Frustrated with the traditional education scenario, some parents are taking matters into their own homes. Many are now breaking away from the mainstream education system and choosing instead homeschooling' or 'unschooling'. "It is a blanket term for educational choices that do not include schools," says Vidyut Kale who homeschools her four-and- a-half year old son.
Many news reports state that the quality of education in a regular school is inferior as a whole and this has lead to dissatisfaction of the experience. "The slowing economy has made parents question the considerable expense of good schooling as an essential. Rigidity in the organisation and teachers, lack of a holistic view or utility of the syllabus content are some of the key factors," says Nozzer Pardiwala, author and homeschooling parent.
Pardiwala further adds that the current education system is not an ideology to be followed. "My wife and I both are into the teaching profession so we had the privilege of not only knowing the loopholes in the current scenario limited to our own kid's school but a large variety of schools as well, and it appears very dark and scary," he says.
Unlike mainstream schools today, homeschooling is led by the child's interest. "It allows us to go on tangents, exploring interconnections among subjects rather than artificial segregation. It facilitates deep, far reaching conversations among family members and embraces diversity, allows original thinking, different answers from the usual," says Aravinda Pillalamarri, tutor, teacher and also a homeschooling parent.
Most commonly it is parents who choose to educate their children at home using customised methods that suit the child's passion and parent's ability. "It takes out all irrelevant clutter and allows the child's learning space to be filled with opportunities s/he can use, rather than stuff they must learn because some 50 year old with 40 degrees thought it is a good idea that all children learn some subject," says Kale.
But is learning enough? What happens when they go into the real world? How are they tested? One of the most common questions that many homeschooler encounter is: what about exams? What about the syllabus? There seems to be a whole spectrum of methods that homeschoolers use to educate their children. "There is no separate syllabus. Some parents follow prescribed textbooks. However, some don't follow and others design their own curriculum by referring to syllabi of different boards," says Dolla Dasgupta, a single mother who has homeschooled both her daughter, who is 11, and son, 7.
The beauty of homeschooling is that the parents, being the teachers of the child, know exactly what their children are learning and have understood. They give them informal tests all the time. So for them there is really no need to do any formal testing at all! "We as parents often go beyond testing too, to find out the heart of the child, something that cannot be measured by any test," says Dr SP Mathew, physician and father to three homeschooled children.
So the simple answer to parents who doubt this is, "Of course we as parents test them regularly and informally. There is no need to do formal testing, as the homeschooled child grows older, h/she can take formal tests as deemed fit by the parents, if they wish to prepare him or her for entry into colleges," says Mathew. However, for those who wish to follow a particular syllabi, "There are different options to take formal exams at different levels, like the Macmillan International Assessment for Indian Students, The NIOS and the IGCSE etc," he adds.
The lack of ranking and peer pressure in homeschooling gives children a greater strength to be unique, true to their own ideals and less influenced by their peers. "This system recognises the value of learning from mistakes and encourages the mixing of generations and age groups," says Monita Sarangi, former JP Morgan employee, who quit her job to homeschool her kids because she realised the true horror of schools.
However, it's not all too easy for homeschoolers. In fact it can be quite challenging and challenges differ from family to family. "For families that count on two parent incomes, it can get tough to manage expenses as well as time to devote to the child," warns Pillalamarri. Homeschooling is a 24/7 attention job. "You simply start living with your child as priority one, so it can get tough making time for your own interests or needs or work," she adds
New homeschoolers particularly those with a lot of conditioning about school education find it difficult to deal with the anxiety of not having exams or marks or anyone to keep you on track. "They also find it difficult to participate in science festivals or quiz competitions or get scholarships. Since homeschooling is not known to many in India, there is nothing to put in the "school" space when filling forms," says Kale
It's not an easy path, and sometimes parents may even second-guess themselves about whether they're doing this right. But then their children surprise them with unique learning moments, growth, and progress. Life poses hundreds of challenges, but for a homeschooler these are learning opportunities.