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The Homeschooling Alternative Is Gaining Traction In Mexico

Even before the pandemic, families were teaching children outside classrooms.

After a false Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, as well as unattainable demands from the school authorities, the Retana Pineda family decided to embrace homeschooling as an alternative to their son’s traditional education.

Sonny Retana Pineda began his third year of primary school at home.

“A series of challenges in the schools where we had our son enrolled, damaging his self-esteem, confidence, his love for studying, and the way he socialized with his classmates and teachers led us to take such an extreme decision,” said Alejandra Pineda, Sonny’s mother.

The school authorities made a condition of Sonny’s enrollment: if his parents could not obtain studies endorsed by a child psychiatrist and a neuro-pediatrician, the school would not accept their son. However, two specialists in child psychology pointed out Sonny had a lack of limits and rules at home, which had nothing to do with a psychological disorder.

strongHomeschooling families select subjects to study according to the child’s interests. (Courtesy Retana Pineda family)/strong
Sonny’s parents chose to homeschool him. (Courtesy of the Retana Pineda family)

The main objective of his homeschooling was to “make him regain his self-esteem, as he had lost it in school, where they used to call him ‘problem child,’ ‘annoying child,’ and ‘stupid child.’

“The second objective was to make him love learning. It was an arduous task of detoxifying the bad experiences he lived through at school and implement a new concept of education and self-confidence,” said Pineda.

In this regard, Sonny and his parents adapted to a new routine with flexible hours. They chose the subjects to teach, separating the teaching into two sessions: 9:00 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Pineda, certified as a preschool teacher, used her knowledge to create Sonny’s homeschooling experience.

“The subjects and topics we teach him are very close to those the Secretariat of Public Education (Secretaria de Educación Publica, SEP) considers as mandatory. However, we can change and add topics that are close to ours or Sonny’s interests,” she said.

Though homeschooling is a recent education alternative in Mexico, it has been gaining traction in the county.

“In Mexico, homeschooling has gone through two different periods: the first occurred between 20 and 30 years ago and was started by religious congregations. The second period, which was more widespread, began 10 to 12 years ago, where both secular and religious groups began to consider an education without a school as a viable option,” said Laura Castellaro, a teacher and founder of the Comunidad Alas.

“These pioneer families began to publish their experiences on blogs and articles, sharing the day-to-day activities of their children to inspire other families.”

How to grade a homeschooled kid?

As parents trace the education goals alongside their children’s interests, no systematized institution would be able to offer personalized evaluations, she said.

“In Mexico, there are two ways to assess the children’s knowledge: the National Institute for Adult Education (Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos, INEA) or to get a certificate from American schools, such as the West River Academy, Royal Hollow Academy, and Marble Falls Academy, which were specifically created for homeschoolers.

According to specialists, homeschooled children face the same struggles as children who attend school. (Courtesy of Retana Pineda family)

“The INEA offers a primary and middle school certificate through 12 exams or with a single exam. The United States’ schools grant a certificate through a meticulous examination of a yearly homeschool portfolio,” said Castellaro.

Homeschooling: Is it positive or negative?

Castellaro and homeschooling families highlight these points in favor of the practice: personalized learning, time to develop passions and interests, constant real-world practice, autodidacticism, a more balanced sleep and eating cycles, and strengthening family ties.

One of the main negatives is that homeschooled children do not earn the same socialization as those at school.

However, Castellaro says that “homeschooling families try to build a community with each other, scheduling trips, projects, meetings and so on. It is a challenge to create socialization opportunities for our children. Putting 20 or so kindergarteners together in a playground is not going to magically make them obtain healthy and assertive socialization tools.”

Social psychologist Laura Arellano Bonilla says “for good human development, contact with other living beings is essential. Social life needs at least two people, not necessarily of the same age.”

Arellano Bonilla’s perception of homeschooling is encouraging: “Parents who homeschool their children strengthen their relationship with them. They enhance their children’s skills and talents, since homeschooling offers a clear perspective of the deepest objectives of education and upbringing.”

What about the challenges that children are supposed to face in a traditional school? Arellano Bonilla said that homeschooling “encourages people to work on projects and develop skills to implement a new form of education without conflict, finding out what they are passionate about and communicating with total freedom. Challenges still are a daily occurrence, but they face it at a pace of their choosing.”

Still, many teachers and education institutions do not regard homeschooling positively.

“If we talk about the ‘highest’ Mexican authorities in education, such as the SEP, they state that ‘homeschooling is not an option, and that all children must attend school under Article 3 of Mexico’s Constitution.’ Further, there is an internal regulation in the Secretariat, which instructs teachers to not promote or engage in homeschooling,” said Castellaro.

“The results I have seen, thanks to this family project, speak for themselves. We have freed ourselves from old stigmas, and our son has regained his love for learning. Education is now a liberating activity, full of satisfaction that will open a path of his own, where he will be free and happy,” says Alejandra Pineda.

Arellano Bonilla agrees. “The purpose of education should not be just to force them to study, but helping the child to find a meaning for his life. The earlier, the better.”

As a specialist in social psychology, she says it is essential to “congratulate these families for the courage they had in leaving the traditional school system and lead the new generations to a different way of learning.”

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Fern Siegel)