Several branches have sprung up in school education and each goes a different way, with unique methodologies and experimental pedagogies.

School-hunting for your child Think about the ones with alternative syllabuses
Features Education Saturday, October 24, 2015 - 18:39

By Nikhita Gowra

In 2003, Pooja Agarwal was a shy third-grader who scored well in school, but her mother was extremely worried because she would never talk to people and always kept to herself. She soon realised that Pooja was not getting the most out of her school. That was when their hunt for a different system began. After a lot of research and attending many orientation programs and seminars, Pooja's mother finally enrolled her child into the Abhaya School which followed the Waldorf system.  Today, Pooja is a student of Psychology at The Christ University in Bengaluru, and cannot thank her mother enough for yanking her out of a mainstream-syllabus school and opting for the Waldorf system.

Indian education, known to revolve around examinations, crowded classrooms and marks down to the decimal point, is now increasingly giving more options to students and parents. Several branches have sprung up in school education and each goes a different way, with unique methodologies and experimental pedagogies. Parents and students now have the choice of applying to boards and syllabi other than the regular CBSE, ISCE and State Boards. Systems like Waldorf, Monntessori and Cambridge, although not mainstream, are steadily gaining popularity in India and seem to be here to stay.

“I definitely think it is better than any mainstream syllabus because I really enjoyed going to school,” says Pooja about the Waldorf system of education. Pooja has been educated in a Waldorf school since her third grade to the tenth and is of the opinion that such alternative education systems bring out much more in a person than a mainstream syllabus school. “People who have been trained in alternative schools have strong opinions on things and know how to stand by them. This is because they are made to develop that from a young age itself. Not to generalise, but I don’t think people with mainstream education naturally possess this quality in them”, says Pooja.

Waldorf system’s philosophy is that education should mirror the basic stages of a child’s development from childhood to adulthood.  At a Waldorf school, teachers take individual interest in students’ development and try to cultivate an atmosphere where students love to learn. To facilitate this, the strength of each class is usually less than 10 students and they try to keep students self-motivated. No competitive tests or examinations are required. It is a system that does not stress on classroom education but on what helps educate the child holistically.

The Cambridge board or the IGCSE syllabus is another system of alternate education. Varenya, of Chrirec Public School, is very happy that she shifted from a mainstream syllabus to IGCSE. She agrees with Pooja when she says, “I used to be very shy before but after studying under this system, I am extremely confident and I don’t stammer anymore.”  The Cambridge is an international program and its biggest advantage is that it gives the freedom of delivery of curriculum to the school that has adopted it. Different schools with this program can adapt themselves and their curriculum in such a way that is best suited to the students.

The IBO or the International Baccalaureate Organisation is a program that tests the students’ knowledge instead of their memory or speed. There are no external evaluations till class 10. Its focus is largely on ‘how to learn’ rather than ‘what to learn’. Many students choose IB after their 10th grade if their choice of subjects doesn’t fit into general combinations such as the humanities or science, since IB offers a wide range of choices.

Schools like the Integral School in Hyderabad follow no one particular board but have their own curriculum. Students of the school are not segregated grade-wise, so students don’t go to the second grade or third. They are grouped according to their interests. It follows a non-hierarchical and a non-authoritative system. Such schools do not house students and teachers but ‘learners’ and ‘facilitators’. Chitra, a facilitator at the Integral School says that they work on the learners’ basic skills along with their physical, emotional and intellectual needs. “If a child wants to study about black holes, we will discuss with them and learn about black holes together. It is a dynamic process where even the facilitator keeps learning,” says Chitra.

The Montessori format functions in a similar fashion. It was developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori. It emphasises on independence, freedom within limits, and attention to the child’s natural psychological, social and physical development.

National Open Schooling is an alternative method of education specially designed for students with learning disabilities and for those involved in other activities such as sports. Graduates of this school are considered equal to those who have gone through mainstream schooling.

One of the most common concerns that a parent has before enrolling their child into schools that follow such formats is whether the students would be able to cope with their counterparts while applying for college. “Personally, it wasn’t too difficult for me to switch from Waldorf to CBSE and give the board exams because the teachers taught the lessons in their own style. The only thing that was new to us was that we were supposed to read from text books, a concept completely new to us,” says Pooja, who scored a 10-point CGPA in her CBSE board exams. Basabdatta, mother of a student at Integral School believes that children can learn better if they are not forced to. “Some children bloom in freedom,” she says.

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