By Susan Friese, mother of twins, passionate teacher and counsellor with a post-graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has Springbok colours in Martial arts, teaches Kung Fu in her spare time and runs a homeschooling support and tuition centre called Penhurst Academy for Grades 7-12.
I often receive queries from parents asking “Isn’t it too late for my child to change schools?” It may be the end of the first term, mid year or in the last few weeks of the school year. My answer is always – no, it’s not too late if your child is unhappy.
Why are kids unhappy at school? Maybe they don’t find the work challenging, they have a personality conflict with teachers or they don’t fit in with their peer group. In many cases the school and the student just aren’t a good fit. And some kids just hate school. They hate the autocratic style of classroom dynamics and they battle with kids their own age. A huge percentage of school time is spent changing classrooms, queuing at the tuck shop, waiting for teachers and for the class to “settle down”. 30% of the day wasted.
If your child wants to change schools, is forcing them to stay building character and teaching them to fit in? Most likely they will learn to avoid certain situations, people and places. They will learn to tune out, drag their feet and be late for every class. As a parent and educator I want my kids to love learning. I want them to finish at their own pace and work on the subjects they love.
Pros and cons of all systems:
Mainstream: For some children this works. Government and independent schools offer relatively good academics and plenty of social interaction. The Matric is well recognised by local universities and employers. There is also usually a wide variety of physical activity and excellent sporting opportunities. The downside is big classes can be intimidating, the subject choices are limited and teachers are often overwhelmed.
International Schools: Here you get a great variety of languages and subjects sometimes not offered at regular SA schools. There is also more exposure to accents, ethnicities and cultures plus greater access to opportunities to study abroad. The downside is that SA universities can sometimes be a stickler with the more varied subject choices and qualifications. Your child may also develop an accent unlike your own which may or may not bother you.
Study centres: Whether for an SA Matric or a foreign qualification such as Cambridge, study centres offer wonderful opportunities for kids who don’t like the size or style of mainstream schools. There is no focus on sports as the kids can do these at club level if they choose. There is a greater educator to student ratio and bullying is virtually non-existent due to small groups and supervision. This is also an option for professional child athletes. The downside is if a child wishes to be in a larger social environment (more friends to choose from) or if they are unable to study relatively independently
Home schooling: This can be a wonderful experience for both parent and child as the time together is not limited by time factors or travelling distances. Parents can choose a local or international academic syllabus or can go syllabus free. This gives the child the opportunity to explore his or her own interests. It also provides a safe and secure environment for children that may have emotional issues or have experienced years of bullying. The downside: limited social exposure is definitely a factor regardless of how many social activities are scheduled. This is also a huge burden on the parent and such dedicated time makes it almost impossible to maintain a career. Universities also usually require some academic record for entrance.
So when should a child leave the current school?
You, as a parent, will know when. When he feels he doesn’t fit in, when she refuses to go to school every morning and life becomes a battle. When he comes home grumpy because the boys tormented him. When she is angry because her “friends” picked on her all day. When he says the teachers are stupid. When they don’t understand her.
One parent asked me whether it was too late to move her grade 9 student? She said her daughter was crying herself to sleep every night. She joined a study centre, caught up the whole year’s syllabus and is motivated and happy.
Whatever system works for your child is fine. Whether it’s mainstream or home school. Your child will make friends he/she will have for life. Also don’t forget the role you play as a parent in those hours after school.
So what’s the problem? There is no problem, only change.