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Home truths

As most city kids went back to school last week, a tiny group of homeschoolers followed their curiosity and interests. Phorum Pandya and Radhika Raj write.

mumbai Updated: Jun 19, 2011 01:05 IST

Last week, while most city children wriggled into their uniforms and made their way to school after the summer vacation, Veer Kurani, 6, remained at home, tending two dozen plants.

It is a project that he and his mother have been working on over the past few months in their Borivli flat to understand how seeds germinate.

In another Borivli flat, three siblings in the Peedikayil family — Grace, 12; Mark, 8; Nancy, 5 — were reminiscing about their trip to Austria in April, a month in which most others their age were writing their final exams.

The children in these two families enjoy such liberties because they are being homeschooled: a form of education in which parents teach their children at home or hire tutors to do so.

They are now a tiny, almost invisible, minority in the city, but they belong to a much larger group of parents that shares their concerns about the school system, even though the rest haven’t taken the radical step of pulling out of it: its narrow definition of intelligence, its failure to encourage children to ask questions and think for themselves, destructive competition that sets in early, excessive rote learning and more.

“There’s definitely an increase in the number of parents showing an interest in homeschooling,” says Hemangi Rege Ghosh, 42, a teacher trained at the Tridha School in Vile Parle (E) — an alternative school that follows Rudolph Steiner’s Waldorf system of education — who conducts workshops for homeschoolers. “With so many resources now available online, such parents have help at hand.”

For many parents, homeschooling is also not just a negative decision against the system: they also relish the freedom it gives their children.

For instance, while Grace Peedikayil, 12, home-schooled for seven years, uses a Class 7 syllabus that her parents have put together from the CBSE and ICSE boards’ curricula, she also spends hours writing poems and drawing cartoon strips, luxuries most overscheduled children cannot afford.

“Had she been in a regular school, teachers would not have approved of her day-dreaming or doodling,” says her mother Vinita Peedikayil, 37, who studied to be a doctor but is now a stay-at-home-mother.

But homeschooling also entails a huge investment of time and energy from parents. Vinita, for instance, has completed a teacher-training course and also is in touch with homeschooling groups in the US. She teaches her three children most subjects, and has hired a tutor for Hindi.

Homeschoolers also have to think of a way of providing their children social interaction. But once they do, many seem to thrive.

“My children are very happy so far,” says Vinita. “Some of their friends envy them. I sometimes even say I will send them back to school as a mild threat.”

(With inputs from Prachi Pinglay)