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YRC 39: Special Feature – Homeschooling

Prior to exploring the subject for this feature, ‘homeschooling’ sounded like a foreign idea – a luxury that expats and rich locals could grant their children. Having heard of a few of our Young Authors who were homeschooled, we could not help but wonder what being homeschooled was like for them. The questions came in: What? Why? How will being homeschooled impact their future?

However, after speaking to the three families featured here, that notion changed. It was truly eye-opening, having a closer look at the local homeschooling community and hearing from the families about their experiences. So here we are, sharing with you what we have discovered about homeschooling in Singapore.

Homeschooling, also known as ‘home education’, is an alternative form of education where students are not enrolled to learn in mainstream schools. Instead, parents choose to be the primary educators of their children’s learning. This can happen in a home environment or in spaces where parents can best tailor their children’s learning.
Homeschooling parents pick and choose from a wide variety of curricula around the world. Some mix or create their own, for example, pairing MOE Math curriculum with Sonlight to boost their children’s language component. Frequent outdoor activities and co-ops with fellow homeschoolers build the socialisation aspect of the learning journey.
There is also no age limit to how long one homeschools. Depending on the parents, children could be homeschooled for just the primary years or into their secondary school years. Singapore recognises homeschooling children within the primary years because of the Compulsory Education Act.
The number of homeschooling families here in Singapore is much more than we thought. As Mdm Paulin Heng, the mother of one of our featured families, puts it, “Back in my time, it was 300 families. But that was a long time ago. Now, that number would have gotten bigger.”
With an expanding number of parents choosing to homeschool their children, the community has become more noticeable. Type ‘Singapore homeschooling’ in the search engine and relevant blogs and resources will pop up. In fact, for the curious and interested, one such blog – – will be hosting the first Homeschool Convention 2017 in Singapore.

So what leads parents to homeschool their children? Different families have different reasons for homeschooling their children. These reasons, as gathered from our featured families and additional research, include:
•Lifting restrictions on learning. Public school can be limiting to those who look for one-to-one customisations and alternative pedagogies.
•Creating a conducive and holistic learning environment for children of special needs.
•A faith-based education to inculcate values and beliefs related to their religion.
•The desire to spend more time as a family.
•For expats, the opportunity to give their children a flexible and more affordable education in Singapore than international schools.
To sum up, parents homeschool their children with the common goal of giving them a fluid, rounded education that would instill values in them and help them develop at their own pace.

So, if one decides to homeschool their children or be homeschooled, how does one apply for it?
If parents want to homeschool their children, they would have to write in to the Ministry of Education (MOE) for permission to exempt their children from public schooling. If permission for exemption is granted, homeschooling commences.
Under MOE ruling, homeschoolers are required to take the PSLE at Primary 6. Up to then, parents are required to submit a yearly academic progress report. At Primary 4, homeschoolers will sit for an examination to ascertain their level. They will also sit for a National Education test before the PSLE.
The passing mark for a homeschooled student at PSLE is different from a student in public school. The homeschooled student will have to perform above the lowest 33rd percentile of their national cohort. According to MOE, “even if a homeschooled child has obtained a PSLE aggregate score that qualifies him/her for secondary school, but because he/she has not met the PSLE benchmark, he/she is still required to re-sit the PSLE.”
If homeschoolers continue their home-based education into their secondary school years, they can choose to take the GCEs as private candidates, as well as other examinations leading for higher studies like SATs and Advanced Placements.

Is Homeschooling for Everyone?
With the decision to homeschool, some sacrifices would have to be made. Homeschooling parents have to make extra effort to ensure their children are adequately interacting with others, and to be on par with their counterparts in school in academics. There are parents who feel inadequate when their children are unable to catch up, and send them back to school midway.
All three families featured here gave the same answer when asked if they would recommend homeschooling to others: It all depends on the family. Factors for homeschooling include:
•The teaching aptitude of the parents
•Both parents agreeing on the decision to homeschool
•The academic ability of the child
•The finances of the family
• Deciding on the values system they want their children to be raised in
“When parents make the decision to homeschool,” Ms Dawn Fung, the administrator of Homeschool Singapore and mother of one of the families featured here, explained. “One person has to give up a source of income. The homeschool parent’s new job is now to take the bigger share for the children’s growth and learning.”
“Both parents have to agree on the decision to homeschool,” Mrs Sue Ong and Mr Dan Ong, parents of the third family featured here, pitched in. “If one parent says ‘no’, it will be very hard for the remaining parent to school the children by themselves.”
“We never recommend homeschooling to anyone because it depends on their own decisions,” Mdm Heng said. “But if they are interested and if they ask, we always share our stories with them.”
With homeschooling becoming a popular alternative to public education worldwide, will more families in Singapore turn to it in the future?
Reuben (16), Elroi (14), and Jordan (12)

