‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’, or so said Mark Twain. Travel has long been treated as the cherry-on-the-top for education, a way to top up formal teaching with a bit of life experience.Wealthy families used to send their offspring to tour Europe as they came of age, ensuring they got a cultural polish to their expensive education. Increasingly, however, education is breaking out of the classroom, and worldschooling is one way to bust out of country borders and go global.
Where other schemes of alternate education have their own rules, worldschooling makes room for all teaching styles.
Less educational model than philosophy, worldschooling encourages practitioners to look at the world as a classroom filled with opportunities for trying new things. It encourages curiosity in its students and removes the stress of getting the ‘right’ answer by prizing learning through experience.
A growing number of expats and global citizens are gearing their lives overseas to this philosophy. Whole families can benefit from exploring the world with new eyes, flitting from one culture to another, embracing the opportunity to be immersed in a new language.
In an article for TheBlackExpat.com, Karen Ricks explained her family’s choice to adopt a nomadic way of life, seeking out life lessons around the globe.
Karen, her husband and their young son have been travelling around the world full-time for more than a year and a half, “We have lived in eight different countries on four continents, and in five different languages.” The Ricks have used Italy as a base to explore Europe, but wherever they go, they take their classroom with them, following a key tenet of the worldschooling philosophy.
The worldschooling motto of ‘everybody, everything, everywhere’ ensures that practitioners seek the learning opportunities in every encounter. Every individual you meet has a story to tell or a skill to share; every location has a history, and even the most mundane of publications is worth a read. “Going out into the community to shop for groceries or buy a new pair of shoes,” writes Karen, “every daily experience is a learning opportunity.”
Worldschooling encourages families to engage with things together, either learning in a group, or sharing knowledge between family members. This works particularly well when immersed in another culture, helping each other to engage with an unfamiliar community together.
Worldschoolers are as likely to be found at a local library event as at a city’s big attractions. However, don’t be surprised if you also find worldschool children in regular school classrooms as well.
The movement can trace its routes to activists who bemoaned the traditional model of formal schooling, suggesting that textbooks rob children of the context for memorised facts.
Grandfather of these activists is John Holt, a champion of home-schooling and the more extreme ‘unschooling’. The latter promotes unstructured play as the ultimate teacher, letting youngsters learn through discovery and experimentation. It is hoped that in the process, children will grow as people, without having to deal with pressures attached to grades or social pressures.
The Montessori method is increasingly popular in Western schooling and has similar approaches of self-directed learning, albeit in a classroom setting.
WorldSchooling itself has been credited to Eli Gerzon, a proponent of Holt’s ‘unschooling’ philosophy. Simply put, he describes the approach as: “when the whole world is your school, instead school being your whole world.” The approach is intentionally left open to interpretation, so it can be applied to as many participants as possible.
For the Ricks family, the whole family are on a voyage of discovery, helping each other learn what they can from multiple countries. Self-described ‘digital nomads,’ the family are able to earn a living wherever there is internet connection.
The vast majority of expats are tied to a geographic location, whether that is through work, visa or family requirements. That shouldn’t stop the worldschooling philosophy working for you.
Karen Ricks and her husband are qualified Montessori educators and used this to inform their plans.
Meanwhile, the Miller family took off on a global tour with their four kids, but ensured they covered the high school syllabus along the way. Their eldest, Hannah, writes on her blog http://www.edventuregirl.com: “I traveled full-time as a kid as part of my education. I studied all the required basics (math up through calculus, the sciences, history, language, etc) and then some, self-teaching and participating in online courses.” After completing these courses she completed e-learning courses through universities.
Other adherents report that they treat the approach as a compliment to traditional schooling. That might be in international schools or, like Hannah Miller, local schools. While schools focus on theory and academic knowledge, worldschooling emphasises other learning styles. Audio-visual learning comes from conversations with new people, attending talks or exposure to the arts. Tactile-kinesthetic learning is the hands-on approach to learning skills, be they word carving, sports or dance. Lastly, experiential learning promotes trying new things, immersion in new cultures and problem solving. A trip to a street market offers plenty of chances to talk to sellers, handle or taste new produce and figure out the arithmetic of a cash transaction.
At the core of the unschooling movement is faith in a child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn about the interesting things they find in their path. It will always be a matter of judgement for parents to decide whether such unstructured learning would equip their children with the skills and qualifications needed for the life they may grow up to live.
Anyone who is confident, curious and outgoing can benefit from worldschooling as a philosophy, while shy children may require mentoring and gentle guidance. However, bear in mind that as a standalone solution for all educational needs, it may be easy for important knowledge or skills to be neglected by a worldschool-only approach.