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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A class apart

The most shining example of homeschooling, perhaps, is the boy who, in 2010, cracked the IIT-JEE exam, getting rank 33 in the country and standing first in Delhi. Sahal Kaushik, who was 14 at the time, was homeschooled by his mother — a doctor who quit her job to teach her children.

Written by Mallica Joshi , Shradha Chettri | New Delhi | Updated: June 25, 2018 4:26:39 pm
schools, homeschooling, delhi schools, delhi homeschooling, delhi homeschools, traditional schooling system, schooling system, delhi news Seven-year-old Aarav and his mother, Aprajita Negi, during a study session at their home in Kaushambi. Negi has turned one of the rooms in their house into a ‘classroom’ of sorts. Photo: Praveen Khanna

Unsatisfied with the traditional schooling system, some parents are taking matters into their own hands and opting for homeschooling instead. But does it work? Mallica Joshi & Shradha Chettri find out

Seven-year-old Aarav decides which subject he wants to study next — depending on his mood. To those who ask which grade he is in, he says he is in Class II. Except, Aarav doesn’t go to school. As schools reopened in Delhi-NCR earlier this month, Aarav was among a small but growing number of children who didn’t pack their bags because they are homeschooled by their parents.

The most shining example of homeschooling, perhaps, is the boy who, in 2010, cracked the IIT-JEE exam, getting rank 33 in the country and standing first in Delhi. Sahal Kaushik, who was 14 at the time, was homeschooled by his mother — a doctor who quit her job to teach her children.

The Indian Express spoke to a few parents who decided against sending their children to school.

Taking the call

Why exactly do parents opt for homeschooling? The ones The Indian Express spoke to cited a range of reasons — from trying to make their child more ‘creative’ to their own experiences as children.

Take, for example, Aarav’s mother Aprajita Negi (35), who grew up in a conservative household in Jaipur. “I was in Delhi in 2010 when Aarav was born, and we sent him to a playschool. We shifted to Chennai in 2014 after my husband was transferred, and we started sending Aarav to a formal school there. He was in kindergarten, and would return with thick files of homework to complete. He was only four. He was unhappy and said he did not want to go to that school anymore, so we stopped sending him for some time, thinking he needed a break. It was around that time that I discovered a Montessori resource centre, and started taking Aarav along,” said Negi.

Montessori education was the brainchild of Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian educationist who focused on experiential learning based on hands-on activities and play in the early 1900s. For Negi, the shift to homeschooling came when her husband was transferred to Delhi again. “I looked, but couldn’t find a suitable school that could teach children as per the Montessori system. That’s when I decided to homeschool Aarav,” she said.

For Ravleen Kaur, a former journalist, the limited options available in her neighbourhood cemented her decision to homeschool her daughter, four-year-old Daani. A resident of the NTPC township in Dadri, Kaur, who also has one-year-old twins, said the three schools in her locality were not “conducive to learning”.

“There was no creative push. I would hear parents talk about facilities in the schools, and I realised I couldn’t handle the pressure of fighting with school authorities every day over hygiene, ventilation, and teaching methods. I started looking for options and came across an article on homeschooling. I was convinced in the first go,” said Kaur.

While Kaur had studied at a “good school with good facilities”, she said she hated waking up early, taking exams and the general monotony. “I want a happy childhood for my kids. Children should be able to do what they like while they learn,” Kaur said. “My parents were sceptical, they still are. But we are convinced of our choice… There are times when our choices and the way we teach her are questioned, but that is part and parcel of
the deal.”

Some apprehensions

Principals and teachers who are part of the regular schooling system express strong reservations about homeschooling, saying that a school is not just about academics, but also about building confidence and learning life skills.

“As a concept, homeschooling is more popular in the US… and in the Indian context, it seems difficult. I do not recommend it. If a parent opts for homeschooling, they have to be of a level where they can match the capacity of three-four individual teachers in a school. Teaching a child is not an easy job and unlike a school, a home does not have the resources,” said Tania Joshi, principal of The Indian School.

Ravleen Kaur and her husband engage their four-year-old daughter, Daani, in activities she’s interested in. Photo: Praveen Khanna

A counsellor at Delhi Public School echoed the same line: “In school, one is among friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, religions and geographical areas, which is important during the growing years. When a child is in a protected environment (such as a home), that holistic development may not happen.”

Joshi added, “A few years ago, I had a case where a homeschooled child was given admission in Class XI. But he could not adjust to the system and left school.” Usually, if a homeschooled child wants admission in a regular school, officials have an interaction with the child and place him or her in an age-appropriate class.

When it comes to taking the Class X and XII board exams, homeschooled children are generally enrolled under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) or Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).

