Teens find they learn better by teaching each other than they can at school.
Home schooling works for Syrian sisters
AJMAN // Most home-schooled children are taught by their parents or tutors, but two teenage sisters who live in Ajman take turns teaching each other.
Syrian expatriates Boushra Dalile, 15, and her sister Line, 13, decided they wanted to learn at home in September 2009 after they realised studying during the summer holidays yielded better results for them than going to school.
"We teach ourselves. There are no teachers that come to our house and teach us. We call it 'an advanced way of self-learning'," said Boushra, who teaches her sister subjects such as maths and chemistry and can speak French, Italian, Arabic and English.
The girls said they found the school environment too restrictive, and time was being wasted.
"We mostly depend on ourselves when we're studying," continued Line, who teaches her sister English and history, and also speaks Chinese and German.
"Also, when we go to school, some of the time is wasted by getting into the bus and being stuck in traffic. In home schooling we use the whole time."
Technically, Boushra and Line should be in Grades 10 and 8 respectively, but they are already learning Grade 12 coursework and are preparing to take examinations such as TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test).
Explaining their philosophy of learning, the girls said studying should be about understanding a topic fully by researching and getting deeper into it, as opposed to just studying to pass an exam.
"When you know you can teach someone else [a certain topic], you know you fully understand it," said Boushra, who studies alongside her sister by using trusted educational websites.
Occasionally, the girls get tips from native speakers for their language learning.
It was their father, Hussam Eldin Dalile, who first suggested that they try home schooling.
Mr Dalile said his daughters have learnt to be practical through their home schooling by doing things such as research, a skill usually acquired at university.
"Trusting your child goes a long way to their personality development," he said.
"I don't keep on at them to study; they do it themselves."
A normal day of study for the Dalile sisters starts at 8am and continues for between eight and 10 hours, but is structured around the outside activities they enjoy doing.
Line, for example, is passionate about writing, and published her first book online at the age of only 12. The book is called Typing Fingers and includes about 100 poems as well as tips on poetry technique.
Education experts suggest that the way a home-schooled child's time is organised is a major reason for success or failure.
"Positive effects can be expected if the home schooling is done in a proper and structured way," said Dr Hussain Ali al Maseeh, a clinical psychologist at the Dubai Community Health Centre.
"School provides that structure and it gives them an environment with rules, regulations, and expectations. Children thrive in this kind of environment.
"If families who prefer home schooling can provide a similar environment, I think it could be useful in a sense that children know their duties during the day," he said.
A downside of home schooling might be missing opportunities that may not be available at home, such as developing important social skills, he said.
Their mother, Lina Yousef, said home schooling her children had only yielded positive results thus far, adding that they still get the chance to socialise through their hobbies.
"When they practise their activities such as golf and skiing, they are able to mingle with peers with similar interests," she said.
Both girls are passionate about golf and aspire to become pros and play for the Ladies Professional Golf Association and on the Ladies European Tour.
The sisters are also regular columnists for the UAE Golf Online website.
As far as their education goes, they said they had no fear regarding the future.
The sisters are planning to take the General Educational Development test (GED) this summer, which would qualify them to attend university.
What the law says on home schooling
Although there are no legal guidelines for home schooling, the Ministry of Education permits it - as long as parents choose an accredited course.
The ministry has also developed its own home-schooling programme, which pupils can follow by registering within their respective education zone to attend a set examination at the end of each term.
Pupils registering with the ministry from within the country must produce a school certificate showing their marks in the last completed school grade and a study-leave certificate.
Parents applying from outside the country need to have an equivalence certificate from the ministry and a passport copy and family book for nationals or a valid residency visa for foreigners.
Those looking for an international curriculum can follow the Cambridge Programme or the K12 International Academy, which is an online school.
However, parents may face issues if they wish to transfer their children back into a regular school because the law is unclear.
Often schools may not recognise home-schooling methods, although most go by the results of their entry-level assessments.
Higher education will require supportive documents such as competitive examination scores to validate the child's aptitude level.
* Afshan Ahmed