It’s still dark as I write this, early in another dark December morning when I could not sleep. My mind is racing with thoughts of changes coming upon the home school community in Canada, like the icy blasts that today are sweeping down from the Polar Vortex bringing record bitter cold temperatures, biting gusty winds bringing horizontal snow, and a temporary, but unacknowledged, rebuke to the global warming crowd.
Trends are Changing for Canadian Home Educators
Several trends threatening the future of homeschooling in Canada are converging at this point in time, and you need to be aware of how those are affecting how you will educate your children. These changes are coming from the North (Canada) and the South (the USA). Some are social trends, some academic and some economic. It’s never been more true, that “the times they are a’ changing” to quote the recent Nobel Prize-declining Bob Dylan.
The first major trend in Canada is the increasing role of interventionist governments in controlling and limiting the choices of home school parents to choose the curricula they are allowed to use, and what they (governments) are willing to support. Over the past decade, many homeschoolers have enjoyed the benefits of government funding of their curricula purchases. This is rapidly coming to an end as the recent shutdown of a Homeschool board in Alberta by the NDP suggests, and the aggressive nature of the Ontario Liberal government to enforce the “family first” agenda further down the line to the educational system and ultimately to home based educators. The freedoms to educate your children based on your conscience can realistically fall under “hate crime” legislation as it is in France, where those who are pro-life have been muzzled and prosecuted as “haters”, even within the once-safe walls of the Catholic Church. Homeschooling as a concept in Canada is under attack, and I fear only those with strong convictions and willingness to stand against the tide will persist.
The second major trend affecting Canadian homeschoolers is their choice of curricula from educational publishers. Most major publishers have gone bankrupt in recent years, which has dramatically impacted public, private and home school educators. For decades, the education industry was driven by text book publishers who controlled to a large extent, what was available and what could be taught. With the rise of online education and digital courses, the printed text book has gone the way of the White Pages phone book as a relic of the past. Combine this with shrinking funds available to teachers to provide texts to their students, many instructors are simply copying lessons from the internet and presenting those, rather than purchasing texts that will become obsolete in the next year. Who can blame them. The problem for home school parents is choosing from the remaining publishers, the curricula they want to present to their students.
The “Trump” Effect on Homeschooling in Canada
As the pressure increases within Canada to severely curtail home schooling, the opposite effect is happening south of the border. This third effect could have “unintended consequences” for Canadian home schoolers. With President-elect Trump appointing Betsy DeVos to head the education portfolio, we could see a new golden age for a broad range of types of education available to Americans. Favouring a voucher system where the money follows the student rather than being dumped into bureaucratic pits of education administration, DeVos has promoted the concept of freedom of choice and the willingness to support that choice with federal and state funding. This renaissance of educational options in the United States will likely fund an avalanche of new small publishers, competing to supply a new and growing market of home-based educators with American based and biased educational products. While this is great for the US in promoting American Exceptionalism, the infinitely smaller Canadian market will either reluctantly catch the drippings from the US publishers, or be shut out altogether.
Closing out the Canadian Market
A fourth significant trend affecting homeschoolers in Canada is the generational and corporate takeovers of curricula publishers who are shutting the Canadian market out of their future expansion plans. The Canadian market is too small and insignificant to them in the scheme of the coming Golden Age in the US. We are seeing the rapid closing of many small, dedicated businesses across Canada who had catered to the Canadian home education market, and represented these companies for decades, now being tossed aside. This means even less choice of Canadian content. Attendance a home school conferences has trended downwards for the last several years, with some well established conferences closing their doors permanently. The trends for these communities of publishers, suppliers and educators are in the decline.
Explosive Growth of Online Education
On the upside however, is the fifth trend affecting home education, the explosive growth of online education through a variety of providers. Online schools like Khan Academy, Udemy, Teachable, Coursera and Webster’s Academy are demonstrating remarkable growth and adaptation to the changing landscape of education. The “flipped classroom” has become a viable model where students, instead of doing their homework at night, are watching video presentations of top level instructors teaching highly relevant and even entertaining content on a huge variety of subjects. The classroom time during the day is used by teachers to facilitate discussion around the content that was watched the previous night. In essence the homework is classwork and the lectures or content is the homework. This “flipped” instruction model is ideal for homeschoolers who can benefit from world-class instruction while discussing the content with their “facilitator”, whether that be a parent, teacher or tutor. The costs of delivering online education are extremely favourable as the overheads of conventional educational institutions are eliminated. Naturally one would expect opposition from those who benefit most from the current system, but those are rarely concerns of home based educators.
Connected Canadians Learn Online
The online education industry has grown from 2014 at $24B, to 2015 at $54B to this year, 2016 estimated at $107B worldwide, with insatiable demand propelling this trend into the future. As an educational option, homeschoolers are moving to a “blended learning” approach where their content, information and instruction are coming from a variety of sources, while benefiting from easy access to world-class education from the comfort of their own homes. As online education has become more accessible, there will undoubtedly arise its detractors, but people around the world are voting with their cheque books, credit cards and wallets to endorse the options that best suit them. Canadians are some of the most “connected” people in the world, and certainly we will see the future of Canadian education online.