The idea of homeschooling - educating school-aged children at home instead of the traditional classroom - may seem both strange and exhilarating. A known concept abroad, this personalised mode of education requires immense dedication and commitment.
While it wasn't well-accepted earlier in India, a few parents from Delhi-NCR are slowly embracing the idea due to the ongoing pandemic. Experts, however, believe that homeschooling should be a well-thought decision and not just a solution to crisis schooling due to COVID.
Supriya Joshi, who started homeschooling her children in 2003, says, "Amid the pandemic, I received hundreds of call from parents who wanted to know about homeschooling. When schools started online classes, people understood the problem at three levels - from the teacher's perspective, they understood there were limited resources; from their perspective, they realised what is being taught to the kids; and from the child’s point of view, they realised the level of engagement."
"While some parents started homeschooling, others realised it was not their cup of tea. I feel it is not a solution to any problem. Swashikshan Open Learners Collective - a non-profit association for homeschooling - has been guiding people on this journey. They even help parents who think online learning is not adequate," she adds.
The Collective comprises mentors - people who have completed their homeschooling journeys and are now helping others. Several parents who started homeschooling years ago, are now - through support groups - helping others in their journey. One such parent is Gurugram-based Smriti Pateria, who loves guiding people via WhatsApp.
Courage to leap
A decade ago, when Pateria's daughter Dori (14) went to nursery school, she realised that this was not the kind of education she wanted for her daughter. She had twins after Dori, and decided to homeschool her three children.
"I didn’t know anything about it so I discussed it with my guru. He guided me, suggesting a few books by educators Gijubhai Badheka and John Holt. After reading these books, I started researching. I found several blogs on which parents have written about their homeschooling journey. Things started falling into place. I also found homeschooling websites and groups and met people to know how they did it," adds Pateria.
Every homeschooling journey is different. Parents feel that there are no cons of unschooling but the journey is definitely challenging. Pateria also learnt the nuances by talking and meeting others like her. "Sometimes, I would get strong reactions from the kids, and I started changing my way. Gradually, my kids have started realising their interests," she mentions.
Though she was unsure whether her journey would be successful, Pateria sailed through. Of course, the difficulties do not end here, but she is sure she will figure her way out.
After a few months of sending her son Rivaan to pre-school, Gurugram-based Shruti Bhatt didn't like the approach taken by the traditional school. She quit her job and started a home-based business for a while. In 2018, she started homeschooling her son.
"For the past few years, I have been fully devoted to my son. I believed that the process includes child-led learning. So, I follow his interests and indulge him in activities," adds Bhatt, whose son writes comics.
A new experience
During the pandemic, homeschooling happened as a gradual process for a few parents. Other, decided to choose it over everything else despite the hurdles they faced. Lactation consultant and doula Aparna Vashisht Agarwal, mother to Avni (3.5) and Avir (19 months), never intended to send her children to school.
But she faced a lot of family and societal pressure when she took the decision to homeschool her daughter. "My parents were sceptical that kids won’t develop fully this way and won’t be socially active. So, I had to fight it out with the families," adds Agarwal, who has been homeschooling her daughter for a year now.
Agarwal feels that if children are good at something, they will take it up professionally. "They don’t need formal education to do that. But people are not very open to the idea of unschooling in Delhi, and it is tough to make them understand that there is nothing wrong with it," the Rohini resident adds.
Tapasya Kumar's children Sanaa (10) and Viaan (7) were going to school until the pandemic happened. After much toing and froing, Kumar and her husband decided to homeschool their children. "Online school wasn’t working for us. So, in April 2020, we started homeschooling them. They have taken the transition well as we travel a lot and learn on-the-go. We spend mornings playing sports, and start studying by noon," she shares.
Unschooling was the first choice for Noida-based Namrata Badola and her husband for their son Viraaj (6). Badola shares, "He turned out to be this really shy three-year-old, and that was the only reason we decided to send him to school. We wanted to make him socially interactive and confident," she shares.
Come 2020 and 'social interaction' made way for 'social distancing'. This meant that the only reason they opted to send him to school wasn’t valid anymore. "Our homeschooling urge was back with a bang. In May 2020, we officially became homeschooling parents. I plan to homeschool him up to a level I can handle. The progress has been remarkable over the last 18 months. I have also realised that homeschooled children are not socially awkward," adds Badola.
A Herculean task
Homeschooling parents, however, feel that attempting this unconventional method requires patience and persistence. In cases where both the parents are working, homeschooling may not be a feasible option. Case in point: Rajdeep Kaur.
Kaur's son was in Class 8 when the pandemic struck. On feeling unsatisfied with online classes, she decided to follow the footsteps of her neighbour Pateria. "Initially, we enjoyed it as there were no rules. But while homeschooling, I felt that one parent has to be fully devoted. I am a working mother. Though I was working from home, I wasn't able to give him [her son] proper attention. Gradually, he started missing his friends. I also feel school allows for a more disciplined life. So, after homeschooling him for six months, I enrolled him in school. But that was another cumbersome journey as schools in India don’t accept homeschooled kids," concludes Kaur.
Do your homework
A website to know more about homeschooling: swashikshan.org
You can also check these Facebook pages:
- Homeschooling India
- India Group for Homeschoolers & Alternative Education