According to a special report created by the Federal Office for Sectarian Issues, the number of homeschooling registrations has now sharply decreased once more after peaking during the 2021–2022 school year. The Ministry of Education predicts that this year will probably see another attainment of the pre-corona level.
Notably, higher fives on external exams
At the same time, there is a kind of trend towards “homeschooling tourism” in Germany, where the option to withdraw from school does not exist in this form. In Austria, there is no obligation to attend school, only an obligation to attend classes. This means that children can also attend homeschooling or a private school without public status (these schools do not have the right to issue school reports). The relevant education directorate must be informed of this, though, as they have the authority to forbid it “if there is a high probability that the… equivalency of the lessons is not given.” Anyone who takes advantage of homeschooling must take an external examination at the end of the school year to successfully complete the respective school level. If this is not passed, the school year must be repeated at a public school.
One-fifth did not even take the external exam
In the report “Lockdown in connection with Homeschooling,” the Federal Office for Sectarian Affairs at the Federal Chancellery analysed the number of withdrawals in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, this was comparatively stable at 2,300 to 2,600 (about 0.3 percent of school-age children). However, in 2021–2022, it increased to 7,515 (one percent of school-age children) due to parents reportedly deregistering their kids to “protect” them from tests, masks, and infections.
This prompted measures to reduce “examination tourism,” including shortening the deadline for school deregistration, holding a “reflection meeting” prior to the semester break, and bundling the external examinations and assigning them to different commisions. The number decreased once more to 4,083 at the start of the 2022–2023 school year, but it then returned to 3,290 during the semester break (note that students are permitted to return to class at any point during the year). No final figures are yet available for this school year. However, Education Minister Martin Polaschek (ÖVP) said in a press release that it is expected to return to the long-term average before the pandemic. The changes have not only created more legal clarity and certainty for everyone involved. “We now also have better opportunities to take countermeasures early if homeschooling is not working well. After all, school is not just about teaching subject content; it also promotes social contact, which is ultimately of great importance in challenging times.”
The report classifies as problematic the fact that 1,020 children did not even take the external exam in 2021/22 despite being obliged to do so, which is almost a fifth. In two percent of the reflection interviews, there was also a suspicion that homeschooling was not equivalent to attending a public school.
Dangers of homeschooling
Nonetheless, the Federal Agency for Sectarian Issues does not wish to cast homeschooling in a negative light because it can be helpful in certain circumstances, such as when a child is ill. However, “some people or communities abuse the right to homeschool in order to isolate young people from the outside world or spread their ideology.” This creates the danger of parallel worlds. “If a family opts for homeschooling, this must never be a loophole for abuse and the spread of extremist ideologies and anti-democratic movements,” said Family Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) in a press release.
According to the report, homeschooling would also put pupils at risk of missing out on the socially integrative and democracy-promoting aspects of school education. In addition, the selective performance checks through external examinations would not provide any insight into a child’s social and psychological development; any violations of the rights of children and young people, such as non-violent education or adequate medical treatment, could go unnoticed.
Contrary to what the name suggests, the report states that homeschooling often does not occur at home but in “learning groups” and unapproved private schools. No professional qualification of the teacher can be demanded, and children and young people are often left to their own devices to acquire knowledge.
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