In BC home learning circles, the matter of terminology comes up with relative frequency and what should be a calm, factual conversation often turns into an emotionally charged and heated discussion.
The issue is around the terms “homeschooling” and “home education”. In BC, both of these terms are used by the BC Government to describe only one of our educational options: registration under section 12 (s. 12) of the BC School Act. This is the only educational option in BC that gives the parent full autonomy and choice over their child’s educational program. Children who are registered under s. 12 are not required to follow the provincial curriculum and it is their parents/guardians who are solely responsible for providing all aspects of an educational program, including assessment. In the School Act, this option is called Home Education and on the Ministry of Education website, it’s called Homeschooling.
Distributed Learning (DL), on the other hand, is a distance education option that is delivered by a BC school approved by the BC government. These schools receive either full funding (for public DLs) or 62% funding (independent DLs) and are required to be accountable for providing an educational program. Although a parent may be involved in both the planning and delivery of a child’s educational program, it is only the teacher who is legally responsible for planning, ensuring delivery, and carrying out assessment. The teacher must supervise the family to ensure that the child’s learning goals are being met, and, in independent school programs, the Ministry of Education requires weekly contact between the teacher and the student.
Different DL schools seem to have different ways of managing these Ministry requirements and as a result, some schools are quite “hands-off”. This leads some people to believe that although their children are enrolled in a school, the parents are still in charge of their child’s learning. In specific situations, that might be what it actually looks like, but legally it is still the school and the teacher that are 100% responsible for delivering that educational program.
All DL schools know this full well. They have a contract with the Ministry of Education that clearly delineates roles and responsibilities. However, this isn’t always clearly communicated to staff and to parents. Some DL parents insist on calling what they do “homeschooling” or “home education”, but there are some very compelling reasons for them to embrace either the very specific “distributed learning” or the more general “home learning”, an inclusive term that has been used for many years by different organizations to encompass both s. 12 and DL families.
When people who use DL identify with the term “homeschooling”, the most compelling reason to not use it is the protection of the section 12 option. When people use “homeschooling” or "home education" to describe a distributed learning situation, the ripple effect can be bigger than they imagine.
Several years ago, a public school DL parent made a big fuss with the Ministry of Education about her rights as a "homeschooler", which she felt were being trampled by her children’s DL school. She was trying to claim the rights of section 12 of the School Act while being enrolled in a school program. This is when the Ministry published a chart online that showed the differences between the two options. The Ministry wants to be clear that DL is absolutely not the same as s. 12. When you read their chart, you can see that differences between are not at all as subtle as some people hope.
One question that keeps coming up is, "why should I bother about terminology if it's just government-speak?" This is usually in the vein of "law is just a construct" or "big government doesn't control me". Well, the answer is, like it or not, education is mandated by law in BC, every parent has a legal duty imposed on them by that legislation, and it is the government "machine" that delivers the mechanism for that education. We can't ignore the government's or the law's role in education; we can't avoid contact with the government when carrying out education. It's there, created and administered via the law.
It may even be considered disingenuous to partake of a DL's benefits without acknowledging the government's role in providing them. If we truly don't want government involvement, then we can opt out of distributed learning enrolment and choose s. 12 Home Education. It is as simple as that. But if we choose to stay in the system by enrolling in DL, then it is better for everyone if we call it what it is, as defined by that system.
The bottom line is that a parent should feel free to view what they do in their own home however they like. No one can or wants to take away someone’s experience of learning at home with his or her kids. However, the parent must carefully choose their words when telling members of the public, including members of the home learning community, about what they do and how they do it. This clarity may be the only thing that will truly preserve and protect our s. 12 option.
Rebecca McClure, Melanie Wilkins-Ho
From the BC School Act:
Division 4 — Home Education Home education 12 A parent of a child who is required to enroll in an educational program under section 3 (a) may educate the child at home or elsewhere in accordance with this Division, and (b) must provide that child with an educational program.