Homeschooling in South Africa

This incredible animal is a greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros).  It is one of the many amazing things we have already seen in South Africa.  (copyright Kathleen J. Wile, click for larger image.)

This incredible animal is a greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). It is one of the many amazing things we have already seen in South Africa. (copyright Kathleen J. Wile, click for larger image.)

We arrived in South Africa a week ago, but we have been busy adjusting to the new time, reacquainting ourselves with friends, exploring our surroundings, and traveling to the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, which took place three days ago (Saturday). In some ways, the conference was just like a homeschooling conference in the U.S. There were vendors selling curriculum, speakers giving talks, refreshments being sold, etc. In some ways, however, it was quite different. Much of the curriculum and some of the conversations were in two different languages: English and Afrikaans. It seemed everyone at the conference spoke English, but many chose to talk among themselves in Afrikaans, and some wanted to have at least a portion of their curriculum in that language as well. The refreshments, not surprisingly, were quite different. Hot tea was the main beverage consumed (although coffee and soda were available), and the food available for purchase included meat pies and “pancakes,” which were unlike pancakes found in the U.S. They were thin, covered in cinnamon sugar, and rolled into a tube.

I spoke three times at the conference, discussing Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius, “Teaching” Science at Home, and What I Learned by Homechooling. The technology available to the speakers was excellent. There was a great sound system, three screens that showed my PowerPoint presentation to all parts of the auditorium, and a video crew filming me as I spoke. The talks were well-received, but not surprisingly, the best part was the questions that were asked once each talk was over.

Homeschooling has not been going on in South Africa as long as it has been going on in the U.S., so many of the questions reminded me of the questions I got when I first started speaking to homeschoolers in the U.S. back in the 1990s.

For example, when I got done speaking about what I learned from homeschooling my little girl, one mother asked, “But what did you do about a completion certificate?” In other words, she was asking about how we got my daughter a high school diploma. I told her that my daughter didn’t get a high school diploma, because she didn’t need one. She applied to and was accepted at university without any diploma, which is rather common in the U.S. There was actually a murmur that ran through the audience at that point.

In South Africa, parents are often told that there is no way to get into university without a completion certificate from an “official” organization. The school system, obviously, is one way for a student to get such a certificate, but there are others. For example, many South African homeschoolers use their last year or so of homeschooling to prepare for the Cambridge International Examinations. If a student takes that series of exams and passes them, South African universities will accept that as a completion certificate. I have met several South African homeschool graduates who got their certification this way, and as a side note, they said that my high school science courses prepared them quite well for the science that was on the Cambridge exams.

I actually put one poor homeschool graduate on the spot while I was answering the mother’s question because he was right in front of me, and I knew that he had done the Cambridge exams in his final year of homeschooling. I asked him how he found the exams, and he said that they weren’t as hard as he had expected. The exams in some subjects were difficult for him, but others were easy for him. In the end, he passed the exams and got his certification.

After putting that young man on the spot, I told the mother that I was willing to make a prediction. Because of what has happened in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, I told her that I expected South African universities to start accepting homeschooled students without any certification. Why? Because homeschoolers do amazingly well at university (see here, here, and here, for example), and when universities start seeing that in South Africa, they will make policies that will allow them to accept such excellent students.

After the convention, I spoke with the people who run Oikos, the organization that is hosting my stay here. It turns out that this has already happened to a small extent. For example, a young lady named Emma Loubster applied to Stellenbosh University with no certification at all. She and her parents simply compiled a portfolio of her work, she took the SAT, and they spoke with a few university officials. She was eventually accepted. Not surprisingly, she has done incredibly well.

My guess is that homeschool graduates like Emma are paving the way to make it much easier for future South African homeschool graduates to get into university without certification. The fact is that homeschoolers excel at university, and once universities see that, they will find a way to not only accept homeschool graduates, but recruit them.


  1. Tim says:

    Dr Wiles,
    I homeschool my 2 boys, 8 and 6, and plan of keeping it up through high school. They LOVE experiments and so we have been doing some very basic physics stuff. We decided to start with physics based on a recommendation of a friend of mine, a high school physics teacher, who thinks kids should start with physics instead of the typical bio, chem then, maybe physics, if you can fit it in. His reasoning is that physics is the foundation for understanding laws of nature and it still gives students more of a rubric in which to fit what they will learn about chem.
    I saw in the outline you attached about “Teaching science at home” you placed Bio, Chem and Physics last. Is there a reason you put Physics last? What do you think about this friend’s reasoning to put physics first?

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for your question, Tim. I agree with your friend that physics is the foundation for all the other sciences. Indeed, Ernst Rutherford once said that all science is either physics or stamp-collecting. However, when it comes to the high school sciences (which is where I use the order biology, chemistry, and then physics), one has to consider the mathematics. In order to do physics, students need algebra and geometry (which needs to include some basic trigonometry). Chemistry needs only algebra, and biology needs only basic mathematics. It therefore makes the most sense to cover the sciences in order of increasing math skills. If a student doesn’t start high school science until he or she has the math necessary for high school physics, two years will be wasted.

      Of course, for your children right now, there is no problem starting with physics concepts, because they aren’t at the stage where they will be learning detailed physics. Thus, the math considerations are not important.

  2. Minet says:

    Good day dr Jay. I am a Afrikaans mother and use your Science in the beginning for my 12, 10,7 and 6 year olds. Sonja Wood recommended the book to me. We enjoy it a lot and the English is very easy. So what I actually want to say is that it is really user friendly. All the ages enjoy it a lot. Thank you very much for a great resource in Science.
    Regards Minet Schreuder

    1. jlwile says:

      Thank you so much, Minet! I am glad it is working well for your family.