Richard Branson: ‘I was seen as the dumbest person at school…’ His is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring stories. Branson left school at the age of 15, having struggled with dyslexia, but went on from there to become one of the richest men in the world by harnessing his passions. One can be educated outside of a formal school system.
Unschooling’s foundation is based on the same principle. Passion.
Unschooling is an offshoot from home schooling and falls under the philosophy of self-directed learning.
It differs from home schooling in that children do not follow a specific curriculum or structure, thereby opening their scope of pursuing their passions and interests. This approach can be facilitated by self-directed learning centres or by parents who provide an array of resources in an environment that nurtures their curiosity-fuelled interests. If anything, the world of education is widened and not narrowed.
Interest-directed education is underpinned by the view that children learn naturally and that factors such as school pressures or only learning for the purpose of passing tests, erode their natural desire and interest to learn, explore and discover.
Einstein attributed his success not to the fact that he was gifted, but that he was passionately curious.
Every child has this gift, the insatiable desire to vigorously uncover the mysteries of the world around them, which is resounded by their enthusiastic and perpetual ‘whys’.
Reading, writing and Maths skills are acquired as children are confronted with the need for them to further their interests and goals. They are fully invested in their own education. It is important to emphasise that students play the main role as part of this self-determination process. As the initiative is designed to cater to many learners and ‘unschoolers’ are not being consumed by a school schedule and set expectations, they are able to focus their energy and resources to maximise their unique potential.
It is common for high-school-aged ‘unschoolers’ to pursue internships or apprenticeships in line with their passions, like Henry Ford. The skills they hone whilst exploring their purpose are valuable to the job market and their experience gives them a head start in life to step into the kind of career they envisage. Taking on large-scale projects also paves the way for entrepreneurial opportunities to materialise.
Access to university is also available to ‘unschoolers’, if it is necessary for them to achieve their career aspirations.
In countries where ‘unschooling’ is legal, universities are flexible with regard to entry requirements and may accept applications via motivational letters or portfolios and interviews. In South Africa, the main stepping stone would be to complete a Matric equivalent course. Being highly motivated, ‘unschoolers’ have proven to be successful in this.
When scanning the internet for what future jobs would look like, they seem to be as foreign as the concept of ‘unschooling’, or even schooling for that matter.
One encounters jobs ranging from 3-D print chefs (requiring culinary skills combined with engineering and software development skills) to garbage designers (who use material sciences and industrial design to upcycle waste); from commercial space pilots to drone managers and concomitant air traffic controllers; and many more. It becomes clear that we cannot look at schooling in the way that we used to.
Ernst & Young, followed by PwC, has set a trend in its recruitment policy to include both candidates with and without degrees, taking a more inclusive view (2015).
This view was aptly expressed by Google’s former SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Block, who stated that: ‘When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.’ This enhances the diversity and inclusion (D&I) as well as employment equity (EE) policies of companies.
It is liberating to know that children are not restricted to following the conventional route to find their way in life.
With so many dropping out of school, there might be hope for a different way. Whilst this approach might not be a trend or an option for every family, its principles of interest-directed education and self-determination are worth exploring.