parents who homeschool.
For the Conseil scolaire FrancoSud, which runs the Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix school, homeschooling is another option to retain as many parents as possible in the French language school system.
Deputy Executive Director Christian Roux says the three families the board oversees for homeschooling are doing well.
A FULL-TIME JOB
Josée Boutin admits that homeschooling is a full-time job. Max’s mother, who is self-employed, describes herself as a motivational coach. She acts as a mentor to her clients and helps them to persevere in their physical training. It would be difficult for her to have a regular job. Her spouse, an electrician, is absent during the day. Josée, however, is not completely alone. She hired an English teacher because she did not feel comfortable teaching Max this subject.
She also believes that the term “home chool” sometimes poorly describes the reality that Max and she live. The world is their classroom, and classes often take place outside or at the neighborhood library. Max is far from living a lonely existence.
“We all have this idea of the homeschooled kid in the closet who never sees friends, but it’s so wrong.”
The majority of classes are given in the morning. Max will then join other young people who are also homeschooled to play or participate in activities. “We are invited to so many activities,” adds his mother. Often, we have to say no!”