Saturday, 29 June 2013

'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom'.

After the last post which proved to be quite conversational (thank you for the engaging and varied comments!) I have been thinking, as ever, about degrees and further education.

Reading the comments brought to mind (again) my own experiences with University. In the last post I was questioning the necessity of a degree, namely because nowadays one can study literally anything just about anywhere. What I would like to emphasis is the importance of a hunger for knowledge and how without that vital requisite it would render a degree fruitless.

A degree, or any form of higher education, is a true way of expanding one's erudition and love for learning.

As home educators this is one of the key points of keeping our much loved children at home and close; to nurture a deep sense of eagerness to learn, to question, to discover- all of which is somewhat lacking in schools.

To follow this sense of wonder is truly inspiring to behold and usually a home educated child who has asked questions, inquired and been allowed to follow their interests and there by developing a deeper thirst for knowledge and truth, will usually have more of a sense of what subject they would like to study than their schooled peers.

To learn should be to free the mind and to lift the mind to higher levels. If a degree can bring this fruit then of course it is a good and right course to take.

Aristotle once said,  'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.'  And this is also what going to university, or any form of higher education, is about- not just the subject the student is reading, but the acquisitions associated with it; the 'flying the nest' and discovery of self.

We as parents, equip them with the necessary morals and learning tools they need, but at some point, they are on their own, free to make their own mistakes and learn from them. (This naturally is easier to say when child is still in the confines of the safe home!)

This is is the same for their chosen course- it won't be just about what subject they're reading but what is happening around them- who they will meet, who they will have discourses with, what extra curricular activities they choose, if they continue to be actively pro life, attend Holy Mass, live as a devout Catholic, have like minded friends etc.  It is about growing up, finding their wings and flying...

All this thinking on degrees brought me back to my own experiences and how my three years at University affected me. It is quite difficult to compare as I was not a Catholic. In fact my years away from home 'up North' had the opposite effect upon me than University often does! From a wild child Jewish Princess I turned wannabee traditional Catholic, and in my final year I was attending daily Mass and holding weekly prayer vigils outside the local hospital. (When my three girlfriends were nursing hangovers and goodness knows what else on a Sunday morning I was walking to Deerpark Road to the SSPX Mass!)  I calmed down and 'found myself'. It may sound trite but on looking back now perhaps University- and it's freedoms and lessons - allowed me to find my way Home.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Degree or no degree.

My resolve is weakening slightly on the question of whether our children need a degree in this employment climate.

For a few weeks now Ben has been articulating his thoughts upon what he would like to study, if he actually wants and needs to study for a degree and if so, which subject will he choose to read?

This is a crucial one- many young people will have no clear idea about what they actually want to study and almost 'fall' into higher education.
So, deciphering what one would like to study must come first and then whether they need a degree or if it will enhance their chances of gaining a more fulfilling, better paid (sorry, but money eventually has to be discussed!) job at the end of three or even, four, years.
(Of course we aren't here discussing those wanting a career in medicine, law or any other profession that a degree is essential.)

This decision will be paramount in their lives- spending that length of time studying in depth a subject of their choosing is a tall order. It may even be life changing. Much prayer and time is required for them to know this is what God wants them to be doing. Discerning their vocation is the most imperative task of their young lives.

Ben is swayed, mostly by his parents, but also now from his peers and his teachers in sixth form.

Our debates go something along these lines- I, who actually have a degree in English Literature, altercate about why one needs a degree, yet my husband, who has no A levels, or degree, argues that a degree is that passport to a more desirable job at a higher level, more stimulating and challenging work. He also feels strongly about gaining a degree (or at least a few A levels!) as he himself found it so tough getting a good job even though he was as astute as the next man.. but a majority of companies wouldn't look past the fact he had no degree on his CV.

So Ben does lots of head nodding and turning from one parent to the other in these discourses! He realises that both are valid points plus of course, every person is different and will seek diverse things.

This belief of my husband's is one to take into serious consideration though.
Places of employment are still seeking workers with degrees this is true. In a time when there are fewer jobs but so many people wanting them, a degree may still be one of the only ways to set one apart from others and give them a more fruitful chance.

I'm not  wholly convinced!
Even though I often wonder how useful my degree has been to me; teaching didn't appeal to me nor did I feel any passion towards (dubious) jobs like journalism etc.
I ended up following my heart and my true passion- working with children and adults with severe learning and physical disabilities. I was 'over qualified' my new boss told me, yet nothing would have torn me away from my work.

My husband on the other hand has taught himself many demanding computer and writing courses, paid to do extra qualifications and then purely by merit and amiability he has climbed the work ladder but he claims, having no degree has been a major stumbling block for advancing.

As we battle on trying to decide whether degrees are the right course for our children, they in the mean time need to  begin making some life changing decisions. Let us keep praying fervently and entrust them to the Most Holy Family to find them worthy, meritorious work in this ever changing and morally corrupt world!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Home Learning alternatives continued...

Since writing on alternatives to IGCSEs, and even University, I have become mildly obsessed with finding out more! My mind is full of questions- what else is there for our children?

