Monday, March 25, 2013

School at home

School at home

A new breed of parents in India is choosing home schooling over a standard curriculum and traditional grading system. Poonam Jain reports.

A growing number of Indian parents , tired of the priorities of traditional academics, clearly do not want to subject their children to the standard curriculum and traditional grading-system , not to mention social aimlessness, acute competition and stress — an intrinsic part of the regular school system.

For them, 'self-directed ,' 'interest-driven' and 'organic learning' are not mere words, but an entire lifestyle. They live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise.

"It is not only urban, educated or wellto-do families that choose home schooling ," Pune-based Urmila Samson, founder of Indian Association of home schoolers, says, adding that the association's recent conference of 'home schooling parents' saw the participation of 180 families from all walks of life.

One of the questions that emerge from discussions on home schooling is whether it is fair on the child when it finally comes to catching up with mainstream education . Samson, who switched to 'unschooling' her children, should know.

After being unschooled for 20 years, her daughter Sahya is currently pursuing Eurythmy in the UK. "Sahya got admission on the basis of an essay and a telephone interview," Samson informs.

Many colleges and universities are becoming increasingly open to accepting students from diverse backgrounds, including home schooled students. In fact, James Montoya, former dean of admission at Stanford University, says that home schooled children have dedication and energy that the university finds attractive and comparable to conventional high-school activities. He adds that highly selective universities seek students who demonstrate excellence in a rigorous course of study and have a strong record of extracurricular activities, and that is as true for home schooled students as it is for students who have studied in schools. While critics in India dismiss the concept of schooling at home as a Western concept, colleges and universities such as Lady Shri Ram and Jamia Millia Islamia, are open to home schooled children on equal footing as long as they have the 'necessary certifications,' inform Kanika Khandelwal and Simi Malhotra , spokespeople of LSR and Jamia respectively.

Sahal Kaushik, home schooled for 10 years, enrolled into a regular school for class X CBSE. He then sought coaching for IITJEE, and at the age of 14, joined IIT Kanpur for MSc in physics. "Other home schooled children have the option of pursuing NIOS or register as external students for IGCSE to be able to pursue mainstream education at the university level," informs Sahal's mother, Ruchi Kaushik.

Howard Gardner, who created the theory of Multiple Intelligences, emphasises that being home schooled is not a big factor in gaining admission to elite schools. "However, only certain families have the skills, the time, and the means to home school."

However, as Steven DeKrey, president, Asian Institute of Management, points out, while home schooling can be a replacement for inadequate public or private schooling and can enhance academic learning for the child, social development remains a major question.

Parents disagree that this could be a cause for concern. Ruchi Kaushik, for instance , says that her son, though engaged in his field, is a quiet child, while her daughter who is home schooled too, is very social. "It's the personality type and got nothing to do with home schooling. Let's not forget that the unified social groups tend to come hard on the non-conformists ," she adds.

In fact, several parents point out that children who go to school interact with only their peers and a few teachers. On the contrary, home schooled children get an opportunity to interact more — vegetable vendors to bank personals. Their interest in different subjects, Supriya Menon says, allows more opportunities for interaction . Menon's daughter Malvika is pursuing programming and windsurfing, while her other daughter Radha is pursuing photography.

However, most experts agree to say that in a world that evaluates you in terms of your laurels, adopting home schooling is a decision that needs considerable awareness.


Lucky Ali, singer

We decided to home school our children after being inspired by some other families. We found their children to be very mature with the ability to grasp concepts easily. Later, our children expressed a desire to go to school and we heeded. I think a balance of home schooling and regular schooling makes for strong and grounded individuals

Myth busters

The university receives only a small number of applications from home schooled students each year, and considers them equally, and on the same basis, as those applying from regular schools

— Norval Scott Spokesperson, University of Edinburgh

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