Fans of popular sitcoms The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon will remember the young genius' struggle as a nine-year-old with extraordinary intellect and unusual calibre. The child and his family suffer as there is nothing the schools can offer him while his teachers and classmates are tired of dealing with the "over-smart" boy. He is academically overqualified even for high school and is perenially teased and bullied for being intelligent. Poor Mary wants to homeschool her son until he can stand up to the challenges but there is little to nothing the homemaker can teach the boy who prefers physics research papers for bedtime stories.
If you ask Raaji Naveen and Naveen Mahesh, the founders of 'Beyond 8' heutagogical high school in Chennai, they will blame the 200-year-old conventional pedagogical (teacher-centred) educational system for the hardships of the Cooper family. Luckily for Sheldon, he knew he wanted to be a physicist but there are plenty of children who aren't so lucky to identify their passion before it's too late. This is where liberal education and 'Beyond 8' comes in, they say, treating each learner individually with personalised modules instead of expecting them to fit into the curriculum-determined system.
The New Indian Express tried to understand this modern learning model by interacting with Raaji and Naveen. Excerpts from the conversation:
What is heutagogy?
If customers are the king when it comes to a company, then learners should be like monarchs in an education system. Heutagogy is a system in which everyone gets the freedom to decide what they want to study and their say is final in what they are to learn. A heutagogogial learning ecosystem is not teacher-centric or curriculum-oriented but engages each student with personalised lesson plans.
How does Beyond 8 bring this into practice?
The scheme of things is like any academic calendar lasting from June to April. But, there are no typical days at 'Beyond 8'. Every learner is handed their personalised schedule after a three-hour-long session called the 'Dream Mapping', and based on it, a yearly schedule is drawn out.
Each schedule lasts six weeks and then there is a five-day break before the next one begins. These five days are used to determine what has worked and what has not for the child -- which is a core principle of heutagogy. Schedules are implemented in such a way that they are reflective in their learning process.
How do classes happen at Beyond 8?
Two days in the five-day weekly calendar are completely dedicated to online learning so that they can not only cover portions in a personalised manner but also can review classes from the other three days on their own and come back with questions.
Does Beyond 8 curriculum take the same years to complete as regular schools?
There is no fixed calendar or time frame in which learners are expected to complete the Beyond 8 programme. The child's progress with the schedule will decide when he/she can head on their college pathway. Some may take three, some may take four. It depends on the learner's ability and readiness. Hence it is called learner-dependent education.
How is heutagogy different from homeschooling?
In homeschooling, the child's passions are followed separately while open schooling or private tests are used to meet the academic side. Beyond 8's goal is to provide children with experiential learning. While the parents should understand and curate learning in order to homeschool their kids, we bring the best of cognitive understanding and science to develop the best of experiential learning. There are ecosystems in the West to encourage homeschooling but that is not the case in India. Hence, the parents (by themselves) can't give their wards the kind of exposure Beyond 8 can offer.
Why after Class VIII?
From 14 years of age, children can express their thoughts and ideas better. That is why elementary education concludes around this period. Liberal education works the best at this period when children are ready to experience and learn.
And the role of sports & physical education?
Beyond 8 includes everything that makes learning happen for young adults. It is designed to include all aspects and hence video games and online sports are included along with physical games.
If a learner has a passion for cricket, we expose him to the experiences of experts and enlighten him to the career opportunities associated with the sport - if not to become a pro player. This doesn't mean the student will learn only the game. Other subjects are provided in a way it is connected to cricket -- his passion.
Who teaches the children?
There are no teachers but facilitators and mentors in a heutagogical ecosystem. The idea is to pack the room with people who celebrate children as independent human beings. The facilitators are people with compassion and empathy and agree to the fact that the child is the most important person in the room and that everyone learns differently.
There are certain pedagogical qualifications that decide who can teach. But anybody who is knowledgeable about the subject and has a passion for teaching and enabling learning is a valuable asset in heutagogy. At Beyond 8 certificates alone don't decide who gets to teach. People who resonate with the thought process of following passions are ideal candidates to facilitators.
Are there exams?
There will be exams as there will be sessions on physics, chemistry, biology etc. It is the nature of the interaction between learners and the facilitator and how the schedule is designed that differentiate heutagogy from regular schools.
What awaits learners after Beyond 8?
There are private students who enrol in leading colleges and institutions. The best institutes in India and all over the world hold no distinction between students coming from schools and others. For them it is not about where you studied, but what you studied. They understand portfolios are important, not certificates and it is not schooling but the assessment that is important.
At the end of the programme, learners take NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling), Common Core or Cambridge (IGCSE/A Level) board examinations along with common core certificate of marks which makes them qualified to apply for universities.
(Enrolment is now open at Beyond 8. CLICK HERE to visit the website)