The path that Srividya Murali took when she decided to home-school her two boys may have raised eyebrows, but she found that it best suited her children’s needs. “I let them learn what they want to and choose the pace as well,” she says. Her sons, Raghav, 9, and Krishna, 4, learn from home, that too only what interests them, without the pressures of performance and evaluation. “I follow a system called “unschooling,” whereby I pick up cues on what my children show inclination towards and provide tools to develop those skills,” Ms. Murali says.
While this may be frowned upon, many parents in Chennai are choosing the home-schooling experience for their children. Support groups are mushrooming in the city, with parents seeking out other home-schoolers. Swashikshan — Indian Association of Homeschoolers, a volunteer-based, countrywide network formed two years ago, helps connect home-schoolers. “We receive so many queries about home-schooling, with more parents in the city becoming aware of that alternative to mainstream education,” Priya Desikan, the contact person for the group in Chennai, says.
So, is home-schooling an option that has “real-life” significance? Urmila Samson, a prominent “un-schooling” parent based in Pune, says it does. Her 22-year-old daughter is pursuing a four-year course in Eurythmy in London now, and despite never attending school, nor appearing for examinations, she was accepted into the programme based on an essay she submitted. “It was a couple of years later that we even knew the university required A-levels,” she says.
Ms. Samson says there has been a surge in home-schooling in the country the past five years. “Schools don’t allow children to grow up in freedom. Their creativity, risk-taking ability and excitement is often suppressed,” she says adding that parents have several reasons to explore home-schooling. “Some may want to because they may fear that schools are not religiously motivated. Or the parents may be working in remote areas or they are academics who wish to educate their own kids,” Ms. Samson says.
But if both parents are working, home-schooling as a philosophy of education becomes impractical. Both A.P. Baburaj, an Associate Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and his wife, Gayathri Nair, wanted to home-school their daughter. They, however, chose a centre offering the Montessori method of learning. “We are both academics who value education, but we want an environment where she develops a curiosity for learning, rather than conforming to teachers’ expectations,” says Ms. Nair.
Clive Elwell, who home-schooled his children and taught briefly at the Centre for Learning (CFL) near Magadi outside Bangalore, put together www.alternativeeducationindia.net back in 2003 when it was felt that parents did not have access to alternative schools, “although they were desperately looking for an education that did not destroy their children.” The parents’ forum on the site has since seen progressively enthusiastic participation.
However, a point that often comes up in the debate is whether a child who is home-schooled develops social skills. Chennai-based Montessorian Vidya Shankar believes that pro-social skills develop when children are around peers. “Though home-based education is good, teamwork and cooperation to do things together happens when they’re around other children,” she says.
While there are questions on the legality of home-schooling, due to ambiguity in the scope of the Right to Education Act, home-schooling parents soldier on, unwilling to compromise on the individuality that they say is curbed at “institutionalised, highly regimented” traditional schools.