Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Where home schooling is illegal

By Michael Steininger
BBC World Service, Europe Today

Earlier this year a German family was granted political asylum in the United States because in their own country they weren't allowed to home school their children.

Yet others in Germany are not letting the law dissuade them from choosing their preferred method of education.

Schoolbooks and pencils at a Berlin school
Up to 1,000 German families are thought to be home schooling

Jonathan and Irene Erz are busy people.

They have got 200 calves and eight children to raise on their small farm outside the town of Ulm, in Germany's southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

On top of that they have decided to wage a battle against the law that prevents them from educating their children at home.

Children in Germany are required to attend a registered school.

Exceptions are extremely rare and will be made in cases of ill health, but never on religious grounds or to allow for alternative methods of learning.

Parents can run their own schools, but these must be licensed and will be controlled by the state.

Those who defy the law face sanctions ranging from moderate fees to losing custody of their children.

'Individualised curriculum'

Irene Erz was born and raised in Canada, and home-schooling has always been part of the educational landscape for her.

When she was looking for a good bi-lingual secondary school in the region for her eldest, 11-year-old twins Solomon and Kesia, she couldn't find one that satisfied her.

School is the place for a peaceful dialogue between different opinions, values, religions and ideologies
Juergen Zoellner, Berlin's education minister

"We feel that we can offer our children the best upbringing through home-educating them," Irene Erz says.

"We can offer an individualised curriculum allowing them to learn according to their needs and interests."

Her husband Jonathan asked the local authorities to release his children from school duty and was turned down. Now he expects to be fined.

"This will end in court," he says, "we are not sending them to school, that's for sure. If the kids later decide they want to go to school, that's fine, but I am not sending them".

Social tolerance

The German authorities usually justify their tough stance by referring to the social aspect of school education.

We think it's time now in Germany to fight for this freedom
Jonathan Erz

"In our increasingly multicultural society school is the place for a peaceful dialogue between different opinions, values, religions and ideologies," said Berlin's education minister, Juergen Zoellner.

"It is a training ground for social tolerance. Therefore home-schooling is not an option for Germany."

Germany is not entirely alone in its refusal.

The Swedish parliament is just in the process of tightening the laws on home-schooling, effectively banning it.

Bertil Östberg, State Secretary for Education, told the BBC's Europe Today programme, that "children have the right to be taught by professional teachers, and the teaching should be objective and based on science".

Echoing German concerns Mr Östberg added that "schools should be a meeting place where tolerance and social values are communicated".

'Battle to the end'

Jonathan and Irene Erz know that they have a long battle on their hands.

Home-schoolers don't have a strong lobby in Germany.

Unofficial estimates put the number of home-schooling families in the country between 600 and 1,000.

Several of them have left for Austria, Switzerland or France, some have even gone to the US, although it is difficult for them to get residence permits.

For Jonathan Erz though, leaving is not an option.

"I am German," he says, "this is my country. I decided to fight this battle to the end. We think it's time now in Germany to fight for this freedom".

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