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Homeschooling in India is having a moment. As families become increasingly weary of traditional schooling thanks to cookie-cutter policies and high costs, parents are opting for alternate methods of education
Homeschooling in India is having a moment. As families become increasingly weary of traditional schooling thanks to cookie-cutter policies and high costs, parents are opting for alternate methods of education.
Come Monday morning, homes with young families across the country are in a chaotic yet familiar dance. Ceiling fans are turned off, and lights turned on with a vengeance.
Teeth are cleaned, and breakfasts are shovelled down. Uniforms and shoes are thrown on, and heavy school bags are picked up as parents and kids alike make a mad dash for the door.
However, over the past several years, there are many families who have shut their doors to this morning rush.
This piece is about those families, the ones who have opted to educate their children at home, either adhering to a prescribed syllabus or the passions and interests of the child. These are the families who homeschool in India.
Mother of two and Kochi-based Architect Nisha Thomas says homeschooling helped her rethink education as spontaneous and fun.
“Schooling need not be so serious, with uniforms, heavy backpacks, assignments, and worries. It can be a joyful and fulfilling experience, too.”
A sentiment shared by Coimbatore-based Bharatnatyam dancer and mother to a nine-year-old, Senbaga Poonguzhali, who has been homeschooling her daughter from the beginning. Senbaga appreciates how her family is time-rich because of choosing this option.
“There is so much time in a day, even after my daughter has done all her favourite things. The fact that there is no hurry enables her to enjoy each and everything she does, even if it is the simple act of having a meal.”
She adds, “Also, it helps the entire family to slow down and enjoy every single day together. We get to talk to each other a lot, observe all that is happening around us, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.”
While families across the world have been educating children outside the confines of a formal system for years, it was in the 1980s that ‘homeschooling’ became mainstream.
In 2010, families working with alternative curriculums or unschooling successfully petitioned the Indian Government to recognize Homeschooling in India as legal.
The HSLDA, an international organization that assists homeschoolers worldwide, estimates that there are around 500-1000 children homeschooled in India, with the majority of these families in cities like Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai.
Most cities with homeschoolers are also places with schools with great track records and reputations, then what is it that makes a family opt to homeschooling in India?
“I am not a big believer in the school system or starting early. Also, my husband and I are entrepreneurs and were about to start our company. Home-education provided the perfect calmness and flexibility for us without the worries of hectic school and travel fees when we began our start-up,” says, entrepreneur and social worker Yasha.
Yasha is a mother to two boys aged 11 and 9, Yasha says that homeschooling has helped her give her boys a proactive and child-centred education.
Bangalore-based human skills trainer and mother of two, Srithi Abhinitha says, “Being passionate about lifelong and out-of-the-box learning, I decided to homeschool my kids. I did not want their education limited to a certain educational board or pre-defined subjects and lessons prepared for the masses. I wanted my kids to fall in love with the process of learning, rather than be repelled by it.”
Public Relations Professional Janice Goveas has been homeschooling her ten-year-old son for five years now.
“Aiden was said to be on the autism spectrum and needed a shadow teacher. Since I had moved schools in the middle of the academic year from a government-aided school to an inclusive school and couldn’t appoint a shadow teacher – we moved to homeschooling.”
“Now I continue, despite Aiden technically not being on the spectrum, because of the several benefits I see from this mode of teaching. It allows me to be mobile (move cities etc. for work), him to learn at his pace and focus on his interests, and it is economical as well. Socially, we don’t feel peer pressured into following the herd.”
Most new parents looking to homeschool soon find out that while they want to dive in, they are unsure how or where to begin.
Identify what your child is interested in and focus on that.
“In Aiden’s case by now, we know it is maths, science, music, aeroplanes, aeronautics and sport. He isn’t quite the best at languages. I build him in what he is good at and am lenient on the rest. It isn’t important to be excellent in everything,” says Janice.
“Just take the time to learn about your child, different educational schools of thought and methodologies and make an informed decision on which route you’d want to take,” says Srithi.
“Up until 6, children need to learn more through play and life experiences than writing or books. So let them play and soak up different experiences,” she adds.
Textile Designer Neha Sharma is homeschooling her 5.5-year-old daughter in the Andamans. She says, “Homeschooling is about letting competition go, letting your child rise to the occasion and take charge.”
She adds,”Curriculums can take over homeschooling life if you let it, I would highly recommend staying away from them as much as possible unless you find one that encourages your child to further what their interest is.”
But despite this, homeschooling is not always an idyllic scene reminiscent of the Sound of Music.
“With great educational freedom comes greater responsibility and fun! The ride can get lonely at times. The lack of structure can be a source of blessing or stress,” says Chennai-based Marketing Manager Gracelyne Fernando, who homeschooled her seven-year-old boy for 2.5 years.
“A lot of the cons completely depend on your vision for homeschooling, and what the ideal school day looks like for you. In a country like India, formal homeschooling also requires financial independence – books, resource materials, field trips, etc. and not to mention the luxury of time,” she adds.
Srithi recommends that homeschooling parents make sure that their child is also enrolled in other social activities.
“The child is exposed to a limited peer group. I homeschool in a co-op system with other moms and their kids too. So my kid has 3-4 other peers only,” she says.
Adding to the challenges of homeschooling in India is the unequal load mothers carry.
Gracelyn articulates it like this, “As mothers, we tend to shoulder more responsibility all the time – the invisible mental load of motherhood is real and often less acknowledged by their partners.”
She continues, “Homeschooling requires commitment, planning, and juggling different roles as parents, caretakers, and teachers. We’d split the responsibilities between the parents equally, which left us with little time for other activities, given that we both worked full-time jobs. The bulk of the internet research, planning, and preparation consumed my time.”
Senbaga echoes the sentiment. “In addition to the regular mother duties, a homeschooling mother has to take up more roles that are new, difficult and totally out of her comfort zone. I was never a crafts’ person. But when my daughter sits for hours with an art or craft, I automatically sit beside her, for she asks for my help and guidance.”
“The mother has to learn and unlearn so many new things along with the child to keep herself updated. Although it is a wonderful learning process for both the mother and daughter, the burden gets a bit too much for the mother, at times,” she says.
However, despite all the challenges, anecdotal evidence after the pandemic shows that more and more families want a different form of education. And in the absence of meaningful formal education reform, homeschooling in India in Inmay be the way forward.
As Gracelyn puts it, “Your child has a lifetime of learning ahead. The most important thing you can teach them is how to love learning and how to live a life of love. This is definitely a time our children will remember, so GO make some happy memories.”
Image Source: Author, and shylendrahoode via Getty Images, free on Canva pro
Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a writer, blogger and creator of the modern Indian parenting blog ‘The Times Of Amma’,and 'Inkspire' - the digital platform for aspiring Indian writers. She was awarded the prestigious UN Laadli read more...
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