The ranks of Manitoba families choosing to home-school their children have climbed during the pandemic.
Nearly one month into a school year marked by masks and orders to keep children apart, the province says around 6,600 students have registered for home-schooling, or are in the queue as of Sept. 25.
That’s a substantial jump from the 3,689 home-school registrations counted last fall.
“We had a sense that it was going to be quite high,” said Jennifer Gehman with the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home, a non-profit group promoting home-schooling in the province.
“The fact that it’s almost doubled is a surprise,” she said, “but it’s [also] not a surprise.”
That’s because a spike in home-schooling has long been expected, attributed to fears of COVID-19 exposure. More than 20 Manitoba schools have recorded at least one case of the virus.
Instead, families are choosing to teach their children from the comfort of their home, Gehman said.
“It’s very encouraging us to see how many parents are just excited by spending that time with their children and seeing their children really learn and get excited about engaging in their learning activities.”
Balancing teaching and parenting
Cheryl Boehler, who is new to home-schooling, appreciates the extra time with her two children, aged five and seven, but said it’s tough to work at parenting and teaching simultaneously.
“There’s lots of days that I wish that I could just send them to school, because there’s the whole, ‘I’m their mom and kids never listen to their parents as well as they listen to a third party,'” she said.
“But it’s the choice … that my husband and I made, and the alternative is me being an anxious mess, worrying about what could potentially be going on at their school.”
Boehler said her family was worried their children could pick up COVID-19 at school and then spread it to more vulnerable family members.
She adds her family could viably choose home-schooling because she’s ineligible to work while waiting on her permanent residency. Her family moved to Winnipeg from the United States in March.
“I’m going to be home anyways, and so why not ease the burden off the community and take my kids out of the public school system and away from the teachers and the principals and other kids?”
Her family would have preferred full-time virtual learning within their schools, but the Manitoba government only offered it to students who themselves have compromised immune systems or other medical conditions putting them at increased risk of COVID-19.
Some school divisions, however, extended remote learning to students who live with an immunocompromised relative.
The Manitoba government announced on Wednesday that swelling home-school numbers won’t affect the individual funding to public schools. Annual provincial funding to schools is based in part on the number of students enrolled.
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