Let's hear it for home-schooling

Verdict

Let's hear it for home-schooling

 Deepa Dumblekar wants daughter Pallavi to  enjoy learning new skillsWhat do people in China who badly, badly want a second child do? They go right ahead and have one, despite the single-child norm in the state. For them, a second child is well worth a few years in jail.

And what  are parents home-schooling their children to do when the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill comes into force and makes opting out of the formal school system illegal?

Pay the penalty, if any, says Milagres Pereira who runs an informal learning institute in Goa and home-schools his four children. “It's better to do that, than give up,” he says, citing the China example.

 “I'll look for other options if that is so. But definitely not formal schools,” says Aditi Mathur Shah who, along with her husband Ratnesh, home-schools her children in Bangalore.

And Deepa Dumblekar minces no words when she says, “It's the parents who need to decide what's good for their child, not some third party in the government or someone else.”

Already, rights groups have made their displeasure known over the fact that the bill ignores the needs of disabled children some of whom study at home because they really have no choice. But what does the bill say about home-schooling normal children? While Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal was unavailable for comment, State Primary and Secondary Education Minister Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri said that he could comment only after studying the bill. “We got the bill only a few days back and are examining it.”

Meanwhile, we get a few parents who swear by home-schooling  to  tell us why they decided to opt out of the formal schooling system.
 
Every child is unique

The common grouse is that schools lump all children together — the slow learner as well as the prodigy, pushing some and slowing down others. One reason, according to Milagres, is the teacher/student ratio. Most mainstream schools provide a 1:60-70 teacher/student ratio but at home, it’s 1:2/3 on  an  average. And no one can understand a child better than the parent, he says.

Deepa can attest to that — her aversion to formal schooling grew out of her personal experience. Her daughter, Pallavi, who started being educated at home since June, just couldn't fit  into  the formal school mode. She hated rote learning, had delightfully different perspectives and thought out of the box. But all of that seemed misplaced in a regular school where reactions normally range from patronising to downright rude (‘Can’t read and write and you want to DANCE???’).

“In formal schools, they only talk about about age and standard. They don't give them the freedom to be individuals,” says Deepa.

At first, Deepa tried to make Pallavi fit  into  the  mould, taking the side of the teacher, a complete outsider. But then she saw the futility of it and tried to change the system.
“I went to the school and told the teacher that I wasn’t insisting on percentage. I told them to teach her like the others but not to insist on grades. But they wouldn’t listen to my point of view. As a result, she would end up being compared and labelled.”

Exam, not life-oriented

It’s the insistence on marks and grades that gets Aditi’s goat as well. There’s also the competition and the rat race but what are children left with at the end of it all?
“Formal schools,” she says, “only produce factory-made children and finally the child is left nowhere. Formal schools prepare you for exams, not for life, they work for their own prestige, not for the child.”

The turning point for Aditi was when she saw her daughter, Asawari, underlining the answers in her text book and mugging them up while preparing for a test. There was no understanding whatsoever.

Milagres agrees that home-schooling hones your intellect far better than any school can. After all, most scientists are self-motivated!

“In my opinion, home-schooled children I’ve seen are far more capable of life in terms of studies, socialising, more joyful, upfront and fine-tuned. Most of my friends abroad were home-schooled for the first 11 years and are intellectuals,” says Milagres who has developed a curriculum over the last 14 years for informal learning. It involves the use of encyclopaedias and hands-on experiences to teach children.

Creative learning such as this prepares you for real-life exposure and that’s what a child needs to learn, says Aditi.

Not only does Aditi home-school her children but has extended it to other like-minded parents for children between 5 and 12 years. There are shared resources, no exams and they call in experts for specialised subjects. Home-schooling also frees up children for other activities. “In school, after reading and writing five times and studying two times, they have no energy left for anything,” says Deepa, who is happy that her child has time to play after lessons instead of trotting off for tuitions like most children do (incidentally, Deepa wants to know, if the school system is so good, why do children need extra coaching?).

Even the argument that school has beneficial social implications holds no water with home-schooling parents.

Deepa has a ready answer: “How comfortable will a child be in class if she is constantly compared and labelled dull only because her strengths lie somewhere else? The child ends up feeling ashamed and self-conscious even though she may be the most creative in class. What socialising are we talking about? So long as she is happy inside the house and her confidence is intact, socialising is possible.”

And for Mialgres, school is all about monotonous socialising. Nothing meaningful there.  “At school, children see a lot of people. But in practice, they interact with only about five of six people. And since in most schools, children are shuffled from one section to another every five or six years, they end up with not more than six friends,” he says.

The future

Though many parents would like to home-school their children, not many do because the future of a child who’s not armed with degrees seems scary.

But parents who home-school don’t seem unduly worried. Aditi says home-schooled children do opt to go to college but that is because “they WANT to go to college, not because WE want them to”. Her daughter Asawari, around 10 years, has already decided what she wants to do and is already working on it. “We are merely facilitating it,” says Aditi.

And when it comes to jobs, Milagres says his students earn at par with those educated in public schools.

Besides, as Aditi says, not all people in the job market look at certificates. “It’s what a person can deliver that's important.”

Web resources

* www.youcanhome-
   school.org.
* alt-learn-blr@google
   groups.com (a Bangalore
   home-schooling group)
* www.geniekids.com

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