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PM defends decision to teach sons at home

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Observer senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 24, 2011    

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has defended his decision to homeschool his sons, following criticism that the move could be seen as an indictment on the Jamaican education system.

Responding to questions asked by the Observer following outcry by members of the public, Holness said that he and his wife pulled their sons out of a leading Corporate Area preparatory (independent) school to provide an "individualised learning solution" at home for one of his sons who was falling behind in class.

Holness, who retained the position of minister of education upon becoming prime minister two months ago, said further that his own experience with his children informed the development of the Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme (ASTEP), which emphasises that the education system must be flexible to the different learning styles of children.

Juliet Holness, the prime minister's wife was reported in the Sunday Gleaner last weekend as saying that two months ago the couple decided to homeschool their two young sons, Adam and Andrew Jr, on a temporary basis.

Mrs Holness' comments that "it wasn't fair to them to spend so much time doing schoolwork" and that she wanted to ensure "a more well-rounded experience" for the boys, aged nine and seven, suggested to some that Jamaican schools, both private or public are inadequate in addressing the children's needs.

Members of the public, including contributors to social media forums vented their concern, with some describing Holness as selfish to pull his children out of the education system instead of fixing it.

However, in a response yesterday, Holness said that his children were registered in a preparatory school, like the children of previous prime ministers and education ministers, but in paying close attention to their progress it was noticed one of the sons "was not focused and attentive in his class and was falling behind.

"Despite several interventions, we came to the conclusion that it would be best to create an individualised learning solution that would cater to his interest and stimulate his appetite for knowledge while teaching in the way he learns best. My wife decided that she would manage the process," the prime minister stated.

In the meantime, the boys will participate in physical education and other activities at the school.

Holness said further that the experience gave him a deeper understanding of the teaching/learning process and the need for the education system to accommodate different learning styles.

He said that ASTEP, which was started in September to assist students who were barred from sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) because they had not achieved literacy to the grade four level, was "designed to deliver a rich learning experience to children who would otherwise be discarded or left behind in mainstream education".

Mrs Holness also said that she was involved in a programme to assist boys who had dropped out of school.

The prime minister also dismissed the criticisms of a member of the Opposition as politicking, noting that some were "sending their children to private elite boarding institutions abroad".

While reiterating the gains made in the education system since he became education minister, Holness urged all parents to take actions in the best interest of their children.

Opposition spokesman on education, Ronald Thwaites was, however, not critical of the decision of the prime minister and his wife.

"I draw no inference from the choice that Mr and Mrs Holness have made," he told the Observer. "I do not think that this warrants a criticism of the prime minister and his wife."

President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Paul Adams said that he would not comment without having further information on the matter.

Homeschooling is somewhat rare in Jamaica when compared to other countries. However, there have been cases in which parents have homeschooled their children with remarkable success here.

Former senator, journalist and film-maker Barbara Blake-Hannah homeschooled her only son Makonnen whom she had at the age of 44.

He quickly became a computer whiz, and in 1998 at age 13 was appointed advisor to then minister of commerce and technology Phillip Paulwell.

Blake-Hannah has since written a book on homeschooling.

More recently St Catherine resident Kamau Mahakoe, with the help of her husband, homeschooled their three children up to the end of the primary level with amazing success. The three children have written the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC), the high school leaving examinations, years before they were due, including 12-year-old Kuti who passed six CSEC subjects last June.

Kuti also did the GSAT, which earned him a place at Jamaica College where he is now registered in third form, having skipped the first two years of high school.

He was among 11 GSAT candidates, out of more than 41,000, who were homeschooled.

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