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Report on the GHEC2016 Rio de Janeiro

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Rio mistig

In March 2016 the Global Home Education Conference (GHEC) 2016 took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Pestalozzi Trust Board of Trustees sent three of the trustees to the conference in Brazil.  It was a substantial expense, but a wonderful experience to be able to get to know so many homeschoolers from over the world. It became clear that the actual and potential benefits to South African homeschoolers were well worth the cost and the effort.

This was the second such global conference, the previous one being in Berlin, Germany, four years ago. Leendert van Oostrum was on the organising committee of both the conferences and he and Karin attended both. This time, Bouwe van der Eems also attended the conference. The only other representative from the African continent was Liz Gitonga from Kenya, whom we had met before in Berlin and Nairobi, Kenya.

Like the previous one, this conference was attended by more than 200 delegates from about 24 countries. This one was also a three-day conference with two days of pre-conference workshops. In Berlin, presentations had been simultaneously translated into English, German and Russian. This time, the official translations were into English and Portuguese, while many sessions were also whisper-translated into Spanish. Videos of almost all the sessions are available on the website of the GHEC at no cost.

The keynote speaker was the well-known TED-speaker, Prof Sugata Mitra who is known for the “Hole-in-the-wall” -technology, Self Organised Learning Environments and Minimally Invasive Education. The other speakers were mainly from Europe and North and South America.

They included Prof Jan de Grooff of Belgium, one of the leading experts in education rights in the European Union. Prof de Grooff had also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Pretoria last year for his work on education rights in South Africa. The conference was also addressed by His Royal Highness the Duke of Braganza (the titular king of Portugal) who is very active in promoting the protection of the family in Europe and the Portuguese speaking world.

On behalf of the South African contingent, Leendert made three presentations to the conference and Bouwe made two. Leendert also chaired one of the panel discussions.

Perhaps the best feature of this conference was the addition of a research track, which received many papers from around the world. The ten best papers are to be published in book format by an American academic publisher. Prof Ingo Richter from Berlin received the prize (about ten thousand US$) for the best paper. His paper argues the right to home education from the perspective of the rights of the child, rather than from parental rights.

He calls this a new way of basing the right to home education, but his arguments are exactly those that the Pestalozzi Trust has been arguing for twenty years! (The arguments form the basis of an article that that Leendert had published in a British education journal in 2014.)

It was a good time to have the conference in Brazil, because home education was just then the subject of a constitutional court case there. Fourteen of the 26 states of Brazil were opposing the constitutionality of home education. Due to the wide representation at the conference, it became possible to collect a team of half a dozen top legal minds from around the world to advise the Brazilian legal team. South Africa was also part of the advisory team. We have recently received the good news that the family has won the case, and that the case can serve as a good precedent in the Brazilian courts.

Interestingly, four of the five BRICS countries were represented. China was only there in the person of an academic researcher who read a research paper, but Brazil, Russia and South Africa were well represented. It also seems that these three countries have much the same experience with a collapsing state education system, and desperate parents looking for alternatives.

One of the results of the conference was the declaration of the “Rio Principles“, a summary of international law on home education. Leendert was one of the four drafters of the document, and it can be accessed from the conference web site.

In all, the conference went off very well and it will have lasting outcomes that will benefit home education in future. The representatives of the Trust were able to do good networking which we shall certainly need when the coming battle starts against the reviewed law and policy on home education in SA.

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