A teacher explained: “NIOS has different level resources called the Open Basic Education (OBE), from where materials are used and exams given. IGCSE is an international curriculum which prepares children for the International Baccalaureate (IB).”

Different approaches

Despite reservations from the formal teaching sector, the close-knit community of parents who opt for homeschooling claim their numbers have steadily increased over the years — though there is no official figure on how many children are homeschooled in the city or the country.

Unlike school, where there is a set format, each parent has a different approach to homeschooling — some strictly dividing the child’s day into different classes, and others opting for a more flexible approach.

Negi, for instance, follows the Montessori system like Gospel. Since the system relies heavily on teaching material and project-work, a separate room in their Kaushambi home has been turned into a classroom of sorts, where Aarav and her spend their ‘work’ time.

“Aarav’s day is divided into two ‘work cycles’ — one from morning to afternoon, and a short one in the evening. He then goes for basketball and piano practice,” said Negi.  This approach involves a lot of material for practice — counting beats, alphabet cutouts, cues and keys. She also teaches him basic skills such as cleaning the house, cooking, taking measurements and washing small clothes.

Kaur’s method is quite different. “As of now, we are trying to unschool more than school. We try to engage in activities that Daani shows an interest in. We did not sit down and study the English alphabet; I started with sounds. Eventually, Daani started showing interest in reading and asked me about letters. I got a chocolate mould with letters and we started with the letter D since her name starts with it. Then we moved on to other letters based on what she wanted to learn. She’s now learnt the alphabet,” said Kaur.

“We are working to build life skills rather than just academic skills. I try to get Daani to help with house work so she develops a sense of responsibility. I am keen that all three children grow up with basic survival skills such as growing food, stitching clothes and connecting with nature.”

However, she added that she will ask her daughter every year if she wants to switch to a regular school. There’s also the question of how much one can spend. “I save money on school fee but this system is quite expensive too. To some, it might seem like an elitist decision. But it’s also very labour intensive,” Negi said.

Kaur had a different take: “It depends on what your priorities are. If you want to buy expensive dresses for your child each month and want to eat out very often, it will be difficult for you to manage on an average salary. For anyone who earns about Rs 50,000 per month, it is doable.”

On criticism of the homeschooling system, Negi said: “This is a misconception. In a conventional school, children are taught in a controlled environment with restricted interactions. They talk only to their peers or teachers, but that’s not how life is. You will meet people of all ages and backgrounds in your life, and should know how to interact with them. Aarav goes for basketball practice and has several friends.”

Kaur, too, said that “homeschooling makes you more responsible and independent”. Both said it helps that there is a growing network of homeschoolers who meet regularly, including at annual get-togethers.

The good and bad

Homeschooling numbers in India may be small, but it has still ruffled some feathers. In 2010, the issue reached the Delhi High Court after 12-year-old Shreya Sahai filed a writ petition demanding that homeschooling be
included under the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

While the division bench dismissed the petition, it gave parents who homeschooled their children an option to submit a memorandum to the HRD minister within 13 weeks, requesting him to include homeschooling under the RTE. The government filed an affidavit, stating that homeschooling does not come in the way of RTE. However, this was challenged by an education activist, Ashok Aggarwal, following which the government withdrew the affidavit in 2012.

According to Aggarwal, the system creates a duality in the education system that RTE aims to bridge: “This is not permitted by law; it is important for every child to go to a regular school. The law only allows children who are more than 85 per cent disabled to opt for this.”

Following these arguments, the case was dismissed. With the government yet to clarify its stand on homeschooling, questions remain about its legality under the RTE. In some Western countries, the push for homeschooling has been stronger. The Home School Legal Defense Association — an international network of parents — was formed in 1983 to help with low-cost defence for parents who homeschool children, should the need arise. It has an India page as well.

Qdrat Sumichandresh, 17, who has never been to school, today works as an independent filmmaker, animation artist and photographer, and has his own YouTube channel. Home-schooled since the beginning, he once went to a school to see what it was like. “I was interested in art, painting, animation, origami and video. In school, you get stuck in a race that can kill creativity. I am not saying that everyone should be homeschooled, but there should be a choice. School was just not for me,” he said.

That said, he admitted to having felt left out. “I did think about going to school as I felt I did not have many friends. It is a side-effect of the choice. Even neighbours I am friends with go to school. Very few of my friends are homeschooled, so one can feel desolate at times. But I think other children would face other problems. It is just a matter of keeping yourself motivated,” he said.

Shining examples

# Angad Daryani invented the Braille e-reader and the cheapest 3D printer. He was homeschooled in grades IX and X

# Malvika Joshi was homeschooled since the beginning, and was accepted for a degree programme in science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016

# Sahal Kaushik cracked the IIT-JEE exam in 2010, getting rank 33 in the country and first in Delhi. He was homeschooled by his mother

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