For much of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic sessions, schools across most of India came to the bedroom, living room or dining table for students. Sales of smartphones and laptops increased and words like online lessons, video apps and screen sharing entered the lexicon of the average Indian.
When the pandemic locked down the world’s largest democracy and second-largest population, something was unlocked for a handful of students. Homeschooling.
Although the word speaks for itself – homeschooling – for these children it meant breaking the shackles of formal education and mainstream education.
Take for example Vedhas Gawali, 15. He will be taking his Class X Boards this year with topics like business administration, entrepreneurship, data entry. Certainly not the average subject in class X.
Or Kavya Kasetwar, 8, who learns math concepts like fractions while baking a cake.
Arnav Angadi, 13, math or science may be subjects his peers learn in schools, but he has already chosen his career path – animation – and started training in it.
Their parents said this break from mainstream education was made possible in recent years and that the pandemic-induced lockdown gave birth to a new breed of teachers: the “homeschooler” parents. After being exposed to unconventional learning curves when schools closed, some parents decided to change the story by taking the leap to the other side – becoming teachers to their children.
While not exactly a concept that emerged in 2020, with some estimates putting the number of homeschooled children at a few thousand, it is a community that is slowly growing after the lockdown.
“We (parents) already did a lot for online education, starting with technical support for online classes. And as we did that, we saw Kymaia’s interest waning. This had to happen when you are unable to attend a class full of windows on a screen, where most children are asked to be quiet,” said Kedar Gadgil, a resident of Pune, who, along with Kymaia’s mother, Natasha Singh, said: started homeschooling. their daughter last year.
He said: “If I pay the school a certain amount, the general perception is that for every 15-20 children there will be a teacher and my child will feel involved. But in an online setup, even if you know the answer or have something to share, your opportunity can come after a long hiatus.”
Kymaia, Gadgil said, is now learning topics that interest her — at her own pace. Its curriculum combines languages and social sciences at Grade-II level, while other subjects are at Grade-4 level.
In addition, Kymaia is also exposed to several new options available and meeting new people who can increase her knowledge, Gadgil said.
For Purva Badhe, a teacher at a higher education institution in Mumbai, the online colleges they opened made her realize “educational pedagogy.” “I was able to figure out its limitations and its long-term effects,” she said. “It’s also a very rigid system, because schools have to follow a timetable.”
This scheme, Badhe said, is a hurdle in the way of child-led learning. She cited an example and said: ‘The teacher plays a rhyme, ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes’ to students during the music period, and my son enjoys the song; he wants to listen to it again and dance to it. But the teacher’s lesson plan says he must now switch to organ identification.”
For Bhargav, 5, Badhe said they are developing ways to introduce different topics to him to gauge his interests and channel his energy accordingly. Since he is still very young, the family has not yet decided on a curriculum.
For these children, their contact with the formal education system is now the time they take the Board exams through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).
Homeschooling started earlier this year for Mumbai boy Arnav Angadi. “We free Arnav from formal education. He has already realized his passion, which has no place in a traditional list of subjects,” said his father, Mahesh Angadi, a librarian. “After retiring from school, he started his professional animation training.”
Inspired by the concept of homeschooling after reading about it, Mahesh expressed the idea at home. “Nobody showed any interest,” he said. But that was until the pandemic hit, when “they learned that education is possible outside of a school environment”.
Mahesh said his youngest son, Aarush, will join Arnav soon if he feels comfortable.
Ketika Kasetwar, an educator, said the lockdown and online learning made a smooth transition from conventional education to homeschooling for her daughter, Kavya. “The pandemic has helped us better connect with the world and learning resources available around the world, simply because we had more time to spare after attending online school,” she said.
“Kavya could easily pursue her interests in wildlife, environmental conservation, gymnastics, salon and video games. She learned from people all over the world – about video game development from a person in the US and wildlife from someone in Australia. All this would not have been possible in a regular school setting,” said Kasetwar, a single parent from Pune.
Pointing out that she didn’t necessarily become Kavya’s teacher, Kasetwar said, “As a home-schooling parent, I’ve definitely had to upgrade myself – learn new things, fit myself to mentor Kavya, not as a teacher but as a tutor. We continue to layer what we learn through different activities, learning at her pace and following her interests.”
She said: “While there is this freedom, we also have a committed schedule to pursue academics. The focus is not only on academic achievement, but also on providing a conducive environment around her with complementary social institutions and people with knowledge that will help her grow.”
Though Kasetwar said she was lucky she wasn’t questioned about the decision to drop her child from mainstream education, it remains a concern for Yogini Nene, whose decision to home-school her son Vedhas is still “guessed twice.” . ”. Pointing out that this “goes against the conventional set-up,” Nene said, “even Vedhas wasn’t on board when we discussed the homeschooling option four or five years ago. But during the pandemic, when online school started, we decided to experiment. I encouraged him to self-study, using textbooks and platforms available on the web, and within a few months he had learned a full year’s syllabus, which gave him time to explore his other interests.”
Once the child saw the benefit, “there was no turning back,” Nene said.
But she still had concerns about her son’s social circle. “As we replaced his social circle, we explored ways to provide him with plenty of companionship as he explores life. As he continued his friendship with classmates, he now also has peers in various hobby classes that he pursues,” says Nene, money coach and crystal therapist.
Worried at first, Vedhas is now happy that his mother has helped him discover a new way of life. “The freedom this has afforded me absolutely makes my friends jealous,” he said. “I know I want to pursue a career in the culinary arts, and it was a waste of time studying math and science to complete formal education.
“This set-up shows that a teacher is not only someone who helps you prepare for a certain exam, but also supports you in building a personality.”
The jury is still out on what the picture will look like in the near future, but for these parents it is worth breaking the rigidity and rhythm, introducing originality and novelty and stimulating the child’s interest to let her or him determine their own preferred course. way to move forward.