WANTING their children to learn at their own pace, a community of parents in Penang have opted to put their children out of the public school system and chosen to homeschool them instead.
From as young as five, an estimated 200 children here follow structured homeschooling syllabuses that let them learn at a rate of their own choosing.
The parents form communities, held together by centres that manage the syllabuses, to create the necessary interactions for their children.
To move on to tertiary studies, the children take public examinations such as SPM as private candidates to earn the necessary qualifications to enter universities and colleges.
In one such centre, The Thinking Sun, 26 parents with 24 children follow an American-based syllabus known as Accelerated Christian Education (ACE).
They are required to complete Packet of Accelerated Christian Education (PACE) booklets and a PACE test will be conducted before moving to the next grade.
The centre’s founder Brenda Gan said the students set their own goals within the system, according to their learning abilities.
“This method allows them to develop thinking skills and master the learning process by themselves.
“The students are also required to do their own research to find out answers to exercises, rather than being spoon-fed with knowledge,” she said.
Besides the education syllabus, the students also have opportunities to experience things by hands-on activities.
They recently turned farmers, managing their own food gardens at Wonder Wilder Farm in Relau Agro-tourism Centre, where each of them was given a 2.3sq m plot of land to tend.
They were given the task of planting eight different crops and vegetables and they visited the farm weekly to see the growth and tend to their plants.
Gan explained that the projects given to the students differ annually, where the gardening project was started in April and was conducted until mid-July.
She added that homeschooling is not meant for only students with special needs or learning disabilities, but is also suitable for normal kids.
“Students from here can always join a public school again as long as they can use Bahasa Malaysia, or Chinese in the case of a Chinese vernacular school.
“Once the students with us are 15 years old, we provide guidance to them according to their future study plans. We will see what they are interested in and how they can secure a seat in universities,” she said.
Teoh Yong Chin, 30, chose to home-school her seven-year-old son after discovering her son is a slow-learner.
“I wanted him to study without being pushed or forced to.
“He is coping really well at the centre and enjoying what he is doing,” she said.
Teoh said the activities organised enable her son to do hands-on work, which he enjoys compared to learning theories.
Her son studies in a small group and understands better what he is learning, which is the most important thing for her.
“It’s great to have activities such as gardening, where they get the chance to be back to nature,” she said.
Joshua Lim, 19, is a successful student who finished homeschooling and is now pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.
“I was homeschooled after I completed Year Six in a Chinese vernacular school.
“I was a fast learner, and so my parents decided to homeschool me. I became more responsible by setting my own study goals and working towards achieving them myself.
“Homeschool taught me to be more resourceful because I had to look for the solutions to problems I studied and that led me to read and learn more,” he said.
Lim is pursuing his three-year degree programme in a university in the United States.
In 2003, an amendment in the Education Act 1996 made it compulsory for parents to ensure that their children are given at least primary school education.
Shortly thereafter, several parents of homeschooling groups sought a meeting with the Education Ministry and a policy decision was adopted in which the fine for not sending one’s children to school would only be imposed on parents who did not provide any sort of education whatsoever for their children.
However, the ministry stated that parents needed to apply to be exempted from sending their children to regular schools.
In a study on homeschooling in Malaysia by researchers from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn and University Tunku Abdul Rahman in 2015, 5,000 children were estimated to be homeschooled in the country and the number was steadily growing.