This is a dump of all my thoughts and resources I’ve been able to gather about homeschooling/unschooling children in India. I’ll try to make this structured but no promises. Also, much of this is opinion based on my worldview e.g. I’m a religiously orthodox Muslim and this was considerably affected my views on the whole matter. I welcome comments on points where I’m factually incorrect and also on opinions which others disagree with. None of this is meant to be judgemental but I do have strong negative feelings about the attitudes some parents have towards their kids and the current system of education which our children are put through and so it’s possible that it will be misconstrued as finger pointing.
This is going to be a multi part article. This is the first part and talks about my own educational background and what prompted me to think about this whole business.
I first put my daughter (who is now 3.5 years old) into a small school in Bangalore a stones throw away from where I stay when she was 2. This was for two to three hours a day mostly to play with kids of the same age. Given the fact that we live in Bangalore, it’s hard to get kids to play with unlike in a village. As far as I can tell, this helped her overcome her aversion to strangers and excessive attachment to her parents. I had seen parents running around like chickens trying to get application forms from “top schools” and didn’t want to join the race. I actually bought application forms for a school near where I stay (Presidency, Kasturi Nagar) and then decided to drop it and let my daughter continue going to her current school when she was 3 (which is when kids “graduate” from play school to nursery). This is the situation right now and at the end of this academic year, I have to “enroll” my daughter into kindergarten somewhere.
A little background about my own inclinations might be relevant here. I was brought up in Oman. I studied at Indian School, Muscat from kingerdarten to ninth grade after which I had to come back to India. I finished off my school at Ansar English School, Perumpilavu and then did my engineering at NIT, Calicut. The first school where I studied was quite good. There was just one school for Indians in the country and so it was well funded and could offer good facilities to students. The second school was my first brush with the disaster than education is in India. My college was decent since it was extremely relaxed with rules and I had the freedom and resources to explore whatever I wanted.
My parents were never too hung up on us being the topper in class or getting high grades or getting into the best colleges. They were never strict with homework and attendance either. I fondly remember a couple of episodes when my father stood up for me against some of my “teachers” when they went overboard with their insistence on completing homework etc. They were also non insistent on a particular career path for me. Academic inflation wasn’t was bad as it was then as it is now and a professional degree was a reasonable guarantee that you’d get a well paying job. This was something I got from them but there was no “my son has to be an engineer” attitude which is all to prevalent these days. Another thing was that my parents used to spend a lot of time with me and my work. I remember studying about the internal combustion engine the first time and my father promptly got an old unused generator from his workplace along with a cool spanner set and we took it apart to study and see the innards. Much more 3D than a textbook. There was also an undercurrent in the house which was anti “marks for marks sake”. All of these things are part of my world view and the subject of this post.
There were downsides too. All my hindi teachers from the fourth to the ninth grade were from the northern parts of India. They all had a certain contempt towards the south Indians, none of them could speak english coherently (which was supposed to be the medium of instruction) and I have, on multiple occasions, been on the receiving end of nasty remarks from them that were pointed at my faith. I had a natural inclination towards science (especially chemistry) and maths and had a very low opinion of the humanities and the need to study them. Something I’ve come to regret and am still trying to remedy.
Views on education
I have a dim view of the quality of education that’s available to our children and in this section, I’ll try to summarise why.
I think I can summarise my views on education saying that over time we’re slowly replacing “education” with “vocational training”.
I define the former as something which is designed to take the rough uncut gem that is a child and polish her into a diamond that the family, society and mankind can be proud of regardless of what she applies herself to. The idea is to teach the child skills which are necessary to interact with the people she’s going to meet in her daily life, to teach her to think clearly and express her ideas well, to teach her to write and most importantly, to teach her to learn. In a world where the pace of changes in increasing rapidly, the ability to assimiliate new concepts quickly is becoming supremely important. An educated child might not be able to work out complex mathematical sums in her head. She might not be many of the things that “smart kids” are these days but she’d have a certain grip on reality that others don’t. She’d have an area of interest that she pursues with a passion that most others don’t.
