It's home sweet home-schooling for some SA kids

Leah-Louise Sabbe is homeschooled by her mom, Annelise Sabbe, as she has a rare allergy.
Leah-Louise Sabbe is homeschooled by her mom, Annelise Sabbe, as she has a rare allergy.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

As thousands of children start the schooling year on Wednesday‚ some will be staying home to escape Ritalin and vaccinations.

According to a home-schooling organisation‚ more parents are choosing this form of education for their children‚ largely for health reasons.

"In order for learners to achieve at school‚ they are increasingly encouraged to make use of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs. Learners at schools are also expected to have been vaccinated‚" said Bouwe van der Eems‚ chairman of the Pestalozzi Trust.

"Many parents are concerned about the adverse effect of these drugs and vaccines and choose to remove their children from school to avoid these adverse effects."

The Pestalozzi Trust is a private organisation that aids home-schooling facilities. Ritalin is a medication used for children with learning difficulties.

Van der Eems said the trust did not have an official position on ADHD medication and vaccinations‚ however it's statement was based on anecdotal evidence.

His claim comes two weeks before the deadline for comment on the strongly opposed Draft Policy on Home Schooling‚ contained in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill‚ which proposes stricter regulations for home schooling‚ including that parents register all pupils and submit their children to periodic testing at their own cost.

When Shirley Erwee‚ a home-school curriculum author and activist‚ asked parents on social media to respond to Van der Eems's claim‚ they hesitated as there was a "valid concern" that they would be portrayed as health nuts.

Erwee admitted that health issues were seldom the only reasons why parents removed their children from mainstream schools‚ but said they were a "strong contributing factor".

"Research shows that children need to move to learn‚ especially young children. Teachers tell children to sit still and if they can't‚ then they get scolded‚ labelled or they suggest that the parents tranquilise them with drugs‚" she said.

A Cape Town mother chose to home-school her eight-year-old son – who had been put on Ritalin‚ Concerta and a child dosage of Prozac – when he questioned if he was "too stupid to be in a normal school".

The mother‚ who did not want to be named‚ said at 16 years old her son is now off medication and a popular‚ social teenager.

The Basic Education Department insists the public system does not force parents to put their children on ADHD drugs.

"We would advise that they seek expert medical advice before undertaking any such decision regarding their children's health‚ mental or otherwise. If a child does have an ADHD condition the choice of treatment is at the parent or guardian's discretion and a child cannot be excluded from the school on these grounds‚" department spokesperson Troy Martens said.

But up-to-date vaccination cards are a requirement for admission to all public schools.

Hermanus Grade 7 pupil Leah-Louise Sabbe's health reason had nothing to do with vaccinations or Ritalin. She is educated at home because her severe allergic reaction to several things‚ including dust mites‚ could not be properly monitored in her public school classroom.

"Scared but hopeful‚ without qualifications‚ armed with books and stationery‚ we ventured into this unknown world‚ only to see what a wonderful world it can be. My daughter breezed through the work‚" Annelise Sabbe said.

Centurion mother Rebekka Liebenberg chose to home-school her four children for several reasons. The cost and "bad quality" of public school education‚ were top of her list‚ not to mention the victimisation her child experienced from a teacher.

"There are many reasons for home-schooling and it's not possible to isolate one or two reasons for a general increase in the home-school approach‚ but I do believe that‚ because of an increasing worldwide focus on human rights and freedoms‚ it has become easier for people to choose for themselves ... based on their personal circumstances‚" she said.