At school, at home

At school, at home

Homeschooling Fundas

At school, at home

Nozzer and Sonnal Pardiwala’s son came back from school one day, a little confused. The child had written the word ‘tortoise’, which the teacher corrected to ‘tortise’. Yes, go ahead. Read that again. The child was right.

The teacher wasn’t. Assuming it was a minor misunderstanding, the parents mentioned this to the teacher who, to their surprise, stood her ground! “I kept telling the teacher that my son had spelt it correctly while she insisted, with proof, that it was wrong. She showed us the textbook as evidence,” says Sonnal, now a proud mother of two homeschooled children.

So many questions

“You are homeschooling them?” “Are you out of your mind?” “It’s the school fees, isn’t it? They are unaffordable, right?” “What learning difficulties does she have?” “You want to turn her into an introvert or what?” “So, he just lazes about at home?” “You will make them appear the board exam privately?” Well, homeschooling parents are used to these questions. And probably more. A path less taken always has its difficulties. Nozzer says insensitive questions and reactions are the biggest challenge of homeschooling parents.

“Homeschoolers have to think and rethink their decision not just because it is one that’s going to directly and indirectly impact their children’s future, but also because there are always people who look at it sceptically and are ready to tear you apart,” he laments. “But the question I ask myself perennially is why would I want to send my children into a system where corporal punishment is not frowned upon, rote learning is a must and any attempt at breaking out of the rut is seen as ‘indiscipline’?”

While the ‘tortoise’ incident may have put the proverbial nail in the coffin, the Pardiwalas had been thinking of an alternative to regular schooling since a long time. The couple runs a coaching institute for school children of all boards. In effect they know exactly what different curricula lack. “Scratch under the surface and every board is the same, some fancier than the others,” confesses Nozzer, author of the book Lovedale: Married to Life, which is about homeschooling. Their children, both from different schools, were toppers before they were pulled out of the system.

“My wife was initially worried if we were doing injustice to them and their career. My older son Shahen is appearing for his board exams currently at the age of 14. The rest of his classmates are still completing their class IX. My younger son, Shahaan, 9, is creative and learning much more than what was being taught in school. Last year, he completed his Maths book meant for the entire year, in just four months,” he adds.

Customised choices

Learning with their parents certainly lets children blossom, says Jane Joseph, who is not just mom to two boys — Jairus, 7, and Amaziah, 4, but also their teacher. While the older son has not attended school beyond kindergarten, the younger one has always been homeschooled. “For Jarius, attending school was quite monotonous. Since he was an inquisitive child, he already knew all the things that the preschool had planned and were adhering to strictly,” explains Jane.
Jane had seen her brother struggle with ‘studies’ in spite of being a highly creative person; it made her think twice about regular schooling. “Also, I was a brilliant student by set standards, but my husband Saju Joseph, though creative, was always labelled as a low-IQ student!” So, when homeschooling opened up as an option, Saju and Jane were thrilled to know that there are not one or two, but hundreds of parents off the beaten track.

So, what’s a typical day like at their household? Well, schooling though a discipline in the family, is not limited to the 9-1 schedule. “Yes, I do set the lessons for the quarter and review what we’ve completed, but I don’t fret if we’ve missed anything or if my students are not interested in studying Maths, for example, on a certain day.” Jane sits dedicatedly with her sons from 9-1 in the mornings to go through their studies — currently English, Maths, Science and Geography. This includes craft, games and texts. Afternoons are reserved for projects and presentations, which the children create on their own on the laptop. Evenings are for playtime.

Saju keeps a full-time job that allows him to chip in creatively on weekends. “We need a set schedule so both you and the children know what to expect. My older one is like me. He can work to a schedule. But my younger son keeps moving away and I know he will stay back with hands-on learning. That’s the difference I can make as I know them completely. How can I expect a teacher handling at best 25-30 kids to give them this sort of attention?”

Money matters

While Saju and Jane follow the international curriculum for their sons, it is by no means an inexpensive choice. Teaching English could mean investing anywhere between Rs 21,000 to Rs 24,000, while a subject like Maths could go up to Rs 27,000 annually. If those numbers gave you a start, hang in there.
Dr Mathew S Peedikayil, who has helped several parents in their journey towards homeschooling, has three children aged 17, 13 and 10 — all of whom are homeschooled. His eldest daughter is now pursuing her standard XII through International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) board. “My wife Vinita and I followed a mixed curriculum for our children. We realised we can do double the studying in half the time with our focus and love. My take on the expenses is that when you near your final board exams, you need to take books for the last 18 or 24 months of study effectively,” he says. There are also homeschooler groups of parents who are ready to share study material to make it affordable for those who may not be able to handle the cost.

Currently, homeschoolers can appear for the standard X exams through the State Board, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and the IGCSE board. Nozzer’s son is appearing for his board exams via the Maharashtra SSC Board. “I think he is the first among homeschoolers to appear through the SSC board. Most homeschoolers prefer the IGCSE or the NIOS because it offers an option to the state language. But we had no problem appearing for Marathi. It is cost-effective and suited to subsequent study. If you can afford to send your child abroad or continue higher education also through the IGCSE, then it is preferred. NIOS is by far the most vast, but it offers more variety of subjects,” explains Nozzer, adding, “Also, even if you appear for SSC privately, no where on the certificate does it make your ‘private candidature’ evident.”

As for the continual testing of your children on concepts, there are several international standard tests available, says Dr Mathew. His son has appeared for the Macmillan International Assessment and the Cambridge International Assessment at the age of 13.

Highs & lows

Jane Joseph says that homeschooling is the best thing she and her husband have decided on. “It’s such a pleasure to watch the children learn the right concepts in the right environment. I often have people asking if my sons are well-adjusted and once they see my sons, the question disappears! Of course, there are days when I wake up thinking it’s all going to collapse — the days when I am mentally exhausted, but when I weigh it against the fact that my children can voice their opinion, decide how they want a lesson to proceed, I realise it’s all worth it!”

“Teaching them to learn is the biggest task ahead of homeschoolers. Not spoon-feeding. Only parents can teach children the importance of time and values. The best thing is that you have a free hand in exposing them, to different cultures, different philosophies and different challenges and let them figure out their thoughts. I love it that homeschooling gives us the liberty to travel at any given time,” says the practising doctor, who has deliberately curtailed his consulting hours to ensure that he shares the task of homeschooling their children with his wife.

For this life-altering decision to work, it is important that both parents agree on the concept. Some people may say that one of the parents should be able to devote time to the children’s education, but that’s not how it works. Both parents need to share the responsibility.

“Also, you don’t need bulk hours to spend with your child. The task is not that difficult as is perceived,” avers Dr Mathew. Adds Nozzer, “Also, the pros of this decision are amazing. My older son is now thinking about his career as a media person, he has his own YouTube channel — he is as independent as a right-thinking individual should be. What more could we ask for?”

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