An interview with Dawn Fung
The Homeschool Gazette is excited to announce that we will be partnering with Homeschool Singapore as the official blog of the Homeschool Convention 2020. First up, here is an interview with the organiser, Dawn Fung.
Since 2017, Dawn has pulled together much of our local homeschool community to connect, refresh, and inspire. Now in its 4th year, the Homeschool Convention has expanded to meet many needs. The Homeschool Convention has a stable offering of the main keynote programme, a children’s programme, workshops, the beloved curriculum fair, and most recently in 2019, a High School Day with young high school and alumni homeschoolers. This year we join Dawn to discuss the upcoming convention on April 16-17, 2020.
Jessica Shepherd: Thank you so much for allowing The Homeschool Gazette to join you as Homeschool Singapore ramps up for the first convention in the new decade! Back in 2017, you organised the first homeschool convention. This article you wrote expresses your vision for the conventions is to be a time for homeschooling parents to recharge their “love tanks”. From the first event, I can see from your progression of speakers and topics that your desire is to equip and encourage parents on their unique and individual journeys. How do this year’s events and selection of speakers differentiate from the previous ones? And in what ways do you hope for their experiences to impact the listeners?
Dawn Fung: Thanks Jessica, what a pleasure. I am excited about the Homeschool Convention 2020 partnering The Homeschool Gazette (THG) as our official blog. THG is a homeschooling teens’ effort and we want to give a shout out in your direction. I want to see many grounds up, self-directed projects like this in the future. I believe the team at THG will inspire young homeschoolers to join in, or start their own thing. In the history of the Singapore homeschooling scene in the internet world, you’re pioneers! Past websites about homeschooling were always helmed by homeschooling parents, not their kids.
Let’s begin with the big picture in mind for this question. Yes, the vision of the convention is an annual time for all homeschooling parents based in Singapore to be encouraged and equipped. After the Not-Back-To School Picnic in January, it would have been 3 months of non-stop action for home educators. By the time of the Convention in April, what I often observe on the ground is homeschooling parents feel weary. Their hearts need a boost! You have parents who are preparing children for local exams, to parents who are first timers figuring their way around this homeschool thing, to parents who may have just arrived from elsewhere trying to fit in. What’s more, each homeschooler’s schedule is packed with other caregiving commitments and life’s responsibilities. All homeschooling parents’ lives revolve around their children–this is the defining aspect of their choice. But parenting does have its toll. We love you. We love our kids. But we need fresh reminders to encourage ourselves. In the midst of caring for our families, our heads are buried in details! (Young people, remember to give your folks a big hug. You are worth everything. You’re the reason they chose to stay home.) The Convention is a time for tired homeschooling parents to see the big picture again.
What is unique about the Homeschool Convention in Singapore is that most homeschoolers know one another–if not by face, then by name in some online group or activity. This smallness means we can gather–rather successfully–fellow homeschoolers to impact one another’s lives. Unlike other countries that pay guest speakers who are successful authors or big name curriculum vendors, we focus on the unsung heroes: each other. I believe Singapore’s homeschoolers know best the education landscape we navigate, the implications of law, family relationships, rhythm in this fast-paced country, and the nuances of language by natives and Singaporean based homeschoolers. It is the ordinary people that can articulate these complex situations in such relatable manners. The Homeschool Convention raises up the homeschooling mum or dad that you see in your co-op who has never written a book. We give them the platform to speak because they are able to say authentically, “I understand you. I am you.” This is the power of grounds up connection. When we relate heart-to-heart with one another, we feel equipped as a result of being understood. This is the vision of the Homeschool Convention.
Jessica Shepherd: What should we be looking out for?
Dawn Fung: This year, we’re going back to the 2-day format. We’re combining the Keynote and Village on Day 1 of the Convention. This means that after the Keynote session in the morning, we will host small groups for people to converse around interesting, familiar topics in the homeschooling journey. Imagine TED Talks + Kampong, uniquely Singaporean! (Day 1 is strictly for for homeschoolers only.)
Day 2 is our High School Day! This year, we have another amazing group of HSD speakers from ages 14 to 19. Parents who need to hear their stories, and learn a thing or two about raising homeschool teens would be in for a treat. The Curriculum Fair in the afternoon will showcase original works by homeschooling kids, and home made resources from families. There will be selected vendors whose products and services are used by homeschoolers. Those who are not homeschooling but are interested to know more about homeschooling will find Day 2 useful. You can listen to homeschooled teens and graduates in the morning, and get to know the community at large later!
The Convention ticket prices are a steal. We deliberately kept the Convention ticket prices low because we know Singapore is sooo expensive. Who has not felt the pinch of the loss of one income, or the burden of caring for dependents? I want to take that pressure off you. We included your lunch in your ticket so that you don’t have to fork out extra that day. Everything is covered. If your kids aged 3-12 need babysitting, we’ve increased our Kids Drop Off Zone (KDOZ) spaces to 100 this year (last year was 80). Because your child is precious, KDOZ is run by fellow homeschooling mums, some with little ones in tow.
Great location. The Convention will be held at Qiren Jurong again. It is air-conditioned. There is an indoor playground, a nursing room, lots of space, 5-7 mins walk from the Jurong East MRT station.
Jessica Shepherd: At the last convention you introduced the very first High School day with teen and young adult speakers. In fact, the tickets were sold out in less than a month after its announcement! Clearly, you identified a very relevant need. What was the impact you saw from that event? What is your hope for this year–how has high school day developed?
