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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Teachers’ Day 2022 | How the Covid lockdown unlocked the teacher in some parents and made them ‘homeschoolers’

Having been exposed to unconventional learning curves as schools closed down during the pandemic, many parents have decided to change the narrative by taking the jump to the other side — they pulled their children out of formal schools permanently and became their teachers

Mahesh Angadi with his sons Arnav and Aarush, Ketika with her daughter Kavya Kasetwar (8), who is learning mathematics basics such as fractions while baking a cake. (Express)

For much of 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic sessions, schools came to the bedroom, living room or dining table for students across most of India. Smartphone and laptop sales zoomed, and words such as online classes, video apps and screen-sharing entered the lexicon of the average Indian.

As the pandemic locked down the world’s largest democracy and second-largest population, something got unlocked for a handful of students. Homeschooling.

While the word is self-explanatory — schooling at home — for these children it meant breaking the shackles of formal schooling and the format of mainstream learning.

Take, for instance, Vedhas Gawali, 15. He will take his Class X Boards this year with subjects such as business studies, entrepreneurship, data entry operations. Not the average subject in Class X by any means.

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Or Kavya Kasetwar, 8, who is learning mathematical concepts such as fractions while baking a cake.

Ketika Kasetwar with daughter Kavya

Arnav Angadi, 13, mathematics or science may be subjects his peers in schools are learning, but he has already selected his career path — animation — and started training in it.

Their parents said this breaking away from mainstream schooling was made possible in the last couple of years and the pandemic-induced lockdown gave birth to a new breed of teachers — the ‘homeschooler’ parents. Having been exposed to unconventional learning curves as schools closed down, some parents decided to change the narrative by taking the jump to the other side — they became teachers of their children.

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While it is not exactly a concept that dawned in 2020, and some estimates peg the number of home-schooled children at a few thousand, it is a community that is slowly increasing after the lockdown.

“We (parents) were already doing a lot for online schooling, starting from being tech support for online classes. And while doing so, we saw Kymaia’s interest levels were decreasing. This was bound to happen if you are not able to participate in a class full of windows on a screen, where most children are asked to be mute,” said Pune resident Kedar Gadgil, who, along with Kymaia’s mother, Natasha Singh, began homeschooling their daughter last year.

Kymaia with father Kedar Gadgil and mother Natasha Singh

He said: “If I pay the school a certain amount, a general perception is there will be a teacher for every 15-20 children and my child will feel involved. But in an online set-up, even if you know the answer or have something to share, your chance may come after a long gap.”

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Kymaia, Gadgil said, is now learning topics of her interest —at her own pace. Her curriculum combines languages and social science of Grade-II level, whereas for other subjects from Grade-4 level.

In addition, Kymaia is also being exposed to several new options available, meeting new people who can add to her knowledge, Gadgil said.

For Purva Badhe, a teacher at a higher education institution in Mumbai, online lectures opened made her realise the “teaching pedagogy”. “I could find out the limitations and its long-term effects,” she said. “It is also a very rigid system, as schools have to follow a time-table.”

This schedule, Badhe said, is a hurdle in way of child-led learning. Citing an example, she said, “The teacher plays a rhyme, ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes’ for students during the music period, and my son enjoys the song; he wants to listen to it again and dance on that. But the teacher’s lesson plan says that he needs to switch to identification of organs now.”

For Bhargav, 5, Badhe said they are developing ways to introduce different topics to him to gauge his interests and channel his energy accordingly. Since he is very young, the family has not decided on a curricular framework yet.

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For these children, their touch with the formal education system now is the time they take the Board exams through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).

Homeschooling began earlier this year for Mumbai boy Arnav Angadi. “We are freeing Arnav from formal schooling. He has already realised his passion, which has no room in a traditional subject list,” his father, Mahesh Angadi, a librarian, said. “After withdrawing from school, he has started his professional training in animation.”

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Inspired by the concept of homeschooling after reading about it, Mahesh expressed the idea at home. “No one showed interest,” he said. But that was until the pandemic struck, when “they learnt that education is possible outside of a school setting”.

Mahesh said his younger son, Aarush, may soon join Arnav when he is comfortable.

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Ketika Kasetwar, an educator, said the lockdown and online learning provided a smooth transition from conventional schooling to homeschooling for her daughter, Kavya. “The pandemic helped us connect better with the world and learning resources available across the world, simply because we had more time on our hands after attending online school,” she said.

“Kavya could easily pursue her interests in wildlife, environment conservation, gymnastics, parlour-and-video gaming. She learnt from people across the globe — about video game development from a person based in the US, and wildlife from someone in Australia. All this would not have been possible in a regular school set-up,” said Kasetwar, a single-parent from Pune.

Pointing out that she has not become Kavya’s teacher per se, Kasetwar said, “As a homeschooling parent, I definitely have had to upgrade myself — learn new things, make myself eligible to guide Kavya, not as a teacher but as a facilitator. We keep adding layers to what we are learning with several activities, as we learn at her pace, following her interests.”

She said: “While there is this freedom, we also have a dedicated schedule to pursue academics. The focus is to not just perform academically but to provide a conducive environment around her with complementing social settings and people with knowledge who will help her grow.”

While Kasetwar said she is lucky in that she is not being questioned about the decision to pull her child out of regular schooling, it remains a worry still for Yogini Nene, whose decision to home-school her son Vedhas is still being “second-guessed”. Pointing out that this is “going against the conventional set-up”, Nene said, “Even Vedhas was not on board when we were discussing the homeschooling option four or five years ago. But during the pandemic, when online school began, we decided to experiment. I encouraged him to do self-study, with help from textbooks and platforms available on the Web. Within a few months, he had finished learning an entire year’s syllabus, which gave him time to explore his other interests.”

Once the child realised the advantage, “there was no looking back”, said Nene.

But she still had apprehensions about her son’s social circle. “When we are replacing his social circle, we explored ways to provide him with great companionship in his journey of discovering life. While he continued his friendship with schoolmates, he now also has peers in different hobby classes that he pursues,” said Nene, money coach and crystal therapist.

Apprehensive at first, Vedhas is now glad that his mother helped him discover a new way of life. “The freedom this has offered me is definitely making my friends jealous,” he said. “I know I want to make a career in culinary arts, and studying mathematics and science just to complete formal schooling was a waste of time.

“This set-up shows that a teacher is not just someone who helps you prepare to pass a certain examination but supports you build a personality.”

The jury is still out on how the picture will pan out in times to come, but for these parents breaking the rigidity and the rote, introducing originality and novelty, and stimulating the child’s interest to make her or him chart their own preferred course is the way to go forward.

First published on: 05-09-2022 at 01:27:55 am
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