India @ 72: Ditch regular schools, embrace homeschooling?

The education system in India has been the topic of many a hot debate on television news channels, but little has been done for any positive change.

According to an article written by educationist Lina Ashar, founder of Kangaroo Kids, the Indian education market is expected to almost double to $180 billion by 2020, buoyed by the rapid expansion of the digital learning market and the world’s largest population in the age bracket of 6 to 17 years inspite of this section being plagued by poor infrastructure and shortage of trained teachers.

Increase in number of expensive private schools

But it’s not only poor infrastructure and shortage of trained teachers that is plunging the education system in India into chaos: in today’s India, there is a huge increase in exclusive private schools — with sky-high annual fees. No doubt the use of technology and teaching methods may be top of the line, the fully air-conditioned schools may be luxurious, but one has to ask, is it necessary for a child to be exposed to all that at such a young age?

More information, less knowledge

Educationist Sonam Wangchuk, who is known to be the inspiration behind the film ‘3 Idiots’, told DNA, “Good quality education should not just be restricted to the rich in private schools, but should be available in public schools too. Paper knowledge, paper evaluations, paper degrees all too papery and all too theoretical; it has very little that prepares us for real life in the real world.”

Sounds a lot like Phunsuk Wangdu in ‘3 Idiots’; the problem we face is aptly explained by Empower India Alliance (EIA) — India has approximately 250 million children going to about 1 million schools. Just under one-quarter of the students in grade 5 could solve a two-digit subtraction, such as 46-17, in India. This is the problem of an outdated syllabus, a culture of memorising than understanding.

Sad state of teachers and government spend in education sector

In a study done in the state of Karnataka by the department of public instruction (DPI), it was revealed that 229 teachers working in 261 lower primary public schools all reported zero student admissions throughout the state.

According to a CNBCTV18 report, a study by the Centre for Budget & Governance Accountability (CBGA) reveals a shortage of more than five lakh teachers in government elementary schools. Furthermore, we as a country are spending less on education in comparison to other countries. According to World Bank’s data, the Indian government spent $142 per student in 2013. Our developing neighbour Indonesia spent $432 per student that year. South Africa spent $1,290, Brazil $2417 and Thailand $1437 in the same year.

Bullying, fringe elements, rapes & murders

Now add to that the horror of increasing rapes and murders of children in schools by the staff and even by the peers – remember the Ryan School Gurugram murder? Even the rate of suicides among children, especially after examinations, is an alarming reality in India.

And what about bullying? Not only is bullying among peers rampant in our schools (no, it is not a western concept), it is slowly becoming a cause for political mud-slinging.

Schools being bullied by fringe elements has brought about a bad taste in the mouth. In 2017 December, according to a news report by IANS, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad affiliated activist group warned Christian schools in Aligarh of dire consequences if they celebrated Christmas. The Hindu Jagran Manch, in a letter to all city schools, has said that if the festival is celebrated by them they would be doing it “at their own risk”. All this, to avoid ‘conversions’.

Why homeschooling could be the answer

A key point made by Lina Ashar, in her article written for Qrius (formerly, The Indian Economist), that all “traditional methods of teaching will no longer work”, and education professionals must “(shift) their focus towards personalising education for each child”.

According to a recent report by the Indian Express, while there are no clear data on students being taught at home, experts in the field believe that around 15,000 families in the country have chosen to homeschool their kids.

Sudha Acharya, Principal, ITL Public School, New Delhi, in an interview with Elets News Network (ENN), says, “The teacher stands as a lifelong learner; as a facilitator who guides the student and filters information. The ever compelling addicts to all kind of information play havoc to young mind. It is precisely at this crucial juncture that the facilitators guide through a series of age appropriate informal for intellectual growth.”

Could this ‘facilitator’ be a parent or guardian (instead of a teacher), as they teach their children within the safe and nurturing environment of their own homes?

Take the example of Malvika Raj Joshi, a 17-year-old from Mumbai who was accepted into the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The teen had dropped out of school in standard VII, so that she could be homeschooled by her parents. However, the computer science enthusiast continued to participate in science competitions, especially the International Olympiad of Informatics, and even won two silver and one bronze medal. MIT noticed it and offered her a computer science program.

Let’s look at some ways homeschooling could be the answer to our education woes in 2018.

According to Chris Weller, of Business Insider, some of the most compelling reasons to opt for homeschooling include:

Personalised learning and learning by choice

As parents customise teaching for their kids, it is quite easy for them – after a point – to realize what comes naturally to their child, how much they can absorb in a day, what are the subjects they are more interested in and even what are the out-of-syllabus subjects they can learn. For example, a child with aptitude for psychology can begin classes as early as in the 4th standard.

Homeschoolers network

One of the biggest reasons parents don’t opt for homeschooling is that they think that their kids will isolated from the real world of peers and pressure. But that is not true either. A reasonable (and healthy) workload helps a child thrive. And a homeschoolers support network of parents and children are encouraged to meet up and discuss best practices and methods.

Here are some Facebook support groups:

Say no to bullying, regimented lifestyle

According to a The Telegraph, Kolkata edition, report, Parents cite stress, competition and a regimental lifestyle for taking their kids out of school. A facilitator who also teaches schoolgoing children said the parents of homeschooled kids were more open to experimentation. “A schoolgoing child is always bound by a routine. The focus is on exams. I found homeschooled kids more confident and eager to learn.”

Weller, in his article, also says that “homeschoolers don’t deal with all the downsides of being around kids in a toxic school environment. Plenty of critics argue these downsides are actually good for toughening kids up, but kids who are bullied more often face symptoms of depression and anxiety, do worse in class, and show up to school less frequently.”

In conclusion, in his blog post, Enabling a Right to Education of Choice: Homeschooling in India, Vineet Bhalla writes, while there has been no study conducted on how home-schooled children in India go on to do in their lives, studies conducted on home-schooled children abroad have yielded that such children perform substantially better than their conventionally educated counterparts in areas of development such as verbal fluency, independence and like skills. You can read the entire post here.

Kevin and Sonali Michael have homeschooled their two children for several years. Their son is now enrolled in a Mumbai-city college, and their daughter has gone back to mainstream school life at standard ninth. Here is a one-on-one with them about their experience with homeschooling.

As a parent, the onus now lies on you.