Lack of home-schooling oversight on P.E.I. concerns children's rights group

A national group that advocates for the rights of children says the P.E.I. government should be doing more to ensure home-schooled children are getting a basic education. 

Under P.E.I.'s Education Act, parents who wish to home-school their children are only required to notify the province of their intentions. There's no requirement to get a curriculum or lesson plan approved, nor is there any follow up testing or home visits, unlike in some other provinces.

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, or CCRC, said without any government oversight, there's no guarantee Island children's right to an education is being protected. 

That right is included in both the P.E.I. Education Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

"I would suggest the province is neglecting some of its duties under the convention, to ensure that children not only have access to education, but access to some quality of education," said Kathy Vandergrift, CCRC's president. 

Steve Bruce/CBC

Prior to 2015, government regulations required Island parents to produce a home education plan, and to get it approved by a certified teacher. 

But at the request of P.E.I.'s growing Amish community, the province removed that requirement

Since that time, the number of home-schooled children registered with the province has grown from 122 to 193. 

'I appreciate that government trusts us' 

Denise Bowman home-schools her two children and says more oversight isn't the answer. 

Steve Bruce/CBC

"I appreciate that the government trusts us to do the best for our students, our children," said Bowman.

'"All the home- schoolers I know are very dedicated. We make financial sacrifices in order to be able to do this, and put in a lot of time and energy. And the ability and freedom to choose the style of learning you feel is best for your child ... really makes for a rich experience." 

Some home-schooling parents in Quebec tried to make that same argument earlier this year, before their provincial government tightened its home-schooling rules, bringing in a set curriculum and requiring children to complete standardized testing.  

But the CCRC maintains oversight doesn't have to go that far, or overly restrict parents' freedom. 

"There can be room for flexibility to allow parents to pursue a course of study that matches their values," said Vandergrift. "But there can also be some measures to ensure children are getting some basic skills that are important." 

'No one has raised concern to us'

P.E.I.'s Education Department declined to do an interview on the issue. A spokesperson said the department doesn't see a need to respond to the CCRC's concerns, given the coalition hasn't raised them with the provincial government directly. 

"Although no one has raised concern to us about our home-schooling policies, we welcome people to come forward if they have questions or concerns," the spokesperson said in an email. 

Vandergrift said her coalition has raised the issue of protecting children's education rights with the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, which includes P.E.I.'s minister. 

She added that it shouldn't take lobbying for a government to protect those rights. 

"They ratified the UN convention. They are responsible for implementation of it. And that responsibility is not being taken seriously enough."

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