"We are not experimenting with our children. We are sure about what we are doing."

The Indian Homeschooler How parents are fighting the odds for better educationAnjali with her son Manikya
Features Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 18:15

Fifteen-year-old Pranavswaroop Vinod from Bengaluru is a music enthusiast. He knows to play six instruments including the sitar, guitar, drums and keyboard, which he says is his "forte". The Class 10 student also wants to pursue music as a career option in future, and is quite confident about it.

In an environment where hobbies and interests usually take a backseat and academics seem to overshadow most aspects of the lives of children, Pranav's decision is a result of hard work and focus on his 'interest' in his foundational years.

Pranav rejoined school only last year as a ninth grader. For most of his growing up years, he had been homeschooled.

It was quite early in his life that Pranav's parents spotted his talent and decided on honing in.

"He was able to easily learn any musical instrument. We had enrolled him in a mainstream school earlier, but it was only after we began homeschooling him that he became articulate and said he wanted to compose," says Sandhya Viswan, Pranav’s mother. Sandhya's younger son, who is a nine-year-old and passionate about sports, is also being homeschooled by Sandhya currently.

"We wanted our children to pursue their talents instead of reducing them to just after-school hobbies," says the former teacher.

Sandhya's family is one of the several across the country that have consciously decided not to enrol their children in mainstream schools, and have instead opted for an alternate system of education aimed at overall development of their kids.

Sandhya with her younger son

Most parents who homeschool their children agree that one of the advantages over mainstream schooling is the flexibility that the former offers.

"At a regular school, you are bound to learn a particular subject within a specific time. Those being homeschooled have the freedom to choose what they want to learn and when to learn. Also, those hiring tutors for their kids have the option to hire the best selection of teachers," Sandhya says.

Parents also have the freedom to make their own curriculum or follow one which is used in regular schools.

Jas Ahuja runs La Wisdom School in Bengaluru, an organization that provides a common space where homeschoolers can get together, play and learn. La Wisdom also designs personalised educational plans for children who are being homeschooled.

"I was homeschooled myself around 25 years ago," says Jas.

Brought up in Agra, Ahuja was tutored by a couple in their neighbourhood, who were also homeschooling their children. While Ahuja's father ran his business, his mother was a homemaker. Nudge him about how did they decide upon the idea, that too over two decades ago, he narrates how he was born premature, was a "cute, little" boy during most of his childhood and how his parents were a bit "scared" of sending him to school.

Sandhya's younger son

Jas later joined regular school to give his Class 10 board exams and went on to study Mechanical Engineering from IIT Roorkee.

"Homeschoolers," he says, "are brighter than their counterparts in conventional schools".

"Mainstream education is a very artificial process, where 40 children are expected to learn the same thing at the same time. Real life however, is very different. Homeschooling has a more holistic approach. Mainstream also has the disadvantage of peer pressure and bullying”, he adds.

Jas Ahuja runs La Wisdom in Bengaluru; a sports programme organised by the institution

Jas, whose daughter too is being homeschooled, feels that adopting the system is more about attitude. "80 percent of parents do it out of compulsion. It could be because their child has learning difficulties or can't manage in school."

Part of the flexibility of the process also allows children to be homeschooled in their initial years and join a regular school later.

Interestingly however, the law is ambiguous on homeschooling. Though the Right to Education Act (RTE) states that it is the duty of the parents to send their children to school, there is no liability if they do not follow it, explains lawyer and activist Prashant Narang of IJustice, a public interest law initiative of Centre for Civil Society. "The government has not challenged the system of homeschooling," he says.

"Those homeschooling can get a degree through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). The government has had plans to shut down NIOS, or at least shut down the programme which covers children under RTE for quite some time now. But even that has not been done," Prashant further states.

Pointing out to the faulty law, he opines that Right to Education is a misnomer in itself. "It should be Right to Education Infrastructure or Right to School. The RTE does not see education beyond a four-walled school. It guarantees infrastructure but not learning," he asserts.

This is perhaps the reason why many parents willingly choose for an alternate system of education for their children.

Anjali with her son Manikya

Take the case of Anjali Sanghi from Bengaluru who homeschools her 7-year-old son Manikya.

When Anjali gave birth to her son, she was living in Delhi in a joint family with a "conventional" mindset. They got their son enrolled in a regular school in the city, but soon realised that it was doing him more harm than good. "There was a lot of pressure on him academically and he started getting sick frequently. That is when we decided to pull him out of there."

Anjali, who is also the President and Founder Trustee of Indian Raw Vegan Foundation in the city, recites a Hindi proverb to put across her views. "When the clay is moist, one should not pour water in the pot."

"Today, a lot of pressure is put on young minds that are still in the process of developing. What happens is even though they are able to cope with it initially, they burn-out as quickly," she says.

Anjali follows the Waldorf system of education, one that focuses on transforming "education into an art that educates the whole child- the heart and the hands, as well as the head."

Academic learning for Anjali's son takes place inside a room in their house, called "school". "Manikya calls it school because all his friends go to school," Anjali says.

She ensures her method of teaching is not only fun, but also dynamic and interactive. "The letter 'M' is just an abstract for a child who is just beginning to learn the alphabets. We could draw a mountain in the shape of 'M' or draw human lips for the child to easily understand and then remember it," she says.

Though it is a learning experience for parents too, it is not just a fad for them.

"We are not experimenting with our children. We are sure about what we are doing," Anjali adds.

Sandhya's boys try their hand in the kitchen

One of the most common concerns regarding homeschooling is whether the confines of the homes adversely affect children's social skills. For Sandhya, both her children have turned out be "socially adept" individuals who are comfortable interacting with people from all age groups. Pranav had the initial hiccups in adjusting to school, but he says it could happen to anyone, like those changing schools, entering a new environment. As for Jas, being "socially active" meant he could fit into any situation.

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