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Exploring Schooling Options For Digital Nomads With Kids

Michelle Dale - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We knew this day would come - my son is 6, almost 7. He starts his ‘big school’ this week. From my own experience, I’m very sorry to say, I got nothing from school really, other than an awesome drama teacher (the only subject I got an ‘A’ in) and social skills. I was not academic, I had no interest, it just wasn't what my brain was programmed for, and I completely understand that my children may be the opposite… Now we have to make certain educational choices for our children, and being a digital nomad, these are much more challenging than they are for the average family.

An Ideal Scenario

Many of you know we came to Greece passing through as we usually do, we expected to stay here a year maybe two, and then move on. When we came to Crete it was love at first sight, I remember driving from the boat we arrived on in Chania to our destination in Rethymno, it was very early morning, the sun was rising up behind snow capped mountains to the left of us to greet us with a beautiful warm day, we took the coast road, so as we looked to the right there was the beautiful clear turquoise ocean, I knew then that Crete checked the boxes in terms of environment, and it continued to check them… The people are awesome, the food is fantastic, the pace of life is relaxed, and I couldn’t be happier.

The ideal scenario is that we stay here throughout the summer months, and travel in the winter, not a hard decision to make as in winter here (November to March) it gets a little rainy and a lot of the locals shut shop until the tourists return.

We did this over the last year as a trial, part of the year in Crete, then went to England for a month for Christmas and New Year, then proceeded to Egypt where we spent the first half of the year before returning to Crete in May - it was perfect.

School Rules

I remember those… School has a lot of rules… I’ve never really been one for enjoying staying in the confines of a set of rules, but you gotta respect them.

Every country has different rules for schools, and here in Crete, like a lot of places the rules are somewhat strict and inflexible. For example, before our son can be admitted we have to have a ‘sign off’ from a paediatrician (someone who gives him all his vaccinations and a full M.O.T.), then he has had to go and see a cardiologist who gave him an ECG, then an optician to check his eyes and then finally a dentist to check his teeth… I kid you not, that is compulsory for every child.

Next… The child goes to school as normal and then is required to get a private home tutor (they cost around 10-16 euro an hour) for around 1.5 to 2 hours or more, Monday to Friday after the school day is complete. Now I’m all for getting tutors when there's a requirement for the individual child, but I suspect this is just their way of cutting back on teachers and passing the financing of education back over to the parents. Our friend is currently paying around 240 euro per week for hiring a tutor to do “homework” with the child, (because apparently the parents are unqualified to help a 7 year old with their homework) and it should really be the job of the school, but ‘lessons’ stop at around midday or 1pm, so they only teach for about 4 hours before sending the kids off packing to their private home tutors.

The rules state if a child is away from school 20 days in total or more during a school year, they must repeat the year again in full. So this means, if we were to split our time between here and another country each year, our son would be repeating the same year of school for the next decade… Ho hum.

Okay I get it, I am guessing when it comes to education I can't control the rules… But even Richard Branson thinks there should be some flexibility in this area…

I should add this is a Greek school, my kids both speak fluent Greek now (well a 5 and 6 year old's vocabulary that is).

What Is Education Anyway?

Many digital nomad families have different methods of educating their kids, I admire The Dennings, The Gilberts and Soul Travellers 3 to mention a few. 

I know of many digital nomads who home school, and that’s fine, really the only benefit I see to education in mainstream schools in the early years is learning reading, writing and social skills. I’d rather teach my kids other subjects through experience, through travel, through practical learning of native languages, cultures, humanity etc… something that a classroom environment or a text book doesn’t capture.

On our recent trip to Egypt we had a childminder called Eman, she had just graduated from college, and spoke good English. Our kids would spend time with her everyday, at her house with her family, they picked up some Arabic, did arts and crafts (we went to a shop and bought paints and drawing materials for all the children in the family homes, some of them didn’t know what a paintbrush was, they had never seen one before) - Our kids would come home and ask questions, like why didn’t some of the Egyptian children have shoes and play football barefoot, why don’t they have any toys in their homes, why don't they have any furniture in the house, why do they eat certain foods and we don’t, why do the ladies wear scarves on their heads, why are the temples so big when we are so short etc… This goes on with an endless stream of questions, questions on things they actually want to know, and the answers they soak up like a sponge.

The thing is - children would only know to ask a lot of these questions, if they had actually seen the situation with their own eyes. While looking at Netflix, I saw a show “Educating Essex’ and was just so disheartened by the kids on there, smoking, doing drugs, bunking off school, swearing at the teacher, stuck in their iPods and video games in the classroom, being more concerned about hair and makeup than what they were learning (or not learning) and many of them not even speaking properly, using street slang etc… Is it really a better education system than what the world could offer them outside of the classroom?

To be honest I don't blame them, I freely admit I'm biased, school wasn't for me - I wish I’d been taught entrepreneurship instead of algebra, it would have been more exciting.

Alternative Schooling

So what are the alternatives… I don’t like the idea of home schooling, as ironic or contradictory as this sounds, I want my kids to go to a school for social reasons, if we did home schooling, I for one would be doing it very reluctantly, but when I look at the cost involved of the schooling/tutoring/childcare here, with a couple of kids, we’re looking easily at about 1000 a month, I would rather put that money into taking the kids to Bali to attend the Green School for a year, or Thailand to ride on elephants.

Home schooling essentially allows the kind of flexibility digital nomads need for their lifestyle. But I don’t have any want or inclination to personally teach my children a curriculum, I probably would be rubbish at it, I’m more hands on, I’m fine with life skills, but text book knowledge is not my area - it’s good for them to have a 3rd party education in this respect - so if we did this, we’d have 2 requirements:

a) An Online School

There are loads popping up now, and I feel we could tailor the lessons and subjects to suit the kids, we basically need a structure of education to follow, lesson plans etc….

b) A Full Time Nanny/Tutor

Someone who can travel with us for part of the year and educate our kids no matter where we are, this would likely prove a bigger challenge, finding someone with childminding and teaching skills who wants to live abroad in this nomadic lifestyle.

What’s Next?

The answer to what's next is still up for debate.

As it stands now, we’ve followed all the rules, and our son and daughter are both starting back at Greek school this week, my son with his daily tutor afterwards, we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know, whatever we choose to do, it will be what we feel is best for us as a family, not what a country's education system tells us is best for our children.

Have you ever had to make tough decisions about your kids' education, or do you have any experience on home schooling or travelling with primary age kids - I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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