This post was meant to be a follow up letter to my eldest from when she turned 13, it was meant to be a witty, tongue-in-cheek type of post that you all could laugh with me about. But then I realised that would have been disingenuous of me, to try to make light of such an important milestone for her. Most especially when you take into account that my children are home educated. They have been since 2016. For the uninitiated, that means they go to the School of Nau. Me. I am the head teacher, the classroom teacher, the teaching assistant, the disciplinarian, the mess cleaner-up-er (but that's a role that I have either way so...) but most importantly I'm kind of also the one they come to for affirmation or indelible, realistic assertions - a more or less "get a grip" moment.
I've always imagined that as my children got older, it would get easier to let them do things on their own or to prepare myself for the inevitable flying of the coop that older children apparently do. I never got the memo as an Indigenous Fijian child, or maybe I did but no one explained the rules to me because I moved out as a party of one then moved back as a party of two a few years later. The other member of my party being who I went with this past Tuesday, for her first paper for GCSE's ( General Certificate of Secondary Examination), my eldest daughter, Vasemaca. For those of you reading this from Fiji, GCSE's is our equivalent of Fiji School Leaving Certificate - it is just as stressful. Although I think the stress was felt more by me than by my 16yo.
Choosing to home educate my children was something my husband and I decided to do based on our individual schooling experiences back home in Fiji. For me, and I have spoken about this before, moving here to the UK there was this expectation as a parent that the standard and quality of education that my children would have access to would be at a higher standard. I was quite naïve to the lack of funding that the education sector receives and I was coming from this ideology that, a "Global North developed world" country should surely have the financial capability to be able to provide a high standard of education at state schools. I slowly learnt that just like anything in life, there are layers of complexities to everything, and what might seem like the golden goose when looking in from the outside, is actually a painted and patched up statue of said goose that needs a serious revamp. I found myself doing far more at home for my children, to help them with the curriculum, then what would be expected of a school child. I also learnt that teachers were overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated. All of which broke my heart because I come from a family of educators and to see the state of the education system here, being in the broken state that it was, reaffirmed for me that I should and had to try to do better.
And so December 2016, we started on our journey as a home educating family. The challenges of having to switch between the role of parent and educator throughout the day is one I still struggle with, especially when my youngest is only 4. I recognise that being able to afford to be at home fulltime by choice with my children is a privilege in itself, but for me it is a way of paying it forward in terms of how my grandparents and my parents ensured that I had the best education they could afford when I was growing up. And that kind of shapes how I educate my children. When I started home educating, we were in an area where the majority of the home educating families were white, British families. In fact we were the only non-white family. What stood out for me was how the same playground mentality that you would have with parents in a school yard was still very much present in the home education community and the fact that we were a minority family was made even more obvious when we were made to feel like outsiders. I think my saving grace in this was that, we were still a military family then and had the military community that we were a part of. But in hindsight, I realise now that my personality is such that I wouldn't have done well in large groups anyway and I was bound to have pissed someone off sooner or later. Going off that, I then decided I would make my own home education group and decided to host English workshops for young children. The irony here being that, the minority who was made to feel othered, was then teaching the same white, British children their language that I had learnt in my "minority" home country. It was a great learning experience for me, in terms of home educating my own children and the task of setting up and delivering learning activities for younger children that can be incorporated into everyday tasks. Funnily enough, in the midst of all of this I made a friend, a Canadian nonetheless. They're friendly and very similar to Fijians so of course ... naturally I gravitated towards her weirdness. I hope she reads this and confirms it.
Throughout all these transitionary periods for us as a home educating family, we have always made the point of setting goals with our children. My eldest is leaning towards majoring in Liberal Arts in tertiary studies. Having these conversations earlier on with her and giving her autonomy to set the goals, allowed for us to then begin our preparation towards achieving those goals. The culmination of that preparation was her eventually sitting her GCSE's, which brings me back to the purpose of this post. It was meant to be a milestone celebration of sorts, to mark how far we have come with our home education journey but it has actually turned into a moment of reflection on how far we have come as mother and daughter, and also as a family. I tend to share a lot of our family experiences because I feel like there is not enough of us sharing our lived experiences. Too often we get caught up in the flashes of gratification that single posts do on social media without any context or if there is, it tends to be superficial. I guess you could say that, me asserting my presence in a very exclusive space is a political statement, almost. A statement to say that, yes a Fijian family living in the UK can dare to question the education system put in place and challenge that system by providing education otherwise for their children. That yes, a Fijian family can dare to dream and aspire for their children to go into career sectors that might not necessarily be the conventional choice, and encourage and support them so that they fully realise their potential.
It's taken me two days to write this piece out, not because it was difficult but more so because I've been feeling emotional throughout the last two days thinking about how my mother would have been right there beside me at the exam centre entrance to see my Vasemaca off. Her and I would have cried together because of course that's part of the initiation process for a 16yo going into higher education, right? Her and I would have asked the same questions about all the necessary documents and stationery Vasemaca needed, even though we had just asked about it two minutes before. We would have then gone off to a café to wait together and she would have told me about how she dropped me off at Yat Sen for my FSLC and how that had made her feel. We would have been outside the exam centre again 10 minutes before Vasemaca was due to come out, and hugged and cried again like we hadn't seen her for a year. Then of course we would have had our first paper obligatory lunch together, to go over the exam paper again and start preparing for the next one. I of course did all these things, in this very same order and yes, I also went to a nearby café and cried into my tea for the entirety of my wait. I cried for all the missed opportunities that my children will have, with being unable to share their milestones with my mother.
So maybe this isn't actually a post about home education or my eldest or even milestones. Maybe this was just me trying to find a way to tell my Na, that my eldest sat her first exam on Tuesday and she said it went well.