Why this Mumbai couple chose homeschooling over mainstream schools

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As India’s mainstream schooling and education system gets more and more plagued by the problems with curriculum, infrastructure, sky-high fees, and shortage of good teachers, a little known concept is slowly making its way to popularity. Homeschooling, which was practically unknown in the 1990s and early 2000s, is slowly but surely gathering steam among urban families.

Related:
India @ 72: Ditch regular schools, embrace homeschooling?

In an article in The Independent, Chris Weller writes: “The biggest stereotype surrounding homeschooling is that constant one-on-one teaching deprives kids of the socialisation they need to thrive. Not so. Homeschooled kids are just as likely to play soccer and do group projects as any other students. It’s not just that homeschooled kids enjoy the upside of normal school, though; they also get to enjoy the absence of its many drawbacks — namely peer pressure and cliques.”

Rising trend

In India, there have not been any studies that give us an idea on how many families have taken up homeschooling, but experts believe it is a rising trend.

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 homeschooled children in India go on to do in their lives, studies conducted on homeschooled 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.

Mumbai-based couple Kevin and Sonali Michael homeschooled their two children for several years. Their son is now enrolled in a city college, and their daughter has gone back to mainstream school life at standard 8.

So, how do families find out about homeschooling? “We were aware of this concept through family friends who were homeschooling their three children (both parents are doctors). The year I decided to quit my job for giving my time to the kids, homeschooling was just fitting to do then. I put down my papers down in January and we took them off school at the end of the term in April. At the time my son completed 4th standard and my daughter finished senior KG,” says Sonali.

What is the problem with India’s schooling system?

According to Sonali, although the structure of mainstream schooling is good, the method and content needs a complete overhaul. Here are some key points she mentions:

  • Discipline is good
  • Pressure is not required
  • Each child should have targets of their own and not generalised
  • Bonding/trust factor is important to achieve this
  • Projects and activities should be done in class and not at home
  • ‘Home time’ should be a time of rest and not a ‘carry-forward’ of tasks from school
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Challenges

However, the most challenging part of homeschooling is to maintain structure and discipline of time. “Personally I struggled with the planning,” says Sonali, “but that’s just me. Many are good with time management and could handle it beautifully.”

In a homeschooling concept, the options are endless and so are the means to achieve an objective. So in order to focus on each child’s area of development, streamlining the course is imperative, and that is one of the struggles she faced initially as well.

But thankfully, that’s about all the negative there is to homeschooling. When asked what homeschooling has that a regular school does not, Sonali says, “Homeschooling has time for everything – in order to develop skills which are not offered in school and can eventually become their profession.”

She also mentions that there is time to build strong foundation of concepts than memorising — academically as well as in a social and even in a spiritual setting.

Of course, in a school setting, a child will have peers and friends of the same age group. It is important for a child to be able to connect to a peer, but it is also important for children to be able to connect to kids of other age groups, and homeschooling trains kids for that too.

However, Sonali does admit that in a schooling system, some responsibilities given to children for the whole class, could be advantageous for the child. For example, being a class prefect — which is impossible in a homeschooling setting.

Early days

With no experience or formal training in the concepts and methodology of homeschooling, the most important task for Sonali and Kevin Michael was to chalk out a daily plan for their kids.

“Our early days of homeschooling was more to focus on their physical fitness, which was very challenging during school days,” says Sonali, “although unstructured, we had only 2-3 hours of study and rest involved activities including household chores, learning instruments as well as cooking/baking.”

Sonali even invited friends who were subject experts to chip in their time to take up lessons like Math/Science and English grammar. Also, being Christian by faith, she could add extra subjects such as Christian History to the curriculum. Kevin took up music, cooking and sporting activities with the kids.

What about exams?

“Exam was not the concept we followed. We opted for regular tests and practical applications of lessons learned,” says Sonali. Early on during homeschooling days, Sonali reveals that she never used a regular Q&A format for tests.

However, as the kids grew older and the couple decided to send them for regular higher education, she started the Q&A format to better help her kids integrate to the set pattern of schools.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Why pick homeschooling?

According to Sonali and Kevin, homeschooling is very advantageous if you are able to structure it well.

Here are some tips she gives to all parents who are contemplating on homeschooling for their kids:

  • Get your support system in place.
  • Meet with other homeschooling parents regularly so that kids can connect and share their learning experiences.
  • Spend quality time with the kids
  • Get the kids involved in housework

“In time, you will be able to achieve a correct balance, as each child is different. Homeschooled kids learn to socialise better and participate in conversations than just limit to their own age group kids,” says Sonali.

Some useful links to Indian homeschooling support groups: