HOMESCHOOLING POLICY COMING: Minister of Education, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly speaking at the education talk series on the education policy 2023-2027 at the Carapichaima West secondary school. – Lincoln Holder
The Ministry of Education’s National Education Policy 2023-2027 requires that parents or guardians apply to the ministry for permission to homeschool a child of compulsory school age.
Since there was no such policy previously, parents could choose whether to inform the ministry that they were homeschooling their children.
Now, parents and guardians are not only expected to apply for approval annually but if the application is not approved, the Education Minister will facilitate placement in a public school or the parents can register the child at a private school registered with the ministry.
If requested by the ministry, the parent is expected to submit an end-of-year report. They are also expected to submit to virtual or in-person visits by ministry officials to ensure the care and protection of the child and, if the child is on probation, observe classroom instruction.
If a child is evaluated using ministry-approved standardised assessments and found to be functioning at a lower level than expected, the Chief Education Officer (CEO) could advise the parent on an adapted curriculum and the child be placed on probation for one term.
At a town hall meeting, part of the MOE’s National Conversation on Education – EdU Talk Forum, at Carapichaima West Secondary School on Tuesday, social activist and former UNC candidate for Diego Martin West Marsha Walker objected to the policy.
She said it was unconstitutional as parents and guardians had the right to provide a school of their choice for the education of their child or ward and that they had never been subjected to standardised testing before.
Responding to Walker, CEO Dr Peter Smith said there was a need for the ministry to monitor homeschooling.
“In fact, in the Education Act, it does make mention of homeschooling, giving the prerogative of the Minister of Education to ensure that is carried out properly.”
The moderator, acting School Supervisor Two Allan Ramdeen, added that homeschooling increased “dramatically” during the pandemic so there was a need for a policy to guide it and help people to understand what was expected.
Walker said she would not write to the ministry to inform it she was home-schooling her 14-year-old daughter. Instead, she said her lawyer would write a letter.
“I do not intend to be subjected to any standardised test or any of it. So I want to know, am I breaking the law? Or is it a guideline? What is it?”
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said it was just policy and amendments to the Education Act would deal with laws and penalties. She said the policy was in the best interest of the children and was not meant to be punitive.
In a press release, president of the Homeschool Association of TT, Rodney Rajkumar, called on the ministry to redo the process and include the input of homeschooling policy experts and members of the homeschooling community.
He said the homeschooling policy of the ministry’s National Education Policy 2023-2027 was very similar to the 2021 draft, which he described as appalling, saying an international consultant labelled it as one of the “worst ever seen.”
The consultant said it would be among the more “onerous and restrictive regulations in any civilised western country” and not in harmony with homeschooling regulations in most advanced democracies.
Rajkumar said, “We believe that there should be some form of monitoring however, this cannot be overly onerous so as to destroy the very essence of the homeschooling philosophy or discourage parents from homeschooling altogether.
“There is an attempt by the Ministry of Education via this policy to violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that the family is the fundamental group unit of society (Article 16.3) and that ‘parents have a prior right to decide what kind of education shall be given to their children’ (article 26.3). This was conveniently omitted when the legal foundation for the policy was iterated by the MOE.”
Earlier in her presentation, Gadsby-Dolly said modern, relevant policy was needed, especially after the pandemic. So, after consultations in 2020 and 2021, several new education policy sections were developed.
In addition to homeschooling, new policy sections included remedial education, digital transformation, patriotism, and cultural transformation through education, which will address values, ethics, attitudes and behaviours of students and ensure certain school activities such as career days and sports days, were mandatory.
She said the government wanted citizens that could drive the country’s development and so considered their academic and moral education.
“As a part of our cultural transformation, it is looking at that aspect, looking at the citizen and not just their academic achievements, and ensuring that we are developing the entire citizen. So at the end of it, we get someone that can benefit TT in a very superior way in terms of what we are doing now.”
She added that the ministry will look at different indicators of success such as an increase in student performance in terminal exams, an increase in positive school climate, a decrease in infractions, increased job satisfaction for teachers and auxiliary staff and a decrease in dropouts.
She stressed that transformation was not an immediate process and expected change to take place progressively over the next five to seven years.
“That’s our big picture. To ensure our young people develop scholastically in a broad sense and therefore the future of our country is assured.
“Our greatest educational successes will only be achieved if we are all pulling together in the same direction.”
Gadsby-Dolly was also asked to address violence in schools.
She said there was a pilot programme, restorative practices, in 11 schools, and the ministry recently hired staff to help give the children tools to better deal with conflict.
Dr Ayinka Nurse Carrington, manager of the Student Support Services Division, added that from May to July the ministry trained 400 people in restorative practices. The ministry trained principals, counsellors, diagnostic specialists, school supervisors, teachers, guidance counsellors, school social workers, and school safety officers, and 110 students were helped to understand accountability.
Main Legislation Guiding the Home Schooling Policy
Section 4 (2a)
In addition to the several duties imposed on the Minister by this Act, the Minister shall be responsible for devising a system of education calculated as far as possible to ensure that educational and vocational abilities, aptitudes and interests of the children find adequate expression and opportunity for development.
Section 76 (1)
(1) In this Act, the expression “a compulsory school age” means any age between five and sixteen years and accordingly a person shall be deemed to be of compulsory school age if he has attained the age of five years and has not attained the age of sixteen years, and a person shall be deemed to be over compulsory school age as soon as he has attained the age of sixteen years.
Subject to section 78, it shall be the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, by regular attendance at a school.
A child is excused from attendance at school—
(a) if, in the opinion of the Minister, he is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere;
(b) if he is unable to attend school by reason of sickness or other unavoidable cause;
(c) if he is excluded from attendance at school under any written law;
(d) if he is absent temporarily as authorised under the Regulations.
TT Constitution, Chapter I, Part 1 – Rights Enshrined:
4. It is hereby recognised and declared that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely:
(c) the right of the individual to respect for his private and family life,
(f) the right of a parent or guardian to provide a school of his own choice for the education of his child or ward;
(i) freedom of thought and expression.