Home schooling as an education option
The pandemic has given many parents more insight into the way their children learn. For some, time out of the classroom was a pleasant surprise - a revelation even that home schooling can be tailored to an individual child’s needs, provide one-to-one support, and encourage self-directed learning.
What is home schooling?
Luxembourg offers a free choice of education and it is legal to home school your child. You can choose to follow the Luxembourgish curriculum or any others already offered at state or private schools, or if you prefer, to follow a self-directed path of education.
Approximately 154 children in the primary age bracket, and 30 secondary-aged children are schooled at home in Luxembourg (figures for 2020-21 school year).
Why home school?
“There is an assumption that children don’t want to learn, so they must go to school. Most children, when left to their own devices, are curious and will explore their environment, directing their own learning,” says Max Sauber, a founding member of ALLI Asbl, an association set up by parents who have opted to educate at home.
Katy Zago, another co-founder, agrees: “You don’t need a school to be educated. It’s really a question of what environment you want and can provide for instruction, and what is best suited to the learner.”
Both suggest that home schooling or even “unschooling” offers a viable alternative to traditional schooling, where parents can adjust and expand the learning environment for their child, using a much more diverse range of educational approaches than those available in current school systems.
Home schooling also allows for greater flexibility on timetables or holiday dates. Education can be tailored, and children tend to develop a vested interest in their education, with more freedom to think outside the box when it comes to their approach to learning.
How do you apply for home schooling?
The process is different for primary and secondary level students in Luxembourg.
Primary level process
Parents looking to home school a child aged 4 -12 years must first find out which director is responsible for education in their district. They can do this via Men.lu (the Ministry of Education website).
Parents should then write a letter of motivation to the relevant director. The ALLI Association advises that the letter should be positive, and include the parents rationale for home schooling, such as their philosophy on education, and why public schools are not providing specific learning possibilities or support, such as opportunities for informal learning.
“The letter does not need to be long, but should not just list criticisms of any current school your child attends,” says Sauber. He also adds that there has only been two cases he is aware of where the director has refused the letter of motivation.
You should receive written authorisation from the director by email or letter (this can take a couple of weeks), which you should take to your commune. After that you can begin schooling at home.
Secondary level process
At secondary level (aged 12-16 years) the process is less complicated. Parents must write to their commune to inform them that their child will be home schooled. Sauber comments that at secondary level, many children choose to enrol with an online school or programme, which will provide materials, teaching support and lead to a specific academic qualification such as IGSCEs or a Baccalaureate. The online programme will provide the necessary documentation for the commune.
Yannick Bartocci at the Ministry of Education is in charge of home schooling at a secondary level and can help families navigate the system. The ministry in general prefers online courses, but parents can defend their decision for less formal education, particularly if a child has suffered burn out as a result of school. ALLI can also provide guidance.
How to choose an online course or school
These days it is possible for children to work in virtual classrooms, and complete materials by correspondence or online with the support of parents or virtual teachers. This is a good option if your child might return to school in the future, as you can choose a course that will ease a possible return to school or preparation for certified exams.
But Zago cautions that “a young person that quits school because it is not right for them will not necessarily want to study an imposed curriculum at home. First, they will need to recover their pleasure of learning by finding what makes sense in their life.”
Clonlara is a popular home schooling organisation. The Off-Campus Program gives children the culture of school and the opportunity of a formal recognition of self-directed informal and non-formal learning.
Children can decide how to approach a subject and will be guided into a way of exploring it. The system also validates academic achievements based on a pupil’s projects, and offers an American High School Diploma that is recognised by many universities. Learning advisors provide support in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Hungarian. It essentially works like an online alternative school.
Another popular choice is Wolsey Hall Oxford which has a highly-commended online learning platform and tutor team which can deliver primary and secondary classes and works towards IGCSE and A'Level qualifications. It's used in more than 100 countries across the world and recognised by Luxembourg's education ministry as an alternative platform for education. It's most famous student, Nelson Mandela, studied his law degree with Wolsey Hall whilst in prison on Robben Island.
The self-directed education approach
Both Zago and Sauber have opted for self-directed learning, where education is the child’s responsibility. “A parent should never become the teacher at home, just the facilitator. It’s important that parents maintain their role as loving carers for children,” highlights Sauber.
Self-directed education encourages a child to explore and pursue their own interests, with freedom to play and learn. Children’s curiosity leads them to learn and as Sauber explains, there are plenty of opportunities to cover the curriculum in every day life. He gives the example of cooking as a way to learn weights and measures.
Children learn experimentally and in a pluri-disciplined way, focusing on topics rather than how to read, write or conduct certain experiments.
Sauber’s 17 year-old daughter has continued with self-directed learning, whilst Zago’s 13 year-old daughter has decided to return to school, but maintains her self-directed learning style.
Home school inspections
Parents will work with education inspectors whose role is to ensure that a child or young person is receiving an education to develop physical, intellectual and moral qualities. Home schooling parents have to explain their approach and cooperate with the inspector. There will be some general requirements, such as showing progress that your child has learned at least one of Luxembourg’s official languages, but if you plan to stay temporarily, you can gain exemptions from these.
If you choose a self-directed learning path, you must show the inspector that there has been progress in a broader sense – that your child is becoming autonomous and responsible.
As long as you can show progress in different fields, your evidence does not need to be in line with specific standards in the curriculum for a specific age. Sauber admits it can be tough to evaluate informal learning for inspectors, who are not familiar with this approach. He has used portfolios of work rather than standardised tests.
Most universities tend to give offers in the most commonly taken educational qualification of the country in which they are located. However, in Europe, national, international and European Baccalaureates are widely accepted by most universities, as are IGSCEs and A'Levels. Those students following an online course or school will be able to provide details of their performance or predicted grades.
The Khan Academy provides advice on university applications for home schooled children, whilst children who have had a self-directed education can have their academic achievements validated by Clonlara.
Bill of law on home schooling
A bill of law on homeschooling has been up for discussion in Luxembourg since 2016 but as yet no new laws have been passed. It aims to recognise the status of home schooled pupils until a certain age, and it will clarify what learning progress is expected in certain fields and languages. It will also define the process to apply for home schooling authorisation more clearly, as well as certifications and inspections, with a view to a more open-minded approach to self-directed education.
Network of home schoolers
ALLI Association’s Facebook page has an area dedicated to events and gatherings, usually organised by parents, which children and parents can attend. “These offer home schooled children the chance to socialise, play or make friends in a multi-lingual, mixed-age environment,” says Sauber. In Luxembourg, children are also free to join extra-curricular activities organised by the communes or local associations or dance and music schools.
Next steps for parents
It is illegal to home school without authorisation in Luxembourg. So long as parents can demonstrate they can provide a suitable learning environment, authorisation should not be an issue, but if you are seeking to start home educating your child before the return to school dates in September, you should contact the education director for your district to receive authorisation in time.
ALLI Asbl Association is formed from parents who have taken the home schooling journey. They can help with advice on authorisation and self-directed learning, and the forum also provides a place for discussion and exchange of resources, in addition to organising social meet ups.