Home-schooling became the topic of discussion after 17-year-old Malvika Joshi from Mumbai earned a place in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with formal education only till Class 7.
The idea is catching on with many parents, who think schools have nothing extra to offer gifted children. But the alternative method of learning may not suit everyone, especially in a country where the education system is exam-oriented and students without formal school certificates find it hard to get admissions into colleges, said panellists and academics, at the Hindustan Times Top Schools Conclave, 2016, on Wednesday.
Held at The Lalit, Andheri, the event marked the culmination of the eighth edition of the HT Top Schools Survey, 2016 — an annual initiative that recognises the best schools in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai.
Manoj Nair, associate editor, Hindustan Times opened the discussion with the question: does home-schooling work only for budding geniuses or can it be adopted by anyone seeking to study at their own pace?
Panelists were divided about the learning style benefitting all students.
Reeta Sonawat, professor and head of the department human resource development, SNDT Women's University, feels it can work for anyone. “It offers child-centered learning and preserving the uniqueness of the child, often lost in a crowded school classroom.”
But Dr Sagar Mundada, psychiatrist and president of Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), had a different view.
“Schooling is an individual decision to be taken depending on the specific child. It needs motivated parents who can devote large amounts of time to their children. Most parents today barely spend 20 to 50 minutes with them,” he said.
He added that often, high-achieving parents may pressure children to pursue home-schooling. “Such parents set high goals for their children and home-school them to meet their own expectations,” Mundada said.
Malvika’s mother, Supriya Joshi, part of the Indian Homeschoolers Network, countered this view with her her family’s experience with homeschooling.
“We believed in freedom and passion for learning. We never looked at success as degrees or academic achievements,” Joshi said.
“Learning is a natural thing that happens everywhere. We just need to support the children in their pursuits.”
The degree-obsessed system of education in India, Joshi said, is important for students to appear for board exams in Class 10. But several boards such as Maharashtra State Board and National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) allow students to appear for the exams privately, she said.
Nair highlighted the concerns of principals that homeschooling deprives children of social skills as it takes place in isolation, when compared to schools.
Sonawat argued socialisation is limited even in schools. “Interactions between students are restricted to the recess. Teachers don’t allow them to speak among themselves in class. Even the seating arrangement — rows of students facing the teacher — doesn’t promote socialisation,” Sonawat said.
Later in the discussion, principals joined in.
“A school isn’t restricted to negative experiences. It ensures holistic growth of the children by teaching compassion, sharing and leadership,” said Indu Mathur, principal, Apeejay School, Kharghar.
Madhura Phadke, Pawar Public School, Chandivli, asked if there is a system to show homeschoolers if they are on the right track. Sonawat replied such parents often don’t need validation from others, and Mundada pointed out there are online communities and discussion forums for homeschoolers.
Urging Mumbai schools to aid homeschoolers by sharing resources, Joshi said, “Chennai’s Mathematical Institute allowed Malvika to use their library and attend some classes. Similarly, St Xaviers’ College permits my other daughter to audit geology classes and go on field trips even though she is not their student.”
Things are changing, Mundada said, pointing out to many schools going for smaller classrooms of 20-25 kids so they get attention.
“The schooling culture works for the majority. Rather than homeschooling, if we reduce the number of students in class, counsellors can identify strengths and weaknesses of every child and they can be taught accordingly,” said Mundada.