x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

'Schooling should be about helping a child acquire the tools they need'

Silvia Aldredge talks about the reality of home-schooling her three sons in Dubai.

"We moved to Dubai in the autumn of 2008 and at that time the competition for schools was extremely intense. Schools were demanding extraordinarily large fees for assessments without giving any clear idea if a child had a chance of getting in. The American curriculum here looked nothing like what we were used to in Connecticut and I found navigating the school system in Dubai so difficult that I began to look for alternatives.

"On balance, the boys have enjoyed home-schooling. They do miss the regular routine of school, but the opportunity to pursue things that really interest them and the other kinds of social and recreational activities available to home-schoolers seems to make up for the loss of the school experience. Academically, I have no complaints. They consistently test at, or above, grade level on standardised tests.

"The greatest benefit is flexibility. If there are areas in which a child excels, you can let that child immerse themselves in the subject at an advanced level. My eldest will take Astronomy 101 at Yale through iTunes University this fall. He simply loves the subject, grade level is irrelevant. Similarly, if there is an area where your child is struggling, you can take the time to go very slowly and ensure the material has been mastered. We struggled with the geometry units in our curriculum a bit this year, so we skipped them and are now completing them this summer at a more relaxed pace.

"Admittedly, it's hard to get organised and stay organised and 'do' school in a consistent fashion. Using an online programme can help, but I've found that the curricula available in Dubai is really limited. They tend to focus on worksheets and as the kids get older, these become progressively less interesting, so as a parent you have to work hard to ensure your kids are engaged and doing work that is enjoyable.

"If you're considering home-schooling, my advice would be to relax. First grade is not a one-way ticket to either Harvard or incarceration. In my opinion, the push to brand children as either successes or failures is a huge mistake. Every child learns at a different pace and everyone is different. Schooling should be about helping a child acquire the tools they need to learn anything that interests them, not about making our children into little information dumps."

* As told to Rachel Lewis