Jonathan Skeed, an Englishman, has lived in Germany for nearly 17 years and, together with his German wife Natasha, has five children, three of whom would normally be making their way Germany primary schools every day -- if the family didn't home school their children.
For several years, Skeed and his wife have taught their children at home, a practice that is illegal and virtually unheard of in Germany, unlike Britain, Denmark or the United States, where it is regarded as an acceptable educational alternative.
"When I tell others that we home school our children, it's like saying, 'Well, I'll just enter the cellar with my whisky bottle and carpet knife, and take out my own appendix.' In England, it's equivalent to saying, 'We're vegetarians or I'm left-handed,'" Skeed said.
German law requires all children between six and 18 years of age to attend a school or take part in a training program.
Battle with authorities over home schooling
The Skeed family, who live in sparsely populated Märkisch region of the Sauerland mountains, has battled with school authorities in the state of North Rhine Westphalia for years over the decision to educate their brood at home. In Germany, the individual states preside over educational matters.
"We need to act in the interests of the children," said Brigitte Bunselmeister-Lohr, a stae school official, adding that authorities have done their best to convince the Skeeds to send their kids to school without adversely affecting the children. "There are very young children, who have never been to school, and they have not made their own choice to be educated at home."
Reasons to home school
There are various reasons why parents choose to home school their children, among them dissatisfaction with standards in their regional school system, overcrowded classrooms or a school philosophy that counteracts their own beliefs. Parents, such as Natasha Steed argue that home schooling is a more effective way of learning for her own children.
"I have adhered very closely to the German school curriculum, and have found that children learn much more quickly in an intensive environment. In one year, I have taught my eldest child, my daughter, material that is covered in two years in the schools," she said. "It was no problem."
Children need to interact socially with others
However, educational authorities in Germany say that school is not just about learning math or language skills, but how to socially interact with other children and adults from diverse backgrounds.
"At home, children only experience one segment of society, where they live, learn and grow up. They don't get to see the broad spectrum, which our young citizens need to be exposed to," said Bunselmeister-Lohr.
Jonathan Skeed begs to differ. "This has nothing to do with being socially isolated. We regard home schooling as very positive, family-friendly alternative," he said. "Children do learn well in a flexible, relaxed environment."
More rural area families choose to home school
Bunselmeister-Lohr, however, did acknowledge that more families in North Rhine Westphalia are reluctant to send their children to the state's school.
"Families which home school, are still very much the exception in Märkisch County, although in the past several years, the number of such cases has climbed," she said.
After paying over 6,000 euros ($7,632) in penalties for illegally home schooling their children, the Skeed family has decided to throw in the towel. They are trading the Sauerland mountains for the English seaside in the Isle of Wight, where their children will not be required to learn inside an official school.Heiko Dolle (df)