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Vic home-schooling move could have tech ramifications

A Victorian Government decision on home-schooling, which allows school principals to decide, within 28 days, whether a child should be allowed to be tutored at home, could well end up having ramifications for the tech sector.

The new regulations are included in the Victorian Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017 and a partial disallowance was moved to try and get children who have problems being educated in regular schools exempted.

But this motion was rather surprisingly opposed by the Greens and Vote 1 Local party councillor James Purcell. With it having failed, any parent who wants to take their children out of school for any reason has to wait for 28 days with the principal having the final say.

It is obvious that, like many other government moves, both at the federal and state level, this has not been thought through. Many of the children who are schooled at home suffer from afflictions that lead to being bullied at school.

And many of those who suffer at the hands of their peers are kids on the autism spectrum, a good proportion of whom end up being some of the best programmers the profession knows. I give you Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent, as just one example.

A survey by the Home Education Network in 2016 of 317 parents showed that a fraction under half were resorting to homeschooling for a child with special needs or one who had a need not recognised by the mainstream system.

Twenty-eight days can be a lifetime for a child. And it can be even longer for one who is not suited to the school environment. 

And when it is known that permission has been sought for a child to be taken out of the system, that child often becomes the butt of the specialised cruelty that only other children can dish out.

The Greens did question Victorian Education Minister James Merlino about the regulation that means a child has to remain in school for 28 days while a home-schooling application is being considered.

His take is that no child will be at risk because a principal can approve their absence. But there is a twist to this: if the principal decides that the child should remain in school, then the questions of truancy (for the child) and fines (for the parent) arise.

But what about those children whose lives can be destroyed in that extra 28 days, those kids who could end up being some of our brightest scientists and tech types otherwise, if they had the right kind of support during those learning years?

One parent, who wanted to remain anonymous, told iTWire: "Loads of home educated kids get into IT and are really good at it from a much younger age, because they're allowed to explore their own passions and interests with no time limits or classroom bells. 

"Many also start tertiary level study before age peers, such as studying Open University subjects online. The learning environment is much more sympathetic to individual needs (though, of course, you often get people making assumptions and stereotypes about 'no socialisation'... even though the kids attend a lot of home-schooling events, STEM activities etc)."

Politicians and bureaucrats are the worst people to make judgements of this kind. Three years ago, I wrote about the case of a 16-year-old who showed promise of becoming an IT whiz, a kid who found a vulnerability in the Public Transport Victoria website.

But the response of the authorities to this lad was enough to make one sick to the gut: heavy-handed would be a massive understatement.

The home-schooling regulation falls into the same category: politicians are trying to make everything do-able through legislation. And pollies who claim to be different, in this case the Greens, have gone along with the mob.

Sometimes it looks like everyone has taken leave of their senses.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.