“Homeschooling? What’s that? Some kind of school I don’t know of?”
This was the question I always get whenever I share with someone about my educational background and I don’t blame them. Up until the early-2010s, homeschooling was a rather foreign term with few Malaysian parents enrolling their kids in it.
I’m one of them and here’s my story.
Quarter Chinese, majority English
For the record, I’ve actually spent four years studying at a Chinese primary school before stepping foot into homeschooling. Which is why I always tell people this whenever they asked me whether I was Chinese or English-educated: “Hybrid. 25% Chinese and 75% English.”
Growing up, English was the main lingua franca with several Chinese phrases thrown into the mix. Despite this, me and my siblings were enrolled into a Chinese primary school located just less than 1km away from our home as my parents believed that we should, for the very least, learn the basics of our mother tongue.
Throughout my years there, I mixed well with my classmates and could garble in Mandarin with them with little problems at all.
However, there was always this ‘weird kid’ sentiment hanging in the air, where some would find it odd that I spoke English well above the average, given the fact that my parents were very much Chinese-educated.
While it did bother me, I didn’t give too much thought to it and went on living my life as a carefree kid. Until it all changed forever.
‘We’re homeschooling you’
In 2004, I remember vividly me and my sister seated across the table from my parents when they dropped the biggest bombshell of our lives — “We have both decided to homeschool you.”
My first reaction was one of shock. ‘Homeschool? What is that? Will I never see my friends again? Or is this another way of saying I’ve been kicked out of school? ‘
However, that soon gave way to excitement, where I was screaming internally, “Yay! Finally no more homework and grouchy teachers!”
Turns out, someone had shared with my parents about homeschooling and how much better it was compared to the Malaysian education system, which is infamous for mediocrity and the culture of simply cramming for exams, only to regurgitate everything with little to no understanding.
My parents, convinced that me and my siblings would fare better by being homeschooled, eventually took us out from school and this marked a new beginning of our lives. I was just 10 at the time.
For the next six years, I was tutored mainly by my mum who had no teaching credentials but firmly believed that she should take up the mantle of teaching her children. The curriculum that was used was by a publication called Alpha and Omega, a Christian-based syllabus which taught core subjects such as History & Geography, Language Arts, Science, and Math specially for homeschool students.
In retrospect, it was quite a refreshing learning experience for me. I could learn and do my homework at my own pace without having to fear of getting punished for not completing it on time. My global worldview expanded as I learnt many things about world history, economics, and social sciences.
However, I began to become more isolated as my social circle shrunk and was limited to friends within church. Coupled with my introverted nature, it only made me more socially awkward and less willing to step out of my comfort zone.
From Penang to Bahrain…and back again
Six years into my homeschooling journey, my life faced yet another huge change after my dad got a two-year contract job in Bahrain, a small country in the Middle East located next to Qatar.
The place I lived for the next four months or so was called Amwaj Islands, a group of man-made islands built by the Bahraini government. While I found the cuisine delicious and welcoming, the same couldn’t be said for the temperature, where it actually hit 40°C during summer!
While me and my sister were having the time of our lives exploring Bahrain and adjusting to life there, my parents were worrying about something more pressing — my educational future.
Unlike Malaysia, Bahrain doesn’t have national type schools that offer education at an affordable fee and only had international schools available. Knowing that they couldn’t pay those fees, my parents asked me whether I was okay with travelling back to Penang alone and enrolling myself into a national school in order to have an SPM cert.
In light of the limited educational options being offered at the time, I agreed to their suggestion and flew eight hours back to Penang solo for yet another major phase of my life — Form 5.
High school horrors
Upon touching down in Penang, I soon found myself in a class full of rowdy girls at Convent Pulau Tikus, which according to rumours, was the place where ‘problematic’ students were sent to.
Alone and afraid in a whole new environment that I was thrown into, I had a very difficult time readjusting everything I thought I knew about people and life as a whole. I also got into nasty verbal fights with my classmates, which was further worsened by my low knowledge of social cues. I even fell into depression months before I was set to take SPM.
In the midst of those dark times, I still managed to befriend a small group of schoolmates who walked alongside me and saw me through till the end of SPM, where I scored 5As, which honestly isn’t bad for a person who’s been away from school for six years.
As for myself, I had to shed some of the social isolation I had bred during my homeschooling years and “force” myself to interact with the outside world, a world which I was so shielded from in the past.
Though there were some hard knocks and painful falls along the way, the rest is history as they always say.
A wild ride worth riding
Fast forward to today, I’m a working adult who’s currently a full-time writer with a journalism degree from UTAR and survived college and university with nothing but an SPM certificate!
Looking back at my homeschooling journey, it has definitely shaped me into the person I am today, where I’m more cognizant of the global happenings around me as well as one who’s definitely more adept in socialising with people.
However, I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for my parents who took the bold step of taking me out of primary school more than 10 years ago and guided me to be a better person both academically and spiritually.
To all those who are looking to take the same path as I did, please do note that homeschooling isn’t for everyone as it requires lots of patience and dedication. But if done right, it can be one of the most fulfilling experience there is.
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