For much of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic terms, schools went home for students across most of India. Sales of smartphones and laptops have exploded and terms such as online courses, video apps and screen sharing have entered the lexicon of the average Indian.
As the pandemic has led to a lockdown here, the world’s largest democracy and second largest population, something has been unlocked for a handful of students. Homeschooling.
Although the word is self-explanatory – homeschooling – for these children it meant breaking the shackles of formal education and the mainstream learning format. Take, for example, Vedhas Gawali, 15 years old. He will take his Class X guidance this year with subjects such as business studies, entrepreneurship, data entry operations. Not the usual subjects for Class X, far from it, or 8-year-old Kavya Kasetwar, who is learning math concepts like fractions while baking a cake.
Arnav Angadi, 13, has already chosen his career – animation – and started to train there. Their parents said this break from mainstream school became possible during the pandemic-induced lockdown. Having been exposed to unconventional learning during school closures, some parents decided to change the narrative by crossing over and becoming educators for their children.
While it’s not exactly a new concept and some estimates put the number of home-schooled children at a few thousand, it’s a community that has grown post-lockdown.
“We (parents) were doing a lot for online teaching… in doing so we saw interest levels in Kymaia go down. This was bound to happen if you are not able to join a class full of windows on a screen with most children on mute,” said Kedar Gadgil from Pune, who along with Kymaia’s mother Natasha Singh started homeschooling their daughter last year. “If I pay a certain amount in school the general perception is that there will be one teacher for every 15-20 children and my child will feel involved but in an online setup even if you know the answer your chance may arise after a long interval.
Kymaia, Gadgil said, is now learning subjects that interest her — at her own pace. Its curriculum combines languages and social sciences at 2nd year level, while for other subjects it is at 4th year level.
For Purva Badhe, a teacher at a tertiary institution in Mumbai, online conferencing has made her aware of the “pedagogy of teaching”. “I was able to experience the limitations and its long-term effects,” she said. “It’s also a rigid system because schools have to follow a timetable.”
This schedule, Badhe said, is a barrier to child-directed learning. Citing an example, she said, “The teacher plays a nursery rhyme, ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ for the students during music time, and my son enjoys the song; he wants to listen to it again and dance to it. But the lesson plan says he needs to move on to organ identification now.
For 5-year-old Bhargav, Badhe said they are developing ways to introduce him to different topics to gauge his interests and channel his energy accordingly. The family has not yet decided on a school setting for him.
In most cases, homeschoolers earn formal certifications through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), which offers the freedom to sit board exams with subjects that interest them.
Homeschooling started earlier this year for Arnav Angadi, a boy from Mumbai. “We release him from formal school. He realized his passion, which has no place in a list of traditional subjects,” said his father, Mahesh Angadi. “He started his professional training in animation.”
No one showed any interest in the concept of home schooling when Mahesh discussed it at home. But that was until the pandemic hit, when “they learned that education is possible outside of the school setting.” Mahesh said his youngest son, Aarush, may soon join Arnav once he is comfortable.
Ketika Kasetwar, an educator, said the lockdown and online learning ensured a smooth transition from formal education to homeschooling for her daughter, Kavya. “The pandemic has helped us connect better with the world and the learning resources available globally, simply because we had more free time after attending school online,” she said. “Kavya easily pursued her interests in wildlife, environmental conservation, gymnastics, board games and video games. She learned from people all over the world – about video game development from someone based in the US and wildlife from someone in Australia. All of this would not have been possible in a regular school,” said Kasetwar, a single parent from Pune.
Emphasizing that she didn’t become Kavya’s teacher per se, Kasetwar said, “As a homeschooled parent, I certainly had to hone myself to guide Kavya, not as a teacher but as a facilitator. We continue to add layers to what we learn with multiple activities, as we learn at their pace, following their interests. »
“While there is this freedom, we also have a dedicated schedule to pursue studies. The goal is not just to achieve academic success, but to provide a supportive environment around her with complementary social settings and people with knowledge that will help her grow.
Although Kasetwar said she was lucky not to be asked about the decision to withdraw her child from mainstream school, it remains a concern for Yogini Nene, whose decision to home-school her son Vedas is always “questioned”. ”. Stressing that it “goes against the conventional setup,” Nene said: “Even Vedas wasn’t on board when we were discussing the homeschooling option four or five years ago. But during the pandemic, when online school started, we decided to experiment. I encouraged him to do self-study, with the help of textbooks and platforms available on the web. Within a few months, he was done learning the full-year program, which gave him time to explore his other interests.
Once the child realized the benefit, “there was no turning back,” Nene said.
But she still had apprehensions about her son’s social circle. “As we replace his social circle, we explored ways to provide him with great companionship on his journey of discovery in life. While he continued his friendship with his classmates, he now also has peers in different hobby classes he pursues,” said Nene, a financial coach and crystal therapist.
Apprehensive at first, Vedas is now happy that his mother helped him discover a new way of life. “The freedom it gave me definitely makes my friends jealous,” he said. “I know I want a career in the culinary arts, and studying math and science just to complete my formal education was a waste of time.”
“This setup shows that a teacher is not just someone who helps you prepare to pass a certain exam, but helps you build a personality,” Vedas said.
While the jury is still out on how the picture will pan out in times to come, for these parents, breaking the rigidity of a school curriculum, introducing originality and stimulating the child’s interest to chart their own course is the way to go.