Dawn Fung: People need to know that homeschooling does work. Singapore’s education landscape is still conservative – the certificate holds strong in many parents’ minds. They need to see that homeschooled teens can be successful in society: they can socialise, graduate and find jobs. HSD fills that gap. By meeting a group of articulate, diverse homeschoolers and graduates, it gives parents a certain assurance, doesn’t it? What I am not going to guarantee, is that every HSD speaker will fit a conservative’s definition of success.
I think it is unkind to put a box around a young person’s development. What is more important is that these young people have been homeschooled, and they have a story to tell. The HSD 2020 is a public speaking platform for young homeschoolers to share their lives. As an organiser, I won’t shy from hard topics like ‘Maybe Homeschooling Is Not For Me’ if an HSD speaker feels strongly about that. I think it is very important that young people shape their own narratives. Their voices are not their parents’. We need to respect and honour that.
Jessica Shepherd: I remember attending curriculum fairs with my mum when I was younger. Ever since you organised the first convention you’ve always included a fair in the event. Is there a specific reason why you choose to hold the curriculum fair at the convention?
Dawn Fung: The Curriculum Fair has been a regular event of the Singapore Homeschool Yahoo Group, the pioneering online community of homeschoolers in Singapore. It is more than a decade old. To include the Fair is to keep the heritage. What the earlier group of homeschoolers did was to get people to come round and share resources to view. If they were interested, they could get in touch directly with the vendor whose contact would have been seen on the product. The focus of the Curriculum Fair was community. Today, the Curriculum Fair is a reminder for us to seek beauty, not money, in the variety of family education.
In 2017, tying the Fair to the Convention was a new thing. It must have shaken some older homeschoolers to see such a big, ticketed event. Remember now, the Curriculum Fair was always free. People in the older homeschooling scene, who were used to the Fairs in condominium function rooms, did not expect to pay money for a local homeschooling event! I have to remind homeschoolers that the money for the Convention goes towards food for about 200 people, materials, misc costs for the events. Any leftovers will fund the Sports Day. The focus on building the community is still very important.
The Fair has been a good place to introduce people who have not started homeschooling, or are interested to find out more, while the Keynote and Village segments are for homeschoolers only. By bringing the Fair under the Convention, we are able to serve people with different needs. I love the idea of what each event means in relation to the other. As a homeschool parent, I know the activities of the Keynote and Village are to nourish my soul. When I am refreshed, I can serve other parents the next day at the Fair. The Fair invites old and new friends to meet!
Jessica Shepherd: What has been the most encouraging transformation you’ve seen at or after one of these events? Year after year you’ve been heading 2-4 events annually and connecting the homeschool community in wonderful ways. What continues to inspire and drive you?
Dawn Fung: No human being can do everything everywhere. The core group of families behind Homeschool Singapore help run the Not-Back-to-School Picnic, Homeschool Convention, Sports Day, Preschool Graduation, and the C.E.Talk. People must remember that great trees were small seeds. What you see now is the result of friendships forged over 8 years. When friends do things together, they have strength to sustain one another for the long journey ahead. The people you will meet at the Convention who help in registration, KDOZ, Keynote, Village, Fair….they are part of an intricately linked network of friends who truly care for one another. That is how I continue to move. Without a community – a dedicated group of people invested in a purpose – there is no programme. I am just the most visible face, I suppose.
The homeschooling scene is very diverse and rather private. I remember when I first started looking for a homeschooling community in Singapore in 2013. I could hardly find out anything. When I did, my 5-year-old firstborn was too young to join the Singapore Yahoo Groups for Primary Schoolers, which was the group I wanted to connect with. It didn’t bother me that I could not join a group that had clear requirements. It just meant that I needed to start my own. So I did. Along the way, I wanted to share information online with parents who wished to find out about homeschooling, hence, the website of Homeschool Singapore. There are other homeschoolers who are doing wonderful programmes in their communities in Singapore. I hope we can get to collaborate with different homeschooling communities down the years.
You must seize the freedom afforded by being out of the system. Don’t wait for someone to start something if you cannot find anything. Don’t feel helpless. With the internet, the luxury of time, and your creative ideas, create your own community. In 2013, all it took was Facebook. I added people. I asked stupid questions. I ran co-ops. And when the community grew in trust and size, we could do more. What is available to you today? How can you make things happen for yourself and others around you?
Jessica Shepherd: The whole convention is a two day event with many amazing opportunities and speakers. As people look into this event and prepare to attend, what encouragement would you share with them?
Dawn Fung: Do not be dismayed in your homeschooling journey. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. The Convention Teams have worked hard behind the scenes to help you make sense of what you have embarked. Come and be refreshed. Come and join us. We are in this together! Thank you Jessica.
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Tickets are Available!
*How do you know if you’re a homeschooler? If this describes you, you’re it: “Homeschooling can be defined as the elective practice whereby children are educated directly under the personal oversight of their parents, often, though not exclusively, by their parents and usually in a home setting. Advocates, practitioners and researchers alike grapple with terminology of this new and innovative form of education. Depending on the philosophical underpinning, country of origin, and other factors, homeschooling is also known as home-based education, home education, unschooling, home-centered learning, home instruction, deschooling, autonomous learning, and child-centered learning. Regardless of its sundry names, the decision to homeschool contains two invariable elements; a “decision by parents not to educate their child in an institutionalized setting, and the decision by parents to educate their children in a home setting.” Homeschooling can also be defined by what a parent does not choose for their child’s education—a definition which incorporates the rejection of the institutional schooling found both in government as well as the majority of traditional private schools.” (Source)
Photographs by Hoon Sze Siang of Snapshot Imaging