A Serbian teacher explores the complexities of why homeschooling remains an impossible choice for parents in Serbia.
By Anica Markovic
Situated in the Balkan region of Europe, my home country, Serbia, has never been a place with a great focus on education. Two decades have passed since the grave political turmoil and the dismantling of the long-standing communist regime, yet the general outlook on schooling seems stuck in the previous century.
Until 2013, when the term was added to the law on education, the word homeschooling was not part of our collective vocabulary. Even though I thought it to be a right step forward, in reality, the practice of homeschooling, in its intended meaning, remains impossible in Serbia.
The legal boundaries of homeschooling in Serbia
While the world is focused on finding new ways of improving children’s lives and education, some places are hindered by their cultural and political beliefs. Due to the more pressing issues developing our country's face every day, education never comes first. When I started primary school in 1999, the system was already considered outdated, and it has barely changed to this day.
However, in 2013, with the new additions to the law on education, homeschooling became the talk of the nation. But, no matter how revolutionary and unappealingly alternative the theory of it seemed, the actual option of homeschooling children was far from possible.
While the law stated that parents or guardians had the right to organize children’s classes at home, such a right came with numerous conditions.
The reality is that no matter what, the school is considered primarily responsible for the child’s education. Even if parents were to request to take the kids out of school, nothing guarantees that they would be allowed to do so. The exceptions are children with disabilities or illnesses which prevent them from having full attendance.
The representatives of the Ministry of Education even stated that this addition to the law was made only for students with special educational needs, and not to be used for children who are physically capable of attending school. The ridiculous part is that even if a child was allowed not to attend school, he or she would still have to be registered with the school and study all the subjects according to the preset curriculum.
At the end of the year, the child would be tested on all the subjects which he or she would still legally be bound to learn. In case the student fails the test twice in a row, his parents would be forced to send him back to school.
The irony of the whole thing is in the fact that even if by some chance parents are allowed to school their kids at home, they still have no control over what their children must learn. With people mostly citing dissatisfaction with the school curriculum as their reason for wanting to homeschool, the restrictions imposed in Serbia make the practice impossible.
In addition, the backlash to the idea of homeschooling is clearly observed in the fact that only about 500 primary school children, out of over half a million, are homeschooled, predominantly due to an illness.
Why is there such a negative stigma around homeschooling in Serbia?
The leading issue for shunning away from alternative education in a developing country, funnily enough, might be the lack of education. To paint the picture of Serbia, and most of the countries in Southeast Europe, these are places of strict patriarchal rule and belief in a system, whether it works or not.
According to the law, having a child out of school constitutes the child being enrolled in school, and being supervised by the school, just not having to attend classes. The practice relies on parents.
The general standpoint of the parents, teachers and psychologists, however, is that parents are not educators, but more people who keep the child alive, while outside of school.
The majority of parents seem to believe that it is the school’s obligation to educate the child and provide everything he or she may need. It is rare that parents work on their children’s knowledge outside of school.
In my opinion as a teacher, the system does not inspire parents to operate outside the set guidelines because then the system loses control. By having educators and psychologists against homeschooling, the government is hindering the parents’ right on having a say in their child’s education. In a country full of double standards, even when the law names parents as primary educators of children, in practice, their decisions and opinions need to adhere to someone else’s wishes.
Serbia is not the only country with restrictions on home education. Do you live in a country where homeschooling is discouraged or illegal? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Anica is a teacher, writer and traveler, looking for places of peace and calm in this busy world. While she was born in Serbia, she believes herself to be a citizen of the world. Next stop on her journey of empowerment and growth is Vietnam. She's on Instagram at @bettyboup.