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The challenges and triumphs of homeschooling in India are many. It needs a level of dedication from at least one parent, but there is so much to be gained!
“But what about social interaction?” has to be the first question most people ask about homeschooling, maybe after putting the homeschooling parent on a pedestal for patience. Homeschooling in India, as with other unconventional choices, needs patience but mainly to answer every question thrown your way!
I homeschool my son. I prefer to call it flexible learning, to focus on what we do, not what we have eschewed. I actively work with schools, teachers and kids who are in school, so no hate or bitterness. It is clear to everyone that our education system is flawed, held together by band aids and will power. Most people who say this have been through the system themselves and have their children in schools, so this is not breaking news, by any means.
How we deal with this is highly subjective and depends on what we want for our kids. Some of us won’t wait for the system to fix itself and decide to do it differently.
There are many reasons for taking on the complete onus of your child’s education and as many options for learning as there are reasons. You may homeschool or un-school, be a relaxed/eclectic homeschooler or follow a ‘school at home’ approach, among others. Some people decide to avoid the schooling system completely from when their children are little while others pull their children out of school, sometimes disillusioned and/or for specific factors that are important to them.
There are homeschoolers who do it for religious reasons, learning reasons, special needs, wanting to pursue other options seriously like sports or the arts, etc.
My reasons for going off the beaten path with homeschooling in India were a combination several factors. I wanted my child to thrive, not just survive, in a system where the focus was on his areas of skill difficulty…when he does so much so well. I found his self-esteem decreasing, his language and approach towards himself and others negative, much of it from a systematic focus on what he couldn’t achieve. He had very well intentioned teachers, good people. It wasn’t about a specific school or a specific teacher. It was the whole picture.
He was fantastic at sports, did well in everything when he had a good hour of sports every morning. The last word in scientific research is that exercise in the mornings helps us all. And yet many schools, even those that believe strongly in sports (there are so few of those) have a period or two every week. Many times, children who need these periods the most, get them the least…people realize that these children live for these activities and hold them back as punishment. Sports periods are rarely in the mornings and so we tried for years – woke up at 5:30 am, got him to the pool as it opened, he ate his breakfast in the car on the way to the school bus! It helped for a couple of hours and those hours were spent in the bus on the way to school.
Can we talk about the commutes our kids end up with, please, and its impact on their stress levels? No purism here, my daughter is in school and travels far because it is something she has chosen, an investment in her future. She is in high school though and not a tiny second grader any more. Homeschooling in India has the best commute of all.
Not to be critical or anything but how many systems talk of multiple intelligences and the various channels to learn in teacher trainings but follow the same old lecture method, with a picture or two thrown in? A kinesthetic learner is hard put in ANY system, even one that is alternate. It is great for us to intellectually know stuff and quite another to apply it consistently and routinely.
Numbers run the show everywhere, from 100 crore movies to school fees and ‘scale’. Every teacher’s pet peeve is “but how can I do this, that and everything when I have 29 others in the class?” I talk, of course, of very elite schools where 30 to a class is the norm. I get it. However, for my child, who does need more as does every one of those 29, some customization can make all the difference.
With numbers comes the question – Quantity or quality? Well, both – but what is the chance of that in a system that pressurizes everyone, teachers and students alike?
Initially, it was my decision to homeschool, taken in desperation after my child was in a school system or two. My child wasn’t happy with the decision; cringing every time he was asked which school he went to. We did nothing for a while, settled our minds and nerves. Slowly, we began to address concepts, experimented, read, saw videos, did things hands on. The wonder of learning made itself felt. One spirited debate contrasting Akbar and Aurangazeb had us invigorated. We dug deeper, questioned more and my child came up to me to say, “Wow, history can be so much FUN!”
A scientific microscope made its way home and we looked and looked again, jaws dropping at the gorgeousness in front of us. It made sense, the big picture was forming itself…we connected function to shape and wanted to see and do more. Learning was the drug and boy, did it feel good!
But what about assessment and exams, you ask? Assessment happens continuously. You see it in the language used, in the ideas expounded on, in the questions asked. Being a bit more of the structured type, I wanted to give him a test and did. Test taking skills are also important and I didn’t want him to be anxious for when he took one.
I teach him to answer logically, am more demanding of him because I want him to show effort. The joke is that he would get better marks if he were in school! We can be honest in our feedback of each other – yes, he gets to critique me as much as I get to critique him. It either moderates my critical comments or develops thicker skins on us both – both important in different situations.
A year into flexible learning, he found his sport. In that class, which he advocated for, negotiated and took responsibility for, he was the model student. He showed interest and talent and we found the best coaching we could provide. We changed our schedule around to accommodate it. Where else could we leave at 2:30 in the afternoon to get ourselves to the class, read a book aloud in the car and discuss it and still get two and a half hours of solid sports? Since he has no ‘homework’ (his words: all my work is home work!), we get back and relax without stress.
