Beyond textbooks

Alternative education

Beyond textbooks
A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat and D for Dog...’ We’ve recited these lines so incessantly throughout our childhood that A can’t being anything but an apple and B, the ball. But there are other ways to teach a child the English alphabet, ways that don’t include mugging up text. This is where experiential education and differential learning programmes come in.

Instead of dumping large (and at times, outdated) textbooks on the child, these alternative forms of education lay importance on a holistic approach. There are many differential learning programmes and the City has numerous schools that provide such options. A couple of years ago, it might have been a challenge to find such schools, but now some parents are looking forward to these innovative learning methods. Talking to ‘Metrolife’, these parents, students and teachers share their experiences on this different school of thought. While the traditional form of education is still popular and preferred, this alternative route has its own style.

Divya BA, a trained kindergarten teacher who specialises in the Waldorf system of education, explains that the overall growth of the child is more important than just their academic conquests.

“The Waldorf curriculum aims at the overall growth of a child — body, mind and soul — while traditional teaching methods usually place importance on just the mind. These schools do have extra-curricular activities, but alternative teaching methods include these activities in the main curriculum itself.” Some other styles that schools incorporate are Montessori education and combinations of the other mainstream syllabi. As alternative forms have the freedom to improvise, it takes the parents a while to adjust to the system, especially since they haven’t been exposed to it themselves. Tina Datta Nayak and Nishant Nayak took some time to get used to the experiential learning programme that their eight year old daughter Neeti is in. “We were in the US for five years, and during that time we enrolled her in a Montessori programme. She liked the experience and we noticed that it was a more holistic approach. When we shifted back to India, we decided to go for it again,” she says. Initially they put Neeti in a well-known alternative education school but weren’t very happy with it. “She didn’t retain whatever she learnt in the first semester to the third. So we shifted her to an upcoming and lesser known one where she is enjoying herself. The school’s programme is a balanced mix of IB and ICSE syllabus,” she adds.

Neeti isn’t burdened with text books and exams, instead she is encouraged to make her own notes and explore a variety of subjects. Since the teachers have their own method of teaching, they ask parents to refrain from teaching at home. “She is given worksheets to complete at home, that’s about it. It took us a while to learn not to interfere,” says Tina.

There is even a group for alternative education teachers called ‘Educators Collective’, founded by Shalini Menon. It is a platform for them to share skills, and teachers with various backgrounds are part of it. Aside from the traditional subjects, students are exposed subjects like gardening, crafting, management and more. “Experiential learning puts a child in an unfamiliar setting and challenges them and their comfort level. It allows them to find answers on their own and builds leadership skills, life skills and puts them in touch with their creative side. That’s not to say that academics and pedagogy aren’t relevant.”

These added skills the students learn is one of the attractions to alternative education. Explaining the allure, Tina says, “One day Neeti said that she wants to be the world’s youngest author. What was surprising was that she actually went ahead with it, and came up with a mind map of all the characters and their roles. She even had a summary and index in place! Though she lost interest in it after a while, it was exciting to watch her develop such skills. We never had anything like this in our day.”

Looking at it from a student’s point of view, Maitri Vasudev describes her experience with differential learning. “I attended an alternative education school for just a few years but I will never forget that time. Along with the theoretical knowledge we learnt, there was a practical component to it which enhanced the experience.” She explains that they’d go on hikes, learnt to be one with nature, clean up after themselves and more, which has helped her in many ways.  

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