Given the rigorous schedules of tests and homework at public schools often taking a toll on the child’s health, more and more urban parents are looking at homeschooling as an alternative means of education. Rajashree Balaram explores the latest trend in schooling your kids.
Adhya Bhatnagar is only 11, but she is already a published author, poet and blogger. Many of her friends in the apartment where she lives in Mumbai love to brainstorm with her over ideas for craft lessons, annual dance competitions and children’s community projects. Most of them also wish they could be as ‘free’ as her. Adhya hasn’t attended school in the past five years, and it is clearly obvious her lack of formal academic grounding has in no way diminished her creativity, knowledge or personality. “I’d say Adhya has been able to pursue and excel at activities that she loves because she is being homeschooled,” says her mother Shailja Bhatnagar, a child counsellor and educator. “If she had continued to be part of a formal schooling system, most of her time would be bound to the rigours of homework, classwork, tuitions and other curricular activities. Where would she find the time to do things that she wants to?”
Bhatnagar, who decided to homeschool Adhya after she finished Class I in a public school, says her radical choice was provoked by her disappointment in the way formal schooling proffered a one-size-fits-all approach to education: “Each child has a unique individuality, a special pace at which she would like to absorb a particular subject or delve into it, which is vastly ignored in schools,”says Bhatnagar.
“Also, the way school time is chopped into different classes for different subjects is illogical. Close the book after you have finished half an hour of history class, move into physics next and then commit mathematical equations to memory for the next half an hour. Who is stopping to ask the child what he or she wants to learn?”
Bhatnagar’s dismay is shared by a growing number of parents in India who are now choosing to homeschool their kids to keep them off the assembly-line method of the formal education system.They are disappointed with the lack of relevance in content taught at schools and the delivery mechanism chosen to impart it. Yet, to the vast majority, homeschooling seems like a hippie way to be raising kids, as it’s devoid of the conventional hallmarks that underpin standard perception of quality education—stringent discipline, regular evaluation, diligent study and the certified stamp of approval from an academic institution. While it is a decision that demands a lot of gumption and conviction, homeschoolingis not merely an unconventional way to impart education; it is also one worth considering for all the right reasons—it has no room for regimentation or competitiveness, the two biggest pitfalls that leave many children feeling ill-equipped to cope with the pressures of formal schooling. At the core of it, homeschooling thwarts the general belief that our kids can gain an education only in a classroom.
Break the walls
“Homeschoolers are not confined to four walls,” says Rashmie Jaju, a Goa-based artist and writer. “On the contrary, my child gets to talk to people of all ages and backgrounds, and not just kids of the same age and social strata, the way it is in schools.” Jaju’s 11-year-old daughter Parineeta attended a formal school in Delhi for a year in kindergarten, before she decided to homeschool her. “I felt everything was so robotic, kids are made to conform to a herd mentality. Free expression is not encouraged. Today my daughter can talk as much or as less as she wants to. In the classroom, when the child really wants to chat to her heart's content, she’s asked to keep quiet. And, when she is in no mood to talk or play, she may be pulled up for being withdrawn. School sets you up for compliance and timidity. You learn to keep obliging to others, without honouring your own feelings.”
Beyond the ABCs
So what do homeschoolers learn? Everything that they need to—just without the clammy pressure of performance or accomplishment. Of course, just like each child is a unique one, each homeschooling parent too chooses to approach the process differently. Some prefer to follow the school syllabus at home, and others encourage their children to learn from experiences and not textbooks. Bhatnagar’s daughter Adhya, for instance, is a cheerful companion in Bhatnagar’s mental development and training initiative, BrainSmart. Two years ago, she conducted a storytelling session for participants at her mother’s creativity workshop. These days, she is also busy working on her next book of prose and verse. As she is not dictated by time, Adhya feels stimulated to observe the world around her and curious to figure out its mysterious working on her own, be it the topography of the earth or the plants on the windowsill.
Jaju too has a similar story to share: “My daughter learns everything that she wants to when she wants to. Sometimes, for weeks at a stretch, she wants to paint and do nothing else, and sometimes she is devouring a stack of books way past midnight. Other days she is busy writing 3,000-word articles on dogs for her blog, or making videos of her craft projects. These days, she is busy learning photography, including reading up on the inner workings of a camera.” Jaju feels that her daughter is learning all the subjects that are being taught in school in a more application-based, experiential way, one that is also more rewarding.
