Sonia Dogra

In an age and time when schools in the country are abundant and continue to grow in numbers, a relatively old custom is fast becoming popular. Homeschooling, which is also popular as home education is the process of educating children inside the home. It is usually conducted by a parent or tutor. In many developed countries such as the US or UK, homeschooling is a legal alternative to public and private schools.

Before institutionalized education came to the forefront, family members taught children at home. Enlisting professional tutors was something only the wealthy could afford. As time elapsed, the need for formal school education began to surface. As a result homeschooling saw a decline. However, it soon resurfaced with its various advantages.

India has been debating for long over the legality of homeschooling in the country. This has particularly taken shape after the passing of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). This makes it mandatory for every child between the age of 7 to 14 to attend school. However, for long parents have been sending petitions for granting relief. But, for long the status of homeschooling in India has been in a completely unnecessary limbo. While the government had stated that “parents dissatisfied with the education system may choose homeschooling for their children”, but the same had not been put in black or white. It was in 2010 that the then HRD Minister Kapil Sibal reaffirmed and acknowledged homeschooling as an alternative legal option. In fact, today there are some informal organizations like Swashikshan – Indian Association of Homeschoolers who hold conferences and support homeschooling.

India has a large number of Boards of Education. Some of these boards allow private candidates registered with a school to take their exams. The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) is also a popular option for homeschoolers because it is flexible in both admission strategy and choice of subjects. In fact, many children who have been homeschooled in India have later on easily moved to mainstream schooling and have managed admissions in prestigious institutions such as IITs and MIT etc.

Now that we are a little aware of what homeschooling is and that it is a viable and legal option in the country, you may ask  the most relevant question in this regard — Why homeschool at all when there are a plethora of options available and the best schools are at your doorstep, particularly in a town like Shimla that is famous for its Convent education?

Well, let us assure you that the idea behind writing this piece is certainly not to entice you to withdraw your children from their respective schools, but to open your minds to an alternative way of education and help you shed your apprehensions the next time someone tells you that they are homeschooling their children.

Getting to know your child — The foremost advantage of homeschooling is that you get to know your child: the strengths and weaknesses more clearly and particularly when you start expecting independent work. That is because you spend a lot more time with your child.

Tailored learning — When a particular method doesn’t work, you try another and then another until things fall in place. Every child is a different individual and therefore their learning needs differ. You can tailor the learning process according to the requirement of your child.

In depth learning — When a child gets interested in a specific subject you can really focus on that and provide them with plenty of information to explore the area. This approach has to be forsaken in a conventional school where the teacher must keep in mind the needs of all students and deadlines as well!

Children have plenty of time to play and rest — With no pressing home work hours after school, children who are homeschooled have plenty of time to fit in games, rest or hobbies in their schedule.

Everything can be taken at the child’s pace — There is no hurry for a child to understand concepts. And hence, there is no rush. It lowers a lot of mental pressure and eases the child without throwing them in a whirlpool of competition.

Teacher to student ratio — Schools, particularly in India, have a major drawback in the form of teacher to student ratio. No matter how competent a teacher is, they are often found falling prey to bad management of classrooms and hence are unable to give their best. As a result, some students pass out without ever getting noticed or reaching their maximum potential. Homeschooling offers the requisite solution to this problem.

Integrated education — Since education in this case is managed by the same person over a long period of time, it is more consistent. The child’s past experiences and background can be used to design future educational activities.

Tapping the child’s full potential — Homeschooling helps parents to determine the curriculum of their child and they are hence able to tap the child’s full potential by focussing on the strong areas.

Enjoy childhood — Childhood is a fleeting stage and sadly modern day schools and curriculum burden children well and long enough. Homeschooling gives them ample opportunity to enjoy the freedom that comes along with being a child.

Take children on vacation while schools are still on — Yes, you needn’t worry about classes being on. You can schedule your holidays for anytime of the year!

As they say no practice comes without its share of negatives, so does homeschooling. The most common arguments against homeschooling your child include

Lack of social interaction — It is often argued that children who are homeschooled do not develop the requisite social skills due to limited exposure to various types of people. Well, this may be remotely true though not in entirety. Interaction may not necessarily cease unless you house arrest your child! They always have their playgroups and hobby class friends. But, it could be a serious deterrent if not taken care of because team activities largely reduce.

Time and finances — Homeschooling can absorb a substantial amount of a parent’s time and one parent must remain totally committed. They need to work out the syllabus, get together various books, plan a routine for their child and literally be on their toes all the while! It also means you don’t go out to earn for yourself and can jeopardise your family income.

Too much togetherness — You are with your child 24×7 and will have little respite. Hence, you will need to device a strategy for yourself.

But, as I see it, these areas can be worked upon and a concrete plan can be worked out to overcome these obstacles. In the present scenario, many parents are adopting homeschooling for classes XI and XII. It may prove beneficial if the plan is properly executed. It is also seen as a good alternative source of education for children with special needs who need not be exposed to the grilling curriculum of regular schools.

At the same time, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, before taking such an important course of life for your child, a deep understanding of the child and your own behaviour is a must. Because not all rules may necessarily fit in every situation.

At the same time, it may be mentioned that homeschooling can pose serious challenges such as appearing for exams. NIOS or IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) are the only encouraging options. However, there are several schools in the country with the minimum attendance option. But, for that you need to do your homework well and work out your deal. Plus, that isn’t necessarily homeschooling.

As a final note, let us add that the government certainly needs to open up about homeschooling. So do parents! If they can afford it, they have a chance to become their child’s facilitators as every ideal teacher must!

 

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