Part 1 of this article discussed my problems with the current education system. Why I don’t like it and why I don’t think it makes sense to put ones children through the ordeal.
In this part, I hope to discuss alternatives in the Indian context. In the third part, I hope to talk about strategies and my own plans on how to implement them for my children.
No one really wants anything bad for their kids. All parents will attest to this. They put their kids in reputed schools, they buy them the best of things and generally try to provide something good for their children. These days where families are smaller and more nuclear, children are being spent on even more than in the old days of joint families. One of the most important things that parents invest in for the sake of their children is their education. They want their children to be equipped with mental and academic skills that will ensure a well paying job and success (for some definition of the term). This is all well and good.
The problem is that unlike maybe half a century ago, sending your kids to a “good school” is neither sufficient nor necessary for these things. I can speak more authoritatively about the IT profession than about others since that’s my own area. Smaller companies have been started up locally, new markets have opened up and the internet and other technological advances have empowered people to do things by themselves. This article does a good job of explaining the job market and makes some predictions as well. On the contrary, like I discussed in the last article, there are downsides which might disadvantage them.
What are the alternatives? Well, the first thing is to accept that there are other ways to educate our children. The methods available and approaches are varied and diverse as the kids themselves and just like it’s impossible to “outsource” parenting, it’s impossible to disconnect ourselves completely from the education of our children. If we take an active interest and role in this, new options open up which I’ll try to discuss below.
A couple of provisos before I start. Firstly, “Mainstream education” is clearly defined. There are classes, grades, syllabi etc. “Alternate education” on the other hand is hard to neatly pigeonhole so this list is not authoritatively categorised. Secondly, some of these are mainstream but I’ve chosen to list them here as alternative simply because they can contain some of the damage of the regular system and because they’re fast becoming alternative approaches. Thirdly, these categories are not mutually exclusive. People can do more than one at a time. The divisions are just for didactic convenience. I’ve tried to list them in increasing of order of “away from mainstream education”. Finally, I don’t want to be misconstrued as blaming other parents who have chosen something different from what I plan for their kids. Like I said earlier, no parent wants something bad for their children.
Being involved with a school
Many parents “outsource” the education of their children to a school. They don’t check what’s happening and have no idea what’s going on there. Children are incredibly adept learners and a conventional school atmosphere is a place where they can pick up a lot of things, not all necessarily healthy. A parent sending her child to a school should be actively involved with the school. She should know the childs teachers and what he’s learning on a day to day basis. School is mostly a machine for disseminating government approved factoids. It is the responsibility of the parent to make sure that the larger framework of education is taken care of.
Children (especially younger ones) learn by imitation and in a large classroom where the teacher is a remote person in one corner of the room, children learn by imitating their peers all of whom might not be very good role models. Other issues like abusive or unqualified teachers who actually harass and hurt children should be dealt with. Harsh punishments for simple “offences” like, for example, eating during class hours shouldn’t be taken sitting down by any serious parent. Parents should stand up for their kids. At their ages, the only person they can truly depend on are their parents and they should feel confident in that. The “teacher” of today is not the “guru” of matha pitha guru devam. They’re paid employees who work for an institution that charges a truck load of money to educate children. Parents should take them to task for things which they find are harmful to the development of their children.
On the more positive side, parents should understand that the syllabus as prescribed is not sacrosanct and if the child shows interest in other subjects, that should be encouraged. They shouldn’t be horrified at the idea of (for example) taking a few days, a month or even a year off school to do something else constructive. Many of the schools rules are arbitrary and while they may be enforced in a draconian way inside the campus, the parent and child should understand that it’s not really an ironclad law and treat it that way.
The child should find an older mentor who shows them the wonders of the world in their parents. This requires a considerable amount of effort but no one said that parenting was easy.
The basic idea here is that the parent should engage with the school and child and work daily to offset the harmful effects of mainstream schooling.
A lot of schools have come up which range from ones that employ a different system of education (e.g. the Montessori method) to ones that are much more radical in what and how they teach (e.g. the Centre for learning in Bangalore).
Like I said earlier, “alternate school” doesn’t capture the myriad of options here. The basic idea is to find a community or a group of like minded students and parents and to travel along with them. Ofttimes parents are worried about external factors like examinations. Being in a group helps to answer such problems. Options like Montessori schools allow parents to liberate their children from some of the harmful effects of conventional schooling but still remain somewhat in the mainstream.
This is not a “one size fits all” solution and it’s best for parents to actually check the schools they’re considering to see whether they align with their philosophies of education before they send their children to them.
A third option which many parents adopt is to “school” their children by themselves at home. Children are taught by the parents and often write standardised exams as private candidates. They then “integrate” back into the mainstream at some later period or simply stay outside it all their lives.
The methodology varies from parent to parent. Some prefer a regular “study time” system where their kids study subjects in a manner similar to a conventional school. Others prefer a more relaxed approach. The basic idea is that the parent takes over the responsibility of educating their child. Some parents prefer to follow an existing syllabus and textbooks. Others prefer to create their own. This is often done by religious people to make sure that their religious teachings are properly taught to their children. Contrary to what Richard Dawkins says in the God delusion, I don’t consider teaching religion to children a form of child abuse but that’s a topic for another day. Sometimes, especially with older children, parents take help from a professional tutor to teach a subject that they’re not familiar with. Most times, a small group of parents collaborate on something like this and teach the children together creating the environment of a small one room school.
This requires an enormous amount of effort and at least one parent who dedicates a fixed amount of his or her time to teach the children. The approach has disadvantages and advantages which I’ll discuss in the third part.
Grading, exams etc. are all upto the discretion of the parent and vary from person to person.
Possibly a more radical approach, unschooling is an “approach” (for want of a better term) which recognises the innate learning ability in a child and lets them learn based on real life experiences. There are no formal “classes” or “study hours” but the parents expose the child to various situations (e.g. household responsibilities, play etc.) which gives them opportunities to learn skills and acquire knowledge in whatever way and at whatever pace they are comfortable with.
Understandably, this scares a lot of parents. What about exams? What about joining college? Will they learn what’s necessary to handle themselves in real life? The people who often go for this are those who don’t particularly care for walking on the trodden path. They often don’t look for accolades like “certificates” and “awards” but try to lead their lives by a personal code.
My own personal preference lies somewhere in between the last two items mentioned above. I have, based on my own background and experiences, a list of subjects that I think the children should learn and learn well. I have others that are desirable but not that important. My plan is to semi structure the important ones on my list and prioritise those and to provide enough space for them to explore. I will elaborate on these ideas and how I plan to implement them in the next part.blog comments powered by Disqus