By Raina Gadgil
Tired of the dismal educational system of our times, some parents are bravely pulling their kids out of school and taking on the task themselves. Raina Gadgil traces the growth of homeschooling in India today
I love that I can express my opinion in my own way. I can choose and explore how much I want to study. When I study I get lost and forget I was worried about my friends not being around. I am fascinated that I can go online by myself and search for whatever I want to research on and ask my mom for help when I need it,” says bright and bubbly Akshara Ramachandra (aged 11), whose favorite subjects include history, mathematics, physics, and astronomy.
So which school has had the pleasure of giving wings to this prodigy? The answer is none, because Akshara, like a growing number of youngsters across India, is homeschooled.
Discontented with the dismal mode of education in the country today which emphasizes rote learning and fails to develop the child’s character or endless potential, parents are increasingly experimenting with alternative options. Of this homeschooling is gradually picking up speed.
The child is educated at home with methods and methodologies that the parents see fit. Parents sometimes opt for tutors as well. One-on-one teaching can be especially beneficial for children with special needs or those that are exceptionally gifted and advanced. And is also a way to introduce the pleasure of learning to children who are being bullied or ostracised at school.
One of the most important benefits of homeschooling is that it allows the child to develop at his or her own pace, and in a more interesting and holistic manner while inculcating an intrinsic love for knowledge; quite contrary to a traditional or mainstream school system. Children also seem to develop the inclination to more actively pursue a variety of subjects, as well as vocational interests like arts, music, and sports in a more in-depth and passionate way.
Spiritual nutritionist and vegan health coach Shhivpriya Harlalka give us an insight from her experience with her 13-year-old son, Tushar, who is being homeschooled. “Homeschooling has helped us concentrate on our child, his interests, and passions. We chose to let our child develop according to his aptitude and nature. There is no unnecessary pressure. He now learns because he wants to and knows what he needs to do. And at the same time can concentrate on his other passions like martial arts as well. He is thriving. Let your child grow and he will achieve what he has to and wants to since there is no pressure to be a particular person. This is also a way to encourage your child’s spiritual development.”
Tushar, a Kung Fu enthusiast, and competitor, heartily agrees. “I like to explore new things and learn from lots of people. Plus now I get to have fun with different experiments that I find online, like making my own version of Ninja Turtle eggs! Science has always been my favorite subject. I also get to sleep properly and not wake up at 6 am like I had to before. This makes me perform much better in my martial arts.”
Mumbai-based tutor and homeschooling parent, Nivedita Amit Karnad sings a similar song. She says, “We have been homeschooling my seven-year-old son, Hardik, for a year and a half now. We realized he learned very differently and has always been a very inquisitive and lively child who can’t sit still and loves learning while he’s moving around. Hardik is thoroughly enjoying choosing his own things to learn, without rote learning. We learn through games and make it enjoyable. We have also discovered his deep passion for music and he goes to learn tabla and harmonium. Maths is his favorite subject and he goes for Mental Maths classes as well. The best part is that since he isn’t bound to a standard 2nd-grade curriculum, he has progressed far beyond. He is also learning skills like problem-solving and logical thinking, which is the need of the hour.” Nivedita, like many parents, is part of homeschooling groups both on and offline and on websites like Swashikshan – http://homeschoolers.in/, which also has city-based meets and activities.
Of course, one of the concerns parents have is that the onus of their child’s education will lie on their shoulders. Educating themselves about the needs and methods of a child’s development is key to ensuring they are doing the justice of the little one. It is not all fun and games and comes with its own set of unique responsibilities; albeit ones that many parents are now joyfully taking on.
Anjali Sanghi, President and Founder Trustee of the Indian Raw Vegan Foundation, also shares her experience, “Our homeschooling experience has been very rewarding for us. After experiencing conventional education at an early age, we chose to educate Manikya at home at the age of four years, as we were upgrading our diet and lifestyle to a healthier one. I also underwent my training and volunteered in the fields of conventional, alternative, and natural ways of education. We have also chosen guidance from Waldorf education founded by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. By presenting us with a clear understanding of milestones from ages 0-21 years of age, it helped us to deeply understand our child as a whole being: body-mind-spirit.”
