RP Devgan: Homeschooling - a possibility

A few weeks ago before the lockdown, in one of my articles, I had mentioned the possibility of Home Schooling in India. The idea was met with a fair amount of scepticism. Now with three months of Lockdown and hours and hours of online classes, I wonder if the thinking has changed, even if ever so little.

My first experience of meeting a ‘home-schooled’ child in India in the late nineties was a pleasant one. A young couple, family friends, had decided to bring up their daughter at the Tiger Resort they were running in a Wildlife Sanctuary. The girl grew up in the forest, had a menagerie of her own and birds and animals for company. She lived a free, happy life, unaware of the travails of a city school. My wife and I met her when she was about nine years old. The parents needed some advice for she was going to write the entrance exam for a renowned residential school. She turned out to be a charming girl full of incidents and great knowledge of flora and fauna. She had never been to school and carried no baggage whatsoever of competition and expectations. We were extremely pleased to meet a most unusual family. Needless to say, she qualified for the entrance examination and joined the school. Presently, after her graduation
she is getting married and moving to Australia.

My second experience of ‘home-schooled’ children, three of them, was when I went to visit my wife’s cousin about 10 years go, in a village beyond Santiniketan. His NGO runs a school for the Santhals and other tribal groups of that area. Married to a British girl they have two sons and a daughter. The children aged between 7-10 years attended the same village school, dressed the same way and went to school barefooted. I spent a week with them, visited the school every day, played cricket and football with all the children and even crossed a river to pluck local fruit. The three children would return home at 4 pm and had access to the internet. They were then homeschooled by their parents on various subjects.

All three wrote the IGCSE  privately and are now in England. The oldest one has graduated from the University of Warwick in Discrete Maths and Economics, the daughter is to join London School of Economics this September and the youngest sibling will finish his ‘A’ levels next year. This is a great example of ‘Home Schooling’ carried out in a village in West Bengal.

As Principal of an International School in Bali, I would admit a few children every year; children who had never been to school till the age of 11 years. The most interesting of them was a 12-year-old girl whose class for three years, had been her father’s yacht. She had sailed with her parents around the oceans and seas, stopping at any island they fancied. The yacht had been her classroom and the oceans and seas her playground. She had the most fascinating tales to tell about her adventures at sea, her meeting with all kinds of people and sampling different kinds of cuisines. At the age of 12, she was a very confident young lady and I would often make her address the school.

Back to the present and the Lockdown continues. I have been observing that almost every school has been conducting online classes. Over the past three months, I have heard educators and numerous experts giving their views on the future of education, almost creating paranoia among parents and students.

Young, educated parents with two children think of the cost of fifteen years of schooling which is staggering and to add to this, there is no guarantee of the quality of education provided. Would it then be wise to ‘home-school' our children? With knowledge and information available on the Internet through Google and other portals, it seems a possibility. If a couple can balance their act in between their professional lives, it can be done.

Online schooling during the Lockdown has benefited some children. Children who are introverts, under the pressure of peers, bullies and teachers, have found online teaching a boon. These children are at peace and have found the joy of learning. Children who are always short of sleep are relaxed. There is no rush in the mornings and breakfast is enjoyed. Sensible parents have chalked out a timetable where the child has enough time to study and indulge in things that interest him. Some have gradually made fitness a way of life by exercising regularly. It has given children time to pause and think.

Of course, there are many limitations but then there are solutions too.

With education becoming expensive and in most cases with no guarantee of quality, ‘Home-schooling’ could be an alternative. Sometimes for no fault of their own, schools cannot provide facilities in sports, art, music, theatre and other activities. It is possible that Homeschooling overcomes these deficits.

Parents have the choice of the number of years the child needs to attend school. After all, we as Homo sapiens are gregarious by nature and it is important to live with our fellow beings and learn about adaptability, relationships, compassion and tolerance.

A time has come for the parents to pause and think about what is best for their children. Just attending school because everyone is doing it may need a rethink. Education is changing and changing fast. With knowledge and information accessible easily, schools will have to change from educators just teaching their subjects to paying more attention to pastoral care, life skills and values.

In my opinion, children who eventually lead a happy and meaningful life will have to be good at adaptability and building relationships. Though no one can tell what to expect in the years to come, I sincerely hope that as a human race we do not lose our sense of values and lead a meaningful life that makes a difference.

- Rajinder Pal Devgan, Chairperson Learning Forward India
With near five decades of experience as an Educationist and having served as a School Leader for schools in India and overseas, Mr Devgan brings in rich experience as an administrator, sports person and champion for teachers.

More parents are now choosing to homeschool instead of sending their children to public or private schools. Learn more about the homeschooling movement and what's involved when parents educate their kids at home.

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