Skip to content

'It's worth it, 100 per cent': Homeschooling enrolment surges during the pandemic

In Canada, homeschooling doubled in the first year of the pandemic. More than 83,000 students enrolled in homeschooling in the 2020/2021 school year,

On the lower level of a townhouse in Port Moody, three children are busy making dough as part of a science experiment in their kitchen that has turned into a classroom.

Three laptops are tucked into the bookcase as the Widjaya triplets come downstairs to start their Monday morning class. 

Each day is clearly outlined on a whiteboard above the table, so the three 13-year-olds know exactly what is on the agenda for the day.

Monday is packed with different exercises and schoolwork; on Tuesday morning, they participate in a co-op; Wednesday is schoolwork; Thursday, they attend in-person class; and every second Friday, they have a group meeting. 

"It's extremely busy but extremely fulfilling at the same time," says Joc Widjaya, their mom and full-time homeschool teacher.

The family began homeschooling in March 2020 when the triplets were forced to learn at home due to COVID-19 closing classrooms.

"When they came home, we noticed there were significant learning gaps," says Widjaya. "No fault on the teachers; we are so grateful for what they did. And they had amazing teachers, but they were stretched, and it was just a challenge for them to be able to get what the kids needed."

Homeschooling soon became permanent by choice.

"It's been a huge success," she says. "We've done Grade 6 and Grade 7 completely homeschooling." 

In Canada, 83,784 students enrolled in homeschooling in the 2020/2021 school year, compared to 40,608 enrolled the previous school year. There were over 5.6 million students enrolled in Canadian elementary and secondary education programs in 2020/2021, representing a decrease of 0.7 per cent from the previous school year. 

There is no shortage of options for families between public schools, private schools, homeschooling and alternative schools. 

"It's an amazing opportunity that we have in British Columbia to have a choice. I think that's a real privilege," says Karolyn Hendra, an Early Childhood Educator assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University. 

But while it may work for some families, Hendra warns it must be the right fit for both the children and the parent-educator. 

"Every single child is unique and has unique needs; every family is unique. Every community is unique," she says. "Some of us just can't do it. And that's perfectly fine. We're not all gifted in the same ways. Sometimes the parent-child relationship does not lend itself to a parent being also an academic teacher." 

Hendra sees family as a child's foundation and parents as the first teachers, adding homeschooling is a big decision and one that can work with the proper support.

"It's an all-encompassing decision to make," says Hendra, who notes it's essential to have a robust schedule, including socialization, to avoid isolation. 

"I've seen some families that are really connected. So they meet a bunch of other homeschooling families, and they get together as a community. And that's where that sort of social life happens," she says. 

Hendra, who has been studying and working in education for 30 years, believes homeschooling is a chance to reimagine what education can look like.

"We don't build school systems that children have to fit into," she says. "We build school systems that are for children. And so ... who is the system serving? And if it's not serving them anymore, well, then the system has to change, not the child, right?"

Homeschooling might be very successful for one child. Still, others might thrive in the public school system, which is why Hendra believes the entire way education is delivered and managed needs to be reimagined. 

Adjusting to homeschooling

On this specific Monday, the triplets will be working on a Bible project video, English, typing and piano. They will make cookie dough, work on financial literacy, and finish the day with a piano lesson and visit the library. 

For Widjaya, the most rewarding part of homeschooling is also the most challenging. 

"Time together is invaluable. You miss out so much when they're not here. And time academically, too, because they get instruction from one person," she says.

At home, she can take the time to make sure the children are learning at their rate without moving on too quickly. But personal 'time' is also challenging. 

"You only have a limited amount of time," says Widjaya. "You're still a wife. You're still a housewife. You're still ... [you] have your own pursuits."

For her, teaching at home is all worth it. 

"It's busy; there's tons of planning," says Widjaya. "As any homeschool parent can say, you're teaching your own child, which has its own dynamics because they would react differently to an outsider teacher than their parents."

Widjaya's triplets follow a curriculum but can be flexible and creative with how things are taught. Having them together allows them to build off and help each other.

"If one has a strength, then they can share that with another person who might be struggling," she says. 

As for the children's future, Noah wants to be a pianist, and Chelsie and Eli are still deciding. 

The response is unanimous when asking the triplets how they enjoy learning at home. 

"It's awesome," says Eli. "It's very flexible, and we always end up getting our school work done."

Options for homeschooling in B.C.

Parents and guardians have two options for homeschooling in British Columbia: registering or enrolling. 

The Widjaya family is enrolled, so they are accountable to the government to follow a grade-specific curriculum and have learning requirements they need to meet. At the beginning of each year, the family is given $600 per child in funding for the community class. 

"We are connected to independent homes, and our kids go one day a week to in-classroom school. It's called community class," says Widjaya.

Due to their enrollment, they are assigned a learning support teacher who looks through their curriculum choices for the entire year and offers suggestions and ideas for the family. 

On the other side of the spectrum, parents of registered homeschooled children are responsible for the complete education of their children. They have the responsibility to provide and supervise the educational program, according to the province's website. 

The province also states that there will be evaluation and assessment to determine the child's education progress free of charge and a loan of educational resource materials that are authorized and recommended by the ministry. The school that the child is registered with has no authority to approve or supervise the educational program of a homeschooled child that is registered. 

For more information on resources available to people wanting to homeschool, you can visit the Province's website.