The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents

Home-Schooled Students Face Hurdles to Higher Education

University registrars in Ontario and a federation of parents who teach their children at home are beginning talks about how to admit home-schooled students to Ontario universities. There aren’t any formal guidelines for dealing with home-schooled students, and universities have trouble slotting them into the system because they are such a varied group.

“It’s a challenge,” says Karel Swift, registrar at University of Toronto. “It’s hard to come up with a precise formula because they’re all so different.”

Now, the Ontario University Registrars Association has asked the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents to take part in a roundtable meeting about admissions at their annual meeting in February. Ontario universities may become somewhat more willing to welcome home-schooled students because last May the Ontario Ministry of Education advised universities that qualified home-educated students are now eligible to be counted for funding purposes.

Nobody knows how many Canadian children are being educated at home and even the estimates, usually compiled by associations representing teaching parents, vary wildly. U of T has admitted about eight such students over the past four years, Ms. Swift says, and they have generally performed very well. But they were also subjected to rigorous scrutiny before being accepted. The university wanted to see a complete portfolio of their work and, in most cases, asked for Scholastic Aptitude Test scores or marks from some other independent academic test. Ms. Swift adds that the Ontario Council of University Admissions Officers have had discussions with organizations representing teaching parents but so far they have not been able to develop a standard list of prerequisites for accepting home-schooled students.

In many provinces, including Ontario, there aren’t any province-wide high school exams that home-schooled students could take. Saskatchewan is one province that allows home-schooled students to take exams if they want to qualify for university admission.

“We are a bit of a pain for the institutions,” admits Leo Gaumont, an Alberta high school teacher who, along with his wife, has home-schooled their three children in Tofield, a farming community east of Edmonton. “We don’t fit pre-conceived moulds. The Gaumonts’ two oldest children went on to earn diplomas from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, but he says both encountered hurdles, including skepticism about the quality of their education, before being admitted to the community college.

Teaching parents in several provinces have been actively querying universities and other post-secondary institutions to determine how they handle homeschooled students. Mr. Gaumont, a past secretary of the Alberta Home Education Association, was involved in a survey last year in which questionnaires were sent to 187 universities, university colleges and religious colleges across the country. Sixty-seven institutions responded, and 72 per cent of them had accepted home-schooled students while the balance either had not or would not.

“We concluded that if home schoolers come knocking at their door, most will give them a chance,” says Mr. Gaumont. “But they’re not going to go looking for them.”

The Christian Home Schoolers Association of Nova Scotia has surveyed universities and colleges in Atlantic Canada and found that none had a set admission policy, but most were open to admitting students educated at home. In most cases, the institutions wanted a portfolio of work and would insist on standardized test results only if the student had not followed a prescribed curriculum.

The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents undertook a small survey of four universities — Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, McMaster and Brock — and found their approaches differed significantly.

Brock, for instance, said it was prepared to assess students individually and would have faculty conduct an interview in the absence of supporting documents to assess achievement. McMaster, on the other hand, insisted upon an Ontario high school diploma or completion of a community college diploma, but would consider mature students. Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier have recently developed admission policies. Waterloo’s won’t be released until receiving senate approval. The WLU policy, adopted by senate in mid-November, stipulates that students educated at home can be admitted directly to the contemporary studies program at the university’s Brantford campus, and those who can provide independent evidence of academic achievement can be admitted to any WLU program. Otherwise, they can write a Scholastic Aptitude Test and other tests, or wait until they are 21 and be admitted as mature students.

There are no firm estimates of the number of home-schooled students in Canada.