HOME-schooling used to be limited to families living in Canada's Arctic region, but it is now the fastest-growing segment of primary and secondary education.
Since 1990, the number of home-schoolers has risen 10 per cent a year to at least 40,000 - about 1.5 per cent of the school-age population.
According to the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, only 15 per cent of home-schoolers live too far from a school. Fifty per cent are fundamentalist Protestants, withdrawn from school because their parents object to the secular humanist curriculum, and the remaining 35 per cent are educated at home because their parents do not believe that state schools would meet their children's needs.
Bertha Gaulke of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, said: "Home schooling allows parents and families to customise education to their outlook and their interests as well as their child's pace and style of learning."
British Columbia, which has 4,539 home-schoolers, has the most organised system. Schools which have home-schooled children on their registers are given $250 (pound;110) per child to cover the cost of materials such as chemistry supplies. The money is passed on to home-schoolers.
The school board on Vancouver Island supplies computers to home-schoolers following the established curriculum. In addition, soe schools have made their facilities available to home-schoolers and have allowed them to enrol in extra-curricular activities.
Critics argue that home-schooled children are short-changed by parents untrained in curriculum development and teaching, and because they miss out on socialising with their peers.
But Dick Baerendregt, chairman of the Home Education Corporation of Alberta, denies this. "The Internet affords parents access to hundreds of sites where they can find supplies and curricula from grade 1 to university level. Home-educated kids interact with people of all ages, because their families work together through support groups."
According to Professor Gary Knowles, of the Ontario institute for studies in education of the University of Toronto, home-schoolers may be better equipped for formal post-secondary education.
"When they move to college or university, these kids thrive on their individuality and on the self-directed nature of their previous learning experience," he said. "They know why they are in college or university, have their own agenda and are focused."
"Home-schooled kids must be doing well," added Mr Baerendregt, "both Harvard and Yale put a premium on enrolling them."
For more information see: www.ucanteach.com; Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents www.flora.orgoftp