Does homeschooling make children socially awkward? After meeting Reuben, Elroi, and Jordan, we decided that the answer is ‘no’. There was no way a trio of excitable, enthusiastic, hospitable teenagers could be lacking in social skills, especially when they shared with us their experiences and poked playful quips at one another. Even their parents were not spared from their cheeky prodding.
“Our children get to interact with a wide range of people and not just peers the same age as them. They mix with adults, seniors, and younger children,” said Mr Teo.
When it came to photos, the trio gamely posed for us and even dabbled in a little cushion fight with one another (especially over who would get to pose with the cute star-shaped plush). They even invited us to partake in a game of darts, graciously encouraging us to take a few more shots even after we punctured the wall a few times with our bad aims.
In their leisure time, the trio reads, draws, crack puns, and engages in the occasional bouts of pop culture; Jordan and Elroi especially enjoy the popular game show Running Man. Reuben occasionally writes and edits poems and articles, found on the website YMI: For This Reason ( Next to their home studies, the trio takes part in co-ops with fellow homeschoolers. They are also part of the Homeschool Model United Nations Club, which helps them develop their public speaking and debating skills.
“The thing about homeschooling is that it gives you lots of time to look up lame jokes,” Reuben shared, referring to the modern Internet culture of memes and such. “It also shows us things like K-pop and Korean dramas, which my family likes. For me, I dislike anything that starts with a ‘K’.”
As we observed the trio and heard Reuben’s answer concerning social interaction, we wondered if that meant the three have a tight bond. “We interact a lot with each other,” Elroi said.
“But it does not always mean we have a tight bond,” Reuben added. “It is a sort of bond, but we can’t define it.”
“Sometimes it can be tight in the wrong way,” Elroi chipped in. “We’re close, but there can be tension.”
“Extreme tension,” Reuben pointed out.
“Like this!” Jordan piped up, locking her brothers in a tight hug.
“There is a close bond, but sometimes there are extreme disagreements. Like any usual sibling interaction,” Reuben finished.
Mdm Heng had no training in teaching prior to homeschooling her children. “It was all on-the-job training.” When the trio was young, she taught them to read and write using the curriculum. Once they were able to read and write, learning was largely self-directed. “It’s all there in the materials. I just help to facilitate.” She also brought the kids to a primary school to “prepare” them for their oral exams – to see what a school is like. “In oral exams, they often use a primary school setting, especially in their pictures. So I brought them there to see the setting and the different facilities and all.”
With their own homeschooling experiences, is the trio more exposed to information than public schoolers their age? “I think it depends on the mind. If you have kor kor’s mindset,” Elroi cheekily singled out Reuben. “Like, very diligent and all, you might gain more information than those in school. But if you have a mindset like mine…well, maybe around the same level.”
“It just depends on your mind set towards focusing, whether you want to study or not,” Reuben quickly clarified amidst his siblings’ laughter. “But sometimes, knowing more than people in school can be quite bad. In church, I felt that it could isolate me because I was seen as the ‘chim’ guy or the smart alec. So it creates a barrier. Sometimes, the misconception is that homeschoolers tend to know everything.”
Mr Teo pointed out, “Compared with their peers in public school, our kids are a couple of grades faster. “But other homeschoolers might be at the same grade or even slower for various reasons.”
“Different concepts are covered at different levels,” Mdm Heng added. “But sometimes, the mainstream school covers some concepts that are not covered in their homeschool curriculum yet. By the time they hit Grade 10 or Grade 11, they will be on par with everyone else.”
While homeschooling does have its benefits, it also has its troubles. “School students do get benefits from the government that homeschoolers do not have,” Mr Teo shared. “For example, unlike public school students, we have to apply to SMRT for student concession cards. The educational requirements for parents who choose to homeschool have also been raised. But we have no regrets. We are glad to have chosen this path. What is important is that our children are brought up with the right values.”
Deborah (8) and Hope (6)