The latter is “training” on specific skills that are designed to make you employable. This is not a bad thing in itself but it’s not a substitute for education. Training is a quick thing you can get at a course if you need it for a specific purpose. If the education is the ability to write, then training is the pen with which you do it.
This general trend has cost us a lot. Things like public speaking, writing, art, history, poetry don’t really count for much when the aim of a childs life (and the life which most parents want their children to live) is to get into IIT. Schools and the board have responded to this by altering the syllabi to emphasise maths and science much more than the arts and other softer skills producing people who are little more than cogs in the system. The problem with such people is that they have no idea of who they are in the larger society around them. They have no idea how to respond to the scams and opportunities that the world is throwing at them. They’re afraid of anything except the beaten path (which is sadly no longer a guarantee of a financial success). Their self worths are often derived from external criteria like the opinions of people in authority, grades, certificates etc. They’ve been taught that “learning” is over once they’ve left college and now it’s “time” to “work”.
Quality of teachers/teaching
Structured formal education has become a huge business and like many things that have been tainted by the promise of great profits, the original aims are lost. A school near my house charges 93000 INR as annual fees for kindergarten. The silliness of the situation would make me laugh if I didn’t know how parents are eager to pay this kind of money to give their children “good education”.
Schools often advertise their marble lined floors and air conditioned classrooms rather than the quality of their teachers. Many schools have designer uniforms that cost a bomb. I know a kindergartener who wears Adidas shoes as part of his uniform.
The quote “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach” is very true these days. Many English teachers can’t spell properly and teach Shakespeare even though they haven’t read a single one of his works. This is something I know personally and not just hearsay. This is especially a malaise when it comes to teaching humanities. They’re supremely important and it’s not possible to impart love of poetry to a child if one doesn’t have it already. The teacher in question is genuinely incapable of teaching the subject to the child and no one seems to care.
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” said Khalil Gibran to parents. School is a form of outsourcing education as I see it and I think it’s harmful. It’s even more painful in households where both parents work till late in the evening and most of the childrearing is done by a maid. Parents are not a part of the childs development in many of these places and this really damages them. Given how high living costs are, this is a sad reality that many parents have to deal with but the long term costs are, in my opnion, considerable.
I think parents should be deeply involved with their childrens education. It should be a priority in their lives. They should have an active say in everything from how to what and when.
Schools, of course, state in their prospectuses that they believe that parents are a part of the childs educational process. I couldn’t agree more. However, this is actually translated into “our teachers are too lazy to spend time teaching the hard stuff and will send it all home as homework”. Children sit late into the night to get their homework done and don’t have much time for anything else.
I don’t like the classroom. Think about it. There’s a teacher standing far away saying something and you’re in room of 35 to 40 people all of the same age. You hear what’s said, take down some things in a book and switch contexts every hour or so. It’s a criminal offense to talk, eat, go to the toilet or do anything of the sort. There are right answers and wrong answers and nothing in between. I don’t like the idea and I think it does a lot of damage to children.
It’s also very rigid. There are a few subjects which are compulsorily taught. There’s very limited freedom to explore different avenues and even if you have it, you have to do so in one hour intervals.
A state run education system where parents send their children to can be dangerous. Incidents like this where a minister edited the books to paint him and his party in a more positive light have far reaching consequences that our narrow minded politicians cannot see. Another problem is the trend of saffronisation of education. All of these are because of the disconnect between the people who decide what needs to be taught and the people who are educated.
So, I’m more or less convinced that the current educational system is not really an advantage for children. I think responsible parents should understand the tradeoffs that are made when they send their kids to one of these schools and make decisions. In the next part, I’ll ty to outline what I plan to do and the resources which I’m planning to use.blog comments powered by Disqus