School On The Go
By Jaqueline Deeon
Call it “homeschooling” or even “unschooling”, the practice of not sending your kids to a conventional school, or any school, has been around for many years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to educate their children at home, this practice has become even more widely accepted in many societies. It has become an obvious and popular choice for world-traveling families to keep school-age children educated while traversing the world.
More people than ever before now place freedom and quality of life before all else, and they have packed up, hitched their backpacks, grabbed their childrens’ hands, and taken off on a world trip for however long they want. School is no longer their priority—life is. Instead, learning happens along the way as families and their kids explore the world. I caught up with some globetrotting and expat parents to hear their opinions on this “worldschooling” phenomenon that has some people riled up, and others overjoyed about the freedom it offers them and their families.
Agnes Cecilia and her family live offgrid on an island in Thailand. She and her husband, a Thai national, put their sons in a Thai school on the island, but after the pandemic lockdowns, they discovered that education at home was better for their children and obtained permission to homeschool. They share the role of teaching, with Agnes (who is French Swedish) doing subjects in her children’s three languages to keep them in touch with their diverse culture, while her husband focuses on the Thai education side. “We felt that keeping our sons on the Thai curriculum, even while studying at home, was the best option, and we believe the Thai curriculum is really good, giving the children a broad spectrum of subject matter to learn about. For example, they learn about history, facts about various religions, and have a focus on Buddhism. There’s also a focus on various social subjects such as health, and how to resolve conflicts and show respect. The level of mathematics in the curriculum is pretty high, much higher than in Europe in fact, and the way grammar lessons are structured is also very beneficial, in our opinion.”
Elyse, a mom who hails from Canada, has two children aged ten and three. She and her husband, a Thai national, have been worldschooling their children for some time while moving back and forth between Thailand and Canada. “We spent an entire year in Thailand when our oldest was five, but every year after that, we returned to Canada for the last four months of the Canadian school year. Now he’s in fifth grade and we’ve pulled him out of school again.” When in Thailand, the family lives on a farm with her husband’s parents where a lot of nature-based learning takes place.
“My kids have learned how to care for chickens, ducks, and cows,” Elyse adds. “They have learned about and participated in the growing process and harvesting of our fruit, fishing, hunting, and foraging for food; they understand the necessity for permaculture, cooking, small business startups, local micro-economies, and are both bilingual.”
Full-time worldschooling Paola and Hernan Lopez are a couple who regularly find themselves back in Thailand while on their world travels. Since 2017 the Lopez family have traversed 22 countries in their camper van, which they had to leave in Khanom, Thailand, for the duration of the COVID pandemic. They returned in 2023 to continue their adventures after having their third child. They teach their three children while on the road and believe that their children learn as much from their travels as they do from textbooks.
The family focuses on cherishing nature wherever they go and makes an effort to learn about the ecology of the places they stay and teach their children to practice eco-friendly habits. At the time of writing this article, the family, and their camper van, have just embarked on a ferry to Koh Phangan in southern Thailand.
The Byrne children swimming with turtles
Differing views on alternative schooling
Although homeschooling and worldschooling are popular in many places, rules related to schooling differ around the world. Some countries, such as Australia, Brazil, and South Korea, allow homeschooling, while in other countries, school attendance is compulsory (1). Homeschooling was legalized in Thailand in 2004 though families must apply for permission to homeschool, and their children must be assessed once a year (2).
Who decides on your child’s educational needs?
The whole notion of institutional school came from an ancient practice by Frederick the Great of Prussia who, inspired by the philosopher Plato, came up with these “factory schools”. Plato’s ideology was that “the ideal city needs ideal citizens, and these ideal citizens would need an ideal education”. In 1763 the king instituted compulsory education to unify his country (Prussia). This form of schooling did indeed increase literacy and boost the education of Prussian citizens. The eight-year educational drive instilled duty, discipline, and obedience in the children, the future citizens of the country. The model was such a success that other countries adopted it too (3).
In some developed countries, parents are legally responsible for sending their children to school, and there are stiff penalties for not doing so. In Canada, for instance, parents can face a fine the equivalent of between B| 5,500 and B| 27,000 (4), and in Italy, they can be jailed under a controversial new decree passed in September of this year (5).