However, homeschooling is no picnic. Neha Kothari aged 14, who is largely following the IGCSE curriculum, from Bangalore, says “The challenge I faced was to keep motivated. You have to be independent and be willing to learn and explore without your parents or teachers forcing you. But I found that I loved doing my own projects, especially in history and writing. I have become more responsible and make things interesting for myself since the focus isn’t on my only getting high marks and doing homework. I can travel, explore monuments, go to sports classes, and do interesting projects which I love.” Neha’s mother Sonal adds, “There is no right and wrong in deciding what is the best way to educate your child. You can only do what is right for your own family and kids. It is invaluable to have your support systems in place. Homeschooling communities and co-ops have been priceless support in our journey, and everyone we have interacted with has been extremely helpful and ready to share information and resources.”
Leaps and bounds in technology and a multitude of online resources for homeschoolers have also made it easier for parents who are worried about not finding adequate resources to take on this endeavor. But a question that comes up often is whether parents are depriving their children of social skill sets that come with bonding with their peers and also inculcating a sense of healthy competition. Some homeschooling parents have tackled that issue by enrolling their children in vocational and hobby classes or have collaborated with support groups and other homeschooling parents, thereby helping their children interact and grow with not only others their age but all age groups and walks of life.
Parents also need to inculcate a sense of self-discipline to ensure they are doing what they need to do to ensure a well-rounded ‘education’ for their children, as well as balance a myriad of personal and professional responsibilities.
The homeschooling movement is strong in cities like Pune and growing rapidly in popularity in cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Chennai. Some of the more commonly known educational methods followed are via the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling), CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education), Waldorf and Montessori. The varied methodologies available also make it easier for the child to later be integrated into more traditional colleges or degree and diploma courses if desired. Other unconventional and avant-garde approaches to alternative education include the ‘Unschooling’ method by educator John Holt and the philosophy found at The Learning Community (TLC) at Auroville, which focuses on the life and learning as an adventure and avoids formal conventional classes.
We end with some food for thought from Mr. Manivannan Ganapathy, founder of Bangalore Steiner School and Trustee at the Heart and Soul Foundation (which works towards empowering children with disabilities). He says, “When I was young, all I wanted to be was a teacher for kids with special needs. I was greatly inspired by my own teachers at school. I topped in my exams with a Karnataka State Rank and found that family and, surprisingly even my teachers, weren’t supportive of my inclination and dreams, but wanted me instead to strive for material benefit. Eventually, despite joining the family business, I started to volunteer and learn at special needs institutions. I decided that if I had children I would homeschool them and let them develop their inner stars, without preconceived notions of who they ought to be.”
Mr. Manivannan has homeschooled his two children as well as disadvantaged children, is also a special educator and a passionate advocate of alternative education. His daughter topped the Karnataka State Championship in gymnastics and his son has a passion for music and has participated in gymnastics at the National level as well and is going to appear for his boards. Mr. Manivannan educated his children along with streets kids and disabled children. He eventually found that the Steiner educational practice was very similar to his own homeschooling philosophies and founded the Bangalore Steiner School after his training.
“We learned through play and interaction and no artificial education. The whole experience has been wonderfully fulfilling and very self-motivating. Homeschooling can be a challenge if one does not believe in oneself or faces problems from family. You definitely need the support of your spouse and family. It can be an extremely satisfying experience if you believe in yourself and your capabilities. It is about learning with your child and enabling them to follow their inner calling.”
The decision to go with mainstream or alternative education is a hugely personal decision and many families have had fantastic experiences with both. While the concept of homeschooling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, these alternative education practices offer options to parents and children committed to walking the road less taken. About the author: Deeply passionate about words as well as intricacies of the human psyche, Raina Gadgil is a freelance writer and editor.
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