Outside the Chua apartment, we checked out a rectangular white table and a colourful chart of numbers tacked to the adjacent wall. As we were pondering the table’s use, the door opened and we were greeted by a hearty hello from the Chua sisters. Ms Fung, a former school teacher and current administrator of the blog Homeschool Singapore, showed us in and gave us a tour of her home, while the two girls bounded around us with excitement. She explained to us that the table outside her home is used for the girls’ outdoor learning with their neighbours.
The Chuas’ residence carries a lovely DIY-minimalist vibe; we had a little fan moment in the kitchen when we spotted a makeshift clock made by Ms Fung, created by fastening clock mechanisms to an old magazine. On the balcony, Ms Fung had split old window panes to form shelving for her knick-knacks. Just a few rice cookers take care of all meals, and organization is catered for all heights.
The only thing in plenty was projects and schoolwork done by Deborah and Hope. Ms Fung points out the family’s Forgiving Tree, a tree-like collage adorned with leaf-shaped coloured papers. “The idea is that life is not perfect and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say sorry. The leaves are our sorry cards that we stick on the tree branches. In the end, you learn that a forgiving culture can create a beautiful growing tree,” she explained. She then showed us the girls’ daily schedule; next to their studies, outings, and co-ops (sessions done with fellow homeschoolers), Deborah and Hope are given a lot of free time for their own exploration.
“We would take them out for outings,” Ms Fung shared. “For example, when they were young, we went to the zoo every week for three months at a co-op.”
“There were a lot of animals,” Deborah nodded.
Next to their exercise books, apps and online videos are also used to complement their studies. During the interview, Hope engages in an app that helps her develop her Chinese language skills. “She likes to play with her toys and make new worlds out of them. All children love make-believe. If you can give your children more time to it, they will use it as a safe outlet to express themselves,” Ms Fung tells us.
Arts are also utilised to hone the girls’ creativity; Deborah proudly shows off her handicrafts, including a room made out of paper and cardboard and a little blue toilet-paper-roll bird. “I like to do craft!” she tells us. “And read books and practise my gymnastics. And I like to help and teach my friends.” An open piano sits at a corner of the living room for the girls to tap into their musical prowess.
The Chuas hope that their daughters would grow into happy, kind, and responsible women, their values uncompromised by peer pressure. “In the social circle at school, there is no guarantee that you will make good friends at school,” Ms Fung shared. “And there is no guarantee that you will meet good people in school. And you have no control over that. You can’t change your school and it will be difficult to change schools. But at homeschool, we get to choose. The girls choose who they want to meet, and if they like the person, they form a friendship. There is no time wasted, especially no time wasted on people who will not be nice to you. I was a schoolteacher before, and I had seen the bullying and unkindness in school close up. At homeschool, I can be with my children and teach them. If I see my girl bullying someone, I would tell her and correct her. Children need our guidance. Will this prepare them for the real world? The real world is around you right now. How you treat your neighbour – people of different races and religions, children of different needs growing up – determines how you value the world around you.”
“The joy of it is when you see that they love learning,” Mr Chua added. “The process of learning should be enjoyable. The bulk of learning is self-directed. In the free time Deborah has, she likes to think about what to make with her existing craft materials. In prepping for the PSLE, Deborah associates assessment books with learning that is not stressful. After all, it is such a small part of her day. She enjoys testing herself and discovering new knowledge.”
For anyone interested to find out more about homeschooling and Ms Fung’s experiences, she will be one of the twelve speakers at the Homeschool Convention 2017 on April 5 at the School of Thought Auditorium. Tickets are sold out. But you are welcomed to the Curriculum Fair at 2pm at Le Danz. It is $5 at the door per family or per person.
Asher (17), Abigail (15), Isaac (14), Isaiah (12), Magdalena (8), and Michaela (5)

