Beyond the conventional

Alternative schools come as a big relief, away from a system obsessed with exams and unhealthy competition

Acquiring knowledge, pursuing self-discovery, enlightenment... education has been defined in a number of ways. However, none of them mention anything about the stress of examinations and marks, the pressures of studying multiple subjects and rote-learning.

The Indian education system is often accused of being an exercise in the latter and a growing breed of students and parents are seeking alternative options.

Rahul Desai, director, Lumens School, Vapi, says, “The present generation of parents is better placed as they have better exposure to the world. So, they are more keen and open to educating their children in the true sense, without any burden.”

What is alternative education?

There is an array of alternative education models in India today, such as Waldorf schools, Krishnamurti schools, Montessori, quad-seek, homeschooling and unschooling. Although they have different approaches to learning, the common thread among all these forms is that they encourage children to learn through self-discovery instead of imposing defined academic standards.

Corroborates Rayn Samson, an unschooler, who is currently preparing to give his Class XII exams, “My learning has been completely self-directed. I did what I liked and discovered my interests on my own. In the initial years, I spent most of my time playing football and video games and reading Wikipedia and similar websites. Gradually, I was drawn towards the STEM subjects and decided to appear for Board exams through IGCSE. I plan to go overseas to study maths or physics after Class XII.”

Manali Desai, whose daughter attends Class I at an alternative school, says, “My daughter grasps things well, but she doesn’t like to write. At her school, they don’t force her to write or burden her with homework. They try to understand the ways in which a child learns best and tailor their lessons accordingly. For example, if they tell the story of Gandhiji and a child is not able to understand, they make an effort to know what the problem is and then modify the lesson to his/her needs.

It may be that a child would respond better if he/she is shown pictures or a video on the subject.”

Learning vs evaluation

One of the biggest problems of mainstream education in India is over-emphasis on evaluation, which leads to unhealthy performance pressure. This causes many people to search for alternatives.

Rajiv Bhatt, who has been homeschooling his 14-year-old son for a year and a half, says, “In school, my son’s time and energy were being spent on homework and revising for weekly tests and term exams. There was no scope to either absorb knowledge or pursue other interests. Even on holidays, he was busy finishing projects that only required a cut-paste from Google. He was doing well, but wasn’t learning much or living up to his potential. So, I decided to pull him out of school. Since then, he has been revising topics in maths and science on his own and has taken up online courses in the history of rock music and in German. We’ve also been travelling a lot and learning on our travels. Currently, I’m considering options for him to give his Board exams. But there’s no pressure and both of us are happy about the decision.”

Alternative education does not shun the notion of evaluation. However, it does not believe in using examinations as a tool to grade and classify children.

Taking the decision

Despite its virtues, alternative education is a tricky choice in a country obsessed with Board exams and cracking tests to enter top colleges. However, as Samson puts it, “You don’t need 12 years of regular schooling to prepare for one exam that will get you into college. It should be a decision made by students when they’re ready and not one imposed on them because they have reached a certain age. There will always be some pressure around exams, but it will be more tolerable because there is less of a history.”

Although there is a lack of official data, most children pursuing alternative education do appear for their Board exams eventually. They either switch to mainstream schools or appear as independent candidates. Several schools also pursue models that begin with alternative education and switch to mainstream education in higher classes.

Ratnesh from Aarohi Life Education finds that appearing for exams through the National Institute of Open Schooling, one of the three National Boards of Secondary Education, tends to be a better option than regular schools. Many students also opt for international Boards such as IGCSE and IB.

In many instances, the decision involves a rethinking of aspiration among parents. Corroborates Nitya Kamat, who shifted to a village in Maharashtra and decided to homeschool her children, “Chasing career ambitions had left us stressed, with little family time. And then, one of our friends just collapsed and died. It made us rethink our priorities and set us on the route to planning a better destiny for our children. We made enquiries, planned and finally shifted here. For the last few months, we’ve been teaching our children in the wilderness. If we can equip our kids to survive in the wild, we bequeath them the confidence to survive in any jungle (concrete or otherwise).”

The author recently compiled a book outlining careers and courses in the environment field in India.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 3:41:55 AM |

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