Internet Access to Caribbean Government Information on Homeschooling: A Preliminary Case Study of Barbados.

Author:Scale, Mark-Shane
 
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Abstract

This article reports on a preliminary study investigating access to government information obtainable on the Internet about homeschooling in Barbados. Barbados has one of the highest Internet usage in the English-speaking Caribbean and ranks high in the region in e-government services. As such, a search query aimed at obtaining government information on homeschooling in Barbados was conducted of both Government Web sites and a popular search engine. The central issue was whether there was access to government information on legally homeschooling in Barbados. The study utilized a qualitative approach to analysing and studying the information sources retrieved from the search results of the top ten sources retrieved from an Internet search as well as the results from the Government portals and websites. The findings indicate gaps in Barbadian government information availability and dissemination via Internet on homeschooling that restrict citizens from accessing information for legal homeschooling. It also reveals that gaps in the government provided information is filled by non-government providers on the Internet including those that provide inaccurate information to the public.

Introduction

In an era of almost ubiquitous Internet access, there are expectations that governments should create and maintain Web sites and Web pages that publish, share, and deliver information and even application forms for government services to citizens. Such practices by government entities are referred to in the scholarly literature as e-government. According to Fay Durrant, e-government aims "to provide all citizens with an efficient and alternative medium for accessing public services and for interacting with public sector agencies" (1). Further, the "Internet is an important vehicle" for "e-government products and services" with the potential for "electronic networking to make information and services available to the general public" (Durrant 2).

One important gap in information provided by many governments to citizens is information pertaining to educating children at home, otherwise known as homeschooling. Homeschooling defined by Brian Ray is "education for children and youth...based mainly in the home and...directed by their parents" who assume the major "responsibility for and authority over their children's education and training" instead of "sending them away to classroom institutions where their education would be controlled and conducted largely by nonfamily state or private teachers". Several researchers note the need for relevant government information and materials for homeschoolers via the Internet (Jamaludin et al. 118; Kormaz and Duman 3895). Consequently, disseminating government information to homeschoolers can take the form of government agencies creating homeschooling informational webpages and delivering national educational curricula via the Internet.

This article reports on a preliminary study investigating access to government information obtainable on the Internet about homeschooling in Barbados. Barbados has one of the highest Internet usage in the English-speaking Caribbean and ranks high in the region in e-government services. The UN E-Government Survey 2016 ranked Barbados within the top 10 countries for e-government in the Americas and the only Caribbean country within that top 10. In addition, Barbados ranked 54th in the global e-government ranking that assesses the diffusion of ICTs in public administration institutions of various national governments ("UN E-Government Survey 2016"). Given Barbados's high regional ranking in developments towards e-government, it would be expected that Barbados would be an exemplary case of how Caribbean governments are providing information on homeschooling that would be accessible via either its government Internet portal (http://www.gov.bb/) or via a search of popular Search Engines. Also, given Barbados's highly Internet connected population with 78.5% Internet users (Miniwatt Marketing Group), the case for Barbados providing homeschooling information via the Internet is greater than most Caribbean states. Barbados' high e-government score and Internet usage rate combined makes Barbados the ideal case to study the phenomenon of Internet access to government information on homeschooling in the Caribbean.

Literature Review

The Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer great possibilities for homeschooling and for state support to homeschoolers. The literature suggests that homeschoolers may benefit from, use, and seek homeschool information provided by the Government via the Internet. Several observe that homeschoolers rely on information-rich resources like the Internet (Kunzman and Gaither 15) or that homeschool educators use computers and the Internet for instruction, materials, and curricula (Hanna 621-622).

However, the literature also reveals the theme of government preference for publicly controlled education and unpreparedness to relinquish such control even in an era where governments can deliver educational curricula via the Internet.

For instance, Brian Ray notes tension between facilitating homeschooling and the state's preference for controlled public education of children and youth (337-338). Opponents of homeschooling support state controlled education to shape children's worldviews aligned more with the state than their parents (B. Ray "Homeschooling Associtated" 337-338). Robert Kunzman and Milton Gaither, on the other hand, identify homeschooling as illegal in some states like Germany and find that even states permitting homeschooling are criticized for homeschooling legislation and policies (34-35). Luciane Barbosa observes that the increasing number of Brazilian families practicing homeschooling are igniting controversies regarding the right to homeschool in the midst of lawsuits and truancy regulations (356-357). These reveal emerging legal and political challenges regarding homeschooling (Barbosa 361-362).

Interestingly, despite recent controversies and legal battles between the state and homeschooling families, homeschooling did not originate in the twenty-first century. From as far back as 1642, homeschooling was encouraged by American court and town officials when "Massachusetts general court directed town selectmen to encourage parents to teach their children in an early form of homeschooling" (Schafer). But with compulsory public education legislation, homeschooling seemingly receded underground until the 1960s (Chapman). In the 21st century, homeschooling parents seemingly require awareness of local legislation within their state to avoid lawsuits.

Despite the international growing and emerging interest in and scholarship on homeschooling (Kunzman and Gaither 8; Jamaludin et al. 111), available Caribbean homeschooling research appears non-existent. Online searches yield zero homeschooling research within English-speaking Caribbean territories. Yet, Caribbean media, since 2010, include newspaper, magazine articles, blogs, and other online websites, reporting on homeschooling and on narratives of homeschoolers ("Homeschooling."; Coombs). In 2011, the then Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Rt. Hon. Andrew Holness attracted public criticisms for homeschooling (Douglas). In 2016, Barbados Ministry of Education sued Rastafarian parents for illegal homeschooling ("Jones Rubbishes Claims"). These latter high-profile cases illustrate controversies surrounding homeschooling in the English-Speaking Caribbean and the need for exploration of the topic.

Background

Interest in this study originated after the recent controversial Barbadian Government's lawsuit of Rastafarian parents for illegal homeschooling. According to the media reports,

During the hearing a school attendance officer from the ministry... testified that neither child could been found on "any school registry in Barbados" as their parents were simply not interested in enrolling them in the public school system or following the home schooling criteria...("Jones Rubbishes Claims"). The Ministry was reported as willing to work with parents desirous of homeschooling once the right protocol is followed.

"Speak to the ministry. Permissions are granted for parents to homeschool but they have to follow the curriculum. Remember we have a compulsory system of education. We recognize the right of parents to want to homeschool. You could be Christian, Rastafarian, etc; if you go and try to sidetrack the [laws]...we can't allow that because every child has the right to be educated. "If parents want to homeschool their child, come and speak to us and be granted permission in writing. Those parents are also visited routinely to...

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