On the other hand, Ranjeeta Kulshreshta, Bangalore-based qualified physiotherapist, prefers to follow the school syllabus at home for her daughter Kumarika. Her reason to choose homeschooling is rooted more in emotional security than just disenchantment with the existing education system. “I was tired of all the bullying that she had to face because of her introverted nature, as well as upset at the rigid ways in which schools operated through intimidation and punishment,” says Kulshreshta. “It started affecting my daughter’s self-esteem.”After being homeschooled for five years now, at a pace that she is comfortable with, Kumarika, 11, has finally come into her own. “She sleeps for as long as she wants to, plays when she feels like, studies when she wishes to, and has no time table to govern her,” says the happy mother. The unconventional choice has definitely placed more responsibility on Kulshreshta and her husband as they are the only teachers for her daughter, but she feels it’s a lighter burden nevertheless as there are no examinations or scores to fret over. Kulshrestha is fastidious about following the school syllabus at home, so her daughter is adequately prepared to appear for the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) exams, when it is time for her to appear for Class X and Class XII exams. “She can gain admission into any college then just in case she wants to, or she is free to follow her own path.”
Ruchir Raju Deepti, a 27-year-old Ahmedabad-based graphic designer and photographer, who has been homeschooled by his social activist parents, remembers the few months he spent in a formal public school once, and was appalled at the hypocrisy it engendered in kids early on. “My classmates hated the intimidation at the hands of teachers. They would meekly say ‘Yes Ma’am’, ‘Sorry Ma’am’, ‘Will do it Ma’am’, etc when the teachers would ask them for homework, and then say the nastiest things about the same teachers after school. Maybe, we learn to pretend to be something we are not in our formative years in school.”
Most parents who are curious to know more about homeschooling are also anxious to know if the offbeat path would mar the possibility of a stable career later on. While the NIOS exams are a certified gateway to get into mainstream colleges, there are alternative education-based colleges that can serve as a natural progression to the paths of homeschooled children. One such initiative is the Swaraj University set in a 15-acre campus near Udaipur, which offers a self-designed, two-year training programme for youth that helps them to develop entrepreneurial skills as well as other skills such as communication, computers, financing, marketing, film-making, web design, blogging, desktop publishing, writing business proposals and documentation. The students are free to design individual and group projects in collaboration with local communities and social movements. In sync with the core philosophy of homeschooling, there is no degree certificate awarded on completion of the two-year programme. However, students are placed on internships with leading social organisations all over India, and their portfolio of skills and projects sent for review to national and international NGOs of great repute.
Many parents may rightfully wonder if such universities would narrow the stream of choices for their children to social activism alone. Dola Dasgupta from Pune, an ardent advocate of homeschooling, dispels the dilemma succinctly: “I trust that my children are born with the knowledge that will guide them to their unique purpose in life. I trust that this knowledge gets blocked by external intervention of pre-structured curriculum.
I trust that it cannot be that the Universe creates children so that they can imitate children who were born before them. I trust that with every child that is born, the universe is wanting to create something new.”
Prep for homeschooling
- Ask yourself if you are willing to read to your children when she feels like, explore the world with them, encourage them to learn new things. It is a learning process for both children and their parents.
- Solicit your child’s ideas when you are preparing your homeschooling plan. Budget hours according to your child’s comfort and acceptance. You can make it a gradual transition from normal schooling if it is possible to negotiate with his or her teacher for lesser hours at school.
- Ask yourself if you are willing to work from home or stay home to homeschool your kids. Homeschooling can derail your child’s future if you are pursuing a demanding job that leaves you with little time for your kids.
- It is a trial and error process when you have newly started. There is more than one way to make it work. Trust your child and yourself to figure out the plan that works best for both of you.
- Speak to support groups online and join them before you take a call. There are homeschoolers’ conferences held every year. Look for details online and attend one to understand the realities and challenges from other parents.
What to know:
On reaching Class 10, the child can take the board exam privately by registering with the National Institute of Open Schooling or International General Certificate of Secondary Education. The degree is acceptable across the world.