Can we finish the ‘portions’? Many homeschoolers don’t have portions, they just learn. Again, being a bit more of the structure freak myself (and because it works for my child), we follow a curriculum. CBSE but we get to refer to ICSE and IGCSE books – it isn’t about the curriculum but the concept. If one book says it well, we study it from there and structure some hands on learning around that. Flexible learning, in our experience, has led to more learning.
We spend one day on a subject/lesson. Context switching doesn’t help. If you think about it, in a 40-minute class, 5 minutes is administrative stuff (homework, workbooks, reminders), 10 minutes revision before and after the concept, 10 minutes of some written work (notes, notebook work, work book, etc.) and 15 minutes of actual concept teaching. The concept teaching is aimed at the average level of a class, meaning those who need more help will need to work more and those who want to explore further will need to do it on their own time. Will every one of these ‘average’ kids get all of it? If 80% of them do, it is a good class. Rinse, repeat.
This is our system’s reality. My child and I get to delve into the concept. If we need two days, we take it. If we see that there is super little in there (does geography need a huge syllabus update or what?!), we find more elsewhere. We began like a school did and initially, spent more time scheduling our day than working on concepts! Every time we got a bit into a topic (with hour long sessions), it was time to switch. Very frustrating. So we changed that.
We follow along well enough, do more work even he did at school…every problem, every example in math is worked out because it is fun, because the fact that he doesn’t write an external exam is no reason to not know the subject in and out. If anything, there is more of an onus on him because he has no marks saying he is proficient in this subject or that at this level or that. Oh, and when do marks certify proficiency in any case? I explain, we explore concepts and he works independently. In that way, homeschooling in India works – the best of both worlds!
And this social interaction point! Do think back to all your life situations and consider where you have interacted with only people your age plus or minus a few months, except in school/college? Kids these days are supervised everywhere, even in secure school environments. There is a teacher at lunch time, in the playground, on the bus…our fears as parents have meant that an adult is always in the picture…because ‘what if’? Is this the kind of interaction we wish for?
My child plays with his friends downstairs just like he used to before. He gets his sports classes and interacts with his peers in all age groups there, goes away for matches, sometimes the whole day. We go to museums and workshops, sometimes together. He has found his feet in mixed settings, negotiates with auto drivers, goes and buys things in shops and even earned money cleaning a shop. That hour with three friends earning Rs. 48 brought home the difficulty of earning money…that Rs. 16 is saved in my husband’s wallet, hard to spend because of the effort it took. ‘Value of money’ lessons are the bonus!
Do I wish he had some collaborative team learning time? Yes. This is the one area I wish we could improve. Homeschooling in India does mean that we suffer in this regard, somewhat. A homeschoolers’ meet-up last Sunday got us to connect with some like-minded families with kids around the same age. I will make the extra effort to schedule some time together with these kids together and encourage them to work on specific projects that result in concrete outcomes…a geography conference, a quiz contest, a Model UN. Honestly, the sky is the limit because we have opportunities for learning at our fingertips.
Homeschooling in India does not mean slacking in the academics department – far from it! There are options for board exams for those who are so inclined – the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) is a 27-year old Government of India initiative based on the NCERT curriculum framework. Friends of mine who were table tennis national level players took these exams when I was in school. CBSE is also based on the NCERT framework. What’s more, college professors evaluate NIOS answer scripts. The impression that NIOS is an easy board to study could not be further from the truth. A quick look at the study material online tells us that flexibility does not mean leniency.
Now, for my child and me, a more structured system of working is the way to go. There are unschoolers who I can’t speak for but whose methods are pretty fantastic. I have seen engaged and interested learners who are unschoolers. They ask questions because they genuinely want to know. I wish this for all kids.
I am quite privileged to have the luxury of spending this kind of time with my child. This does mean that my husband takes the onus of providing for the family financially. Then again, I chose to be a teacher, a special educator to boot, so being a millionaire wasn’t in the picture from the get-go! I do have to work part-time, my career is amoebic…filling in the spaces it finds, as and when. That said, any gaps have been more than made up in terms of satisfaction and impact.
Stepping off the defined path was scary for someone like me who had pretty trod the school-bachelors-masters-work like everyone else. It has ended up informing me and making me a better trainer/teacher. A stronger person too. I also finally understand the ‘whys’ behind many concepts, stuff I should have known when I was myself in school!
My guiding principle is credited to my spouse. When we started off, he said, “His lack of a schooling doesn’t need to hinder his education.” Succinct and packs a punch!
Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only.
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Sangitha Krishnamurthi is a special educator, blogger and mother of three. Her interests include living
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