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‘School is an artificial social environment’

Three families, three reasons, the same conclusion. Home schooling is their preferred choice. HT in conversation.

mumbai Updated: Jun 19, 2011 01:10 IST
Hindustan Times

Seven years ago, when Vinita and Mathew Peedikayil attended a seminar on successful parenting, they did not expect it to alter their life.

But less than a year later, they had pulled their daughter, Grace, who was studying in senior KG, out of school and began homeschooling her. They continue to do it for her and their two younger children at their Borivili residence.

“The American speaker had homeschooled his six children and spoke of disciplining and discipling (disciple-ing) children,” says Vinita, 37, who trained to be a doctor but became a stay-at-home mom. “The concept was similar to that of gurukul, but he spoke of how parents should take on the role of teachers.”

The Peedikayils wanted to nurture each of their children’s unique talents, encourage them to build close relationships with family and society and also gain a religious perspective to their education, all of which they felt schools would not allow.

Having taken the decision, Vinita completed a teachers’ training course and also got in touch with homeschooling groups in the US. She teaches her three children most subjects, and has hired a tutor for Hindi.

Grace, 12, now follows a combination of the CBSE and ICSE Class 7 syllabus, but also enjoys writing poems and drawing cartoon strips. “I write scripts and want to become a director,” she says.

“Had she been in a regular school, teachers would not have approved of her day-dreaming or doodling. But she is very creative and I am glad she can develop this skill at home,” Vinita says.

Her three children study from 10.30 am till lunch time and again for an hour in the afternoon.

Grace has begun helping her mother teach her younger siblings. Her parents have also begun thinking of what to do for her Class 10 exams — whether to making her appear through the National Institute of Open School or the UK-based IGCE.

Her parents are also contemplating tying up with a local school so that she can do science practicals. They are in touch with different groups of home-schooling parents.

They regularly meet two other homeschooling families to exchange notes and for common study sessions.

Social interaction is often a challenge for homeschoolers who meet fewer people than the average school going child. “I don’t think school is an ideal social environment. It is artificial,” argues Mathew. “Our family and society is full of people of different ages and through good communication we prepare them to interact with people of all ages.”

Adds Vinita: “Why put children of the same age in one box and make them get along? I take my children to a sports club, outings and family functions. Grace has participated in church activities such as choir, skit. They also play with more than 40 children in the residential complex.”

The children too are happy with this system, although they admit that while Grace and five-year-old Nancy are self-motivated, Mark needs some pushing.

Prachi Pinglay reports.

'Every child needs to be taught differently. Schools fail at this’

Veer Kurani, 6, puts aside his jigsaw puzzle and tugs at his mother’s T-Shirt. “Enough with the games,” he says. “Let’s try math.”

His mother Poonam, 34, arranges 10 toys in a row and hands Veer 20 crayons. “Let’s try dividing these crayons equally amongst all toys,” she says.

Veer takes several minutes to solve the problem: his favourite toy gets crayons that match its colour, the smallest toy gets the smallest in the set. Eventually, he gets it right. This math class stretches for hours without a textbook in sight.

While most of his friends are at school struggling with addition and division, Veer is at home practising math “when he is in the mood.”

However, it has only been a year since he has had this liberty. Veer dropped out of school last year after completing Class 1.

“Veer was more inclined towards art and craft, but the school gave him little opportunity to explore his interests,” said Poonam. “I realised I had a problem on hand.”

These days, he studies a subject of his choice from 11 am to 1 pm with his mother. The rest of the day he is free to explore things he likes.

While she faced some opposition from her husband, Poonam firmly believed that the city’s school systems were very limited.

“I refused to formalise things so early,” she explained. “I didn’t want him to be examined and labelled. I also wanted him to learn things when he was ready for them.”

For instance, earlier this month, Veer stared wide-eyed at the first monsoon showers and ran back to Poonam. “Where does rain come from?” he asked in spite of having learnt the water cycle at school last year. Poonam reintroduced the concept. But Veer’questions wouldn’t stop. "Why is it so clean? Are there pipes and filters in the sky?”

These days, he learns about germination and photosynthesis by planting seeds and growing saplings. Shapes and sizes are topics he grasps while doing craft. His room is plastered from floor to ceiling with maps and his art.

Veer also doesn’t face the one handicap that many homeschooled children face – the absence of a peer group.

Poonam, who is also on the advisory board of Rustomjee Cambridge International School, Dahisar, has managed to get Veer the status of an ‘external student’. As an external student, Veer attends art, craft and dance lessons and actively participates in the school’s annual sports and cultural functions. He is not afraid to argue with his friends and teachers, and is comfortable with the rhythm and structure of school. Poonam also regularly meets teachers from every grade to make sure Veer does not fall behind.

“Every child needs to be taught differently,” she says. “Today’s school-system is failing at this. I wanted to give Veer the best of everything.”

Radhika Raj writes.

‘The idea of homeschooling stems from our lifestyle’

When she was eight, Anicca Chhabra, now 19, took two weeks to study the solar system, which included constructing a spaceship out of cardboard cylinders from her father’s factory, dressing up like an astronaut, reading several books and eventually writing about the entire experience.

She picked up her first words from Amul hoardings, remembered the colours in the rainbow by inventing her own rhymes and spent most of her time in gardens reading Roald Dahl or on her family farm, located on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway, gardening, plucking fruits and being close to nature.

All this was possible because she, along with her brother Aditya, 16, was homeschooled.

“When it was time to decide what to do about their education, we looked around and realised the schooling system had deteriorated since our childhood,” said Sangeeta, Anicca’s mother, 41, a textile designer.

At first, they found several like-minded parents, and a group of about 30 parents formed a homeschooling group, taking turns to teach their children everything from arithmetic to gardening and painting.

But over the years, the couples started putting their children into schools, mostly because of pressure from their extended families, leaving Sangeeta and her husband Hemant, 43, an organic farmer who also designs eco-friendly bags. “But I remained convinced that I wanted to continue homeschooling my children, even though we too faced pressure from our families,” said Sangeeta, who then took on the task full-time.

Anicca learnt most subjects at home while also attending speech & drama and ballet classes, which she continued for five years.

Most of the time, her parents’ farm would turn into an open classroom. “Every conversation, outing, and activity was educational,” says Sangeeta.

To provide their children the company of others their age, Sangeeta and Hemant also began conducting workshops on their farm for children.

But even with such intense parental involvement and conviction, Anicca began feeling the pull of the mainstream. At seven, she joined a mainstream school in Marol, moving two years later to an alternative school Tridha, where her younger brother Aditya was already enrolled.

In Class 7, Anicca began to get restless in school, and turned once again to homeschooling. “The only things I enjoyed in school were my friends,” says Anicca. She gave her SSC exams through the National Institute of Open School, scoring 57%.

“I have always told my kids that marks don’t really matter,” says Sangeeta, who is looking forward to homeschooling her third child, one-and-a-half year old Aanaya. “It’s more important to find your passion and pursue it.”

Anicca, for her part, is now pursuing her BA from Sophia College, Cumbala Hill, and wants to become a professional photographer.

Phorum Pandya writes.

First Published: Jun 19, 2011 01:06 IST