The burning question is, since we now have an abundance of information at our fingertips, should governments still have a say in how our children learn? There are certainly factors that parents keen to homeschool do not always take into account, like the lack of peer encouragement. Your child’s motivation will become your responsibility and it is not always easy to keep them engaged.
World and homeschooling can be pretty hard on parents too. If they are digital nomads, they often have to hold down a job to help fund their travels. South African mom of three children, Lianne, says “It is a challenge at times as I also need to work, but we’ve hired an incredible woman who comes in three times a week to take care of the children [while we are in the Philippines].” Additionally, having your children around 24/7 can be emotionally and physically draining, and parents will have less time for themselves. In some cases, parents may have to become disciplinarians, and this could depress somebody who prefers a softer approach.
With that said, Agnes highlights the “together time” as a huge positive, saying that their lifestyle has had a profound effect on their sons as the family can do many more things together. Lianne feels similar. “Traveling together has really brought us closer as a family and allowed us to spend precious time with each other, which I never had with my parents while growing up.”
Elyse’s children on the farm
Should all forms of schooling be regulated or not?
There is, of course, the concern that a world-schooled child may not receive the same level of education as those that attend a school where standards are regulated. Elyse concedes that while the entire family needs to engage in a completely different mindset when world or homeschooling, she believes that some kids could “slip through the cracks” if there isn’t some measure of control.
“I think it is important that people in a community have a baseline of education, so we have a basic familiarity with the same things,”she says. “This helps us form a cultural bond, and ensures that we are all coming from the same place when it comes to basic expectations in relationships, employment, and so on. However, a lot of people choose these forms of ‘alternative’ education because traditional, government -regulated education isn’t working for them. Our learning plan didn’t go anything like I expected, and I really appreciate that I don’t have a regulatory body pressuring us.”
Raising global “digital nomad” kids
While opinions vary on when, how, or why globetrotters should school their accompanying children, it is clear that after the pandemic, people are ready to live their lives in ways that matter. Having our children share our journeys heightens their emotional intelligence and makes them better future global citizens. It is clear that the trend of digital nomad families is well underway.
This lifestyle may or may not be acceptable to all of society, but it will certainly go down in history as a pioneering endeavor in education.
The Lopez Family
For more on worldschooling: Andy Sto (2023) What Exactly is Worldschooling and What are the Benefits? andysto.com/what-exactlyis-worldschooling-and-what-are-thebenefits/ For an up-to-date list of countries in which homeschooling is legal, please visit: howdoihomeschool.com/homeschool-legal-illegal/ Watch this video on YouTube for the full story on “factory schools”: youtube.com/watch?v=hfwrCnt6N34
Worldschooling and digital nomad family groups to join on Facebook (in Thailand and globally):
- Digital Nomad Mamas
- World School House Swap / Sit / Rent / Trips
- Worldschoolers in Thailand
- Worldschoolers Krabi & Koh Lanta
- We are Worldschoolers
- Devitt, R. (2023) What Countries is Homeschooling Illegal and Legal? How Do I Homeschool. howdoihomeschool.com/homeschool-legal-illegal/
- HSLDA (2019) Legal status and resources on homeschooling in Thailand. hslda.org/post/thailand
- Koblin, J. (2023) Unschooling: Why Parents Remove Their Kids From School. Sprouts. sproutsschools.com/unschooling-why-parents-remove-their-kids-from-school/
- Criminal Code Help (2022) Truancy Laws in Canada. criminalcodehelp.ca/offences/youth-offences/truancy/
- ANSA.IT (2023, September 7) Jail for parents who don't send kids to school – Nordio. ansa.it/english/news/2023/09/07/jail-for-parents-who-dont-send-kids-to-school-nordio_1e67d56c-add8-46b3-be8e-a835014b4b39.html
Main photo from Canva; other photos courtesy of the author.
About the Author
Writer and editor Jaqueline Deeon has lived in South-East Asia for 12 years. She is married to a local artist from Khanom. She has written a book about the pink dolphins and hawksbill turtles in the area to educate young children learning to read and hopes her stories will encourage them to grow up to be responsible earth citizens with a love for nature. You can find her in her tea shop, Auntie Moon’s Tea: facebook.com/AuntieMoonsTea.