If you have read the photo-travelogue 6 Kids And A Pop-Up Camper, as well as the local papers in early 2016, the Ongs will be no stranger to you. They made local headlines in 2016 when they spent six months in America (from June 2015 to December 2015), doing the extensive road trip in a trailer and a Chevrolet.
6 Kids And A Pop-Up Camper was the compilation the family worked on after the trip, containing 300 pages of family journaling and photographs (mostly taken by Asher) chronicling their adventures. The unconventionality of the trip inspired many people to take their own plunges, with the Ongs gladly advising them while sharing their story.
“I had always wanted to go to America,” Mrs Ong shared. “But because of our schedules and finances, it was hard. But the opportunity came when my husband resigned from his job and we had a lot of time on our hands.”
“We also had to break a lot of piggy banks to go on this trip,” Mr Ong chipped in.
6 Kids And A Pop-Up Camper is available for purchase at the Ongs’ website, priced at $61.95. The whole family pitches in to help sell the book and send out copies, which Mrs Ong see as a good opportunity to teach her children more about business. The Ongs are also active on their Facebook page of the same name, where they actively interact with visitors.
The Ongs’ experiences are as vibrant as the Ongs themselves; as we stepped into their home, our eyes first fell on the mural of a tree, hand-painted by the family in 2014. Its deep-green leaves rested on thick branches that stretched across a pale emerald wall, reminiscent of the Ongs’ faith and hospitality. Their YouTube channel hosts their perky home videos, including an adorable satire on the woes of homeschooling.
Painting and video-making were not the only things the flexibility of homeschooling granted the Ong children; when we asked what they like to do in their leisure time, the children’s answers came fast and furious.
“I can cook better!”
“Going out!”
“Playing piano!”
“Swimming! But the swimming pool is closed.”
“Playing the flute!”
“Hmmmm, what about running?”
“No, not running! Running is not fun! Running makes you tired!”
“But you want to try rock-climbing, don’t you?”
The oldest of the children, Asher, was not around for the interview; he was at a print shop preparing for his talk on 18 February, while also picking up work experience. Mrs Ong told us more his love for photography (which spurred him to be the photographer for their American trip); he became interested in the craft in 2013, after a family friend gifted the Ongs with a camera. From there, he started experimenting and practising his skills.
It is not just Asher who has thrived from his parents’ support. Each and every one of his five siblings was given space to discover and develop their own skills and talents. Isaiah loved delving into stories, Isaac is the family funnyman and impressionist, and Abigail had picked up on her mother’s love for baking and sewing.
Magdalena and Michaela enjoy doing craft. Mr Ong revealed that Magdalena often watched him whenever he does carpentry (‘IKEA hacks’, as he called it). Michaela enthusiastically showed us her folder of preschool worksheets, where she had pasted various materials according to the alphabet (“Q is for quail, F is for foil, X is for checks!”). All six children also assist with family chores every day after their studies.
“It started with the conviction that God gave me these children and so it is my duty to grow them. That’s my conviction in life,” Mrs Ong shared. “So I am really happy, and I don’t regret my decision to homeschool my children. If I let my children be raised by somebody else, it’s, like, my job is being taken from me. So I am just doing what I am supposed to do. It’s my duty and love for them, seeing them grow and develop…we just provide the tools, whatever we can give, and the learning is of their own. The passion comes from them.”
She went on to share how it was difficult schooling six children when they were wee toddlers, with their tantrums and all, but she persevered and did not give up on them despite her immense stress then. “I would get frustrated, but I was lucky to have my husband to rely on. I would always pour out my frustrations to him.”
“We let the children take the curriculum depending on their learning style,” Mr Ong said. “Every child has a different learning style.”
On 18 February, we were privileged to hear Asher share his experiences and photography prints at Scotts Square. We watched, wide-eyed with awe, as Asher recounted his early years of exploring and self-learning (with his parents’ support, of course), to his current ventures as a Jack-of-all-trades and studying for his ‘O’ Levels. After picking up as much work experience as he can, he plans to study graphic design at a local polytechnic in 2018.
As we heard the Ong family applaud their son’s successes and reveal their future plans, we wish them – and our other featured families – all the best in their future endeavours.

Monday,13 March 2017 by | Blog, YRC Investigates |