I have to confess that it has a particular interest for me as well as both my older children are interested in the forces and nursing respectively.
Although they are both academically very able they are questioning the real point of University unless it will enhance their chances in their chosen career, or indeed, be a necessity.

Just last night we had an spirited discussion with Ben, who is now nearly 17 and just completed four demanding AS subjects, all in a matter of about 6mths studying (completely senseless - they are changing A level format next year back to the traditional 2yr course with the final exams at the end, although Ben will not benefit from this). Being in school has been quite a positive experience for him on some levels, but it has made him even more aware of the question 'what is this all for?'.
During our discussion I was quite impressed by Ben's obvious ability to think and question. Although he chose to do A levels in a sixth form he is now asking if he truly needs and desires to go to University? He is fortunate as he has some idea of what he would like to do, and he has begun to ask himself some worthy questions as to the true reason for him going to University.

Another discovery yesterday was coming across a long distance learning college, the NCC Home Learning, that offers all different diplomas for students to learn from home.

The subject scope is quite overwhelming are...ones we would never consider at all ('smallholding management', 'equine science'?!) to ones which quite appealed to Ben such as Criminology and Forensic Science.
His thoughts are if he seriously considers say the police force then surely a couple of diplomas in criminology and forensics will add to his knowledge and learning ? (More so than a University degree in Law even or beforehand?)

And again for my daughter who is now 15. She is studying IGCSEs, yet detests  the stress of exams and with IGCSEs they are solely exam based.
She works voluntarily at a wonderful special needs school near our home. This was originally for her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, but she fell in love with the children and the work, and goes there all day on a Thursday.
She has considered applying there full time at just 16yrs old, but she is aware that if she wants to become a paediatric nurse a degree is almost imperative. (Nursing is no longer truly vocational!)
The NCC offer a large range of diplomas in special needs and child care. Marie e-mailed them and asked about the age requirements and was told students as young as 15yrs can apply.

Like BTECS, these diplomas can be studied at 14/15yrs offering more avenues for our children on their own or alongside IGCSEs/A levels.
Just a point to remember though; they are an accredited college and so recognised by colleges/Unis etc but do not give UCAS points (University points).

Researching other avenues of education and training is worthwhile for all our children. Even if our children are highly erudite and well read they may choose a vocational style career which requires skill and expertise. It is terribly sad that the traditional apprenticeship type of course is so hard to find nowadays as one could learn and master a skill which was useful and essential within society.

I long for all my children to follow their heart as well as their head when it comes to future employment. Course like BTECs and the NCC programmes offer very practical and appealing life skills as well as some academic learning and I think they are well worth considering.

(The NCC, like many others, also offers A levels and IGCSEs, creative writing courses and even Law course!)

What do you think?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Alternatives to IGCSEs.

Sitting in my kitchen last week drinking tea with a home schooling friend, the topic of alternatives to IGCSEs etc came up. It ignited the interest I had always felt in regards to studying and learning and I could vaguely remember (naively?) saying none of my children would ever take GCSEs/IGCSEs! And here we are a few years on and our second child is currently sitting two more exams in Latin and Maths!

So what changed? My friend and I were agreeing that the 'peer pressure' (yes! it even exists among home educators!) of many of their friends settling down to the exam courses was a factor, plus of course the age old argument that they are stepping stones for attaining any means of FE (further education).

This is most definitely true..after all once I'd contemplated it what would they actually *do* if they weren't now studying towards exams?
Our chat then wandered into other avenues...of course there are many other ways of learning and qualifications but not many people are aware of them.

For a student who may not be very academically minded but would like to fill their day with learning, there is the option of the BTEC qualification. Level 1 is a 'broad introductory level designed for those not able to achieve grades A*-C at GCSE'.

There are a wide range of subjects - art and design, child care, music or engineering....

Level 2 (14yrs-16ys) is equivalent to GCSEs and again the range of  subjects is impressive, even including fish husbandry and horticulture- unusual!

BTECs can be studied at home so quite accessible for the home schooler or at a college and once one has attained Levels 1 and 2 (I'm not sure if one needs to do both) then they can go on to 3 which are recognised by Universities and are equivalent to A levels.

An Art BTEC, for example, could be studied alongside a few IGCSEs too as it demands a couple of days in college allowing the student enough time to cover more studies if they wish.

The beauty of home education is that studying is done in the child's time- when the child is ready, not the school. Each child is different and the Mother will know how much her child can manage, unlike a school. Home education also allows the child to study over a longer period of time, ie many home educators will sit IGCSEs over three to four years, so it is flexible and less stifling.
Of course all this is dependent upon what the student actually would like to study in the future. Medicine demands top grades in the sciences and so IGCSEs followed by three to four A levels is imperative.

Do our children *need* GCSEs/other qualifications to succeed in life? Almost certainly not. I still stand by this yet I do also wonder what I would replace their studies with in reality. Does not sitting IGCSEs lower their chances to do A levels, or go to University? Possibly not, but I still am not courageous enough (yet) to take that chance!