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NO KIDDING we don't go to SCHOOL
[August 12, 2009]

NO KIDDING we don't go to SCHOOL

(Mail Today (India) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Their class work is great fun and what's more their mothers are at home to tutor them. Meet these homeschooled children UNLIKE OTHER children of her age, seven- year- old Anandita's ' classwork' is a morning stroll in the park outside her South Delhi home, bird watching, yoga and sports in the evening.

Her ' classroom' shifts from the study to the bedroom, the kitchen table, living room, or the veranda. What's better -- her tutors are mom and dad! Yes, Anandita belongs to a school without monotonous hours of study, back- breaking school bags, examinations and pressure of homework.

Welcome to the world of homeschoolers. Flaws in the education system are pushing scores of parents to try new and unconventional avenues to bring up a happy child, free from the rat race of school admissions and cut- throat competition. These parents have turned home tutors for the sake of their children and given a thumbs- down to conventional classroom- teaching. They believe that parents know best what's good for their children.

Anandita's father, Satya Narayanan, chairman of Career Launcher, an education service provider, wears a T- shirt which reads: " We believe in every child, they believe in themselves." The quote speaks a lot about the place children occupy in his life.

Being in the field of education, it did not take much to push Narayanan and wife Uma Ramachandran to look for pleasant ways to educate their child.

" Before taking the decision, we sat with her and discussed it -- she was quite okay with the idea," says Uma. Now, a few months into the new system, Anandita doesn't miss much of her earlier school Shikshanathar, run by Career Launcher, except for the didi s there, whom she often meets.

If homeschooling is an attempt by the Narayanans to provide their child a happy life, for Delhibased IITian Arun Elassery and Kanti Ratna, it's because they wanted their three children to improve their lives based on a holistic approach.

" We're not rebelling against the education system.

Our lives are too stressed and homeschooling is an effort to make it better," says Elassery.

We have reasons to believe him. Rejecting TV, cycling to work and moving to Bangalore next month to grow his own food, Arun and Kanti are exploring the various avenues to an alternative living. Not ones to believe in structured living, they have moved house so many times ( Kolkata, Bangalore, Trissur, Delhi and now to Bangalore) that change has been their only constant. The Elassery household is always abuzz with activity as their three children practice music, painting and photography. Of the three, 13- year- old Aditi and nine- year- old Srikant are the only ones who have been to school. " When our friends ask us why we don't go to school, I just smile. Actually, most of them envy us for not having the pressure of homework," says Srikant as he prepares for his tabla classes.

" We think we can do a better job than schools, and now four years into it our belief has only got stronger. We didn't want our children to be put in the factory system that education is today," says Kanti, a software engineer who has given up her career to be with her children.

NO SOCIAL SKILLS? DOEShomeschooling impact a child's social skills? It's a query that all parents face. "Do they look antisocial?" Arun counters, pointing to Aditi and Srikant, who are busy sketching and colouring. "It's just the opposite. When they are given space to grow, they are unfazed. Though seven-year-old Dinkar has never been to school, he manages the bullies in his friends' group quite smartly," remarks Kanti.

Ask Dola and Rajat Banerjee if homeschooling their eight-yearold daughter Gaurika and threeand- a-half-year-old son Rudro has made them shy or reserved, and Banerjee, communication officer with an MNC, replies quite to the contrary. "Homeschooled children have better inter-personal skills. Their interactions are not restricted to a particular age group. Gaurika plays football with older boys, she doesn't have any mental barriers. How do we know who a child interacts with in school?" asks Rajat.

Bangalore-based Deepa Damdlekar has a poser for antihome- schoolers. "If a child is constantly being talked down to by her teacher, would she able to interact with her peer group? She would have no confidence in herself to interact with her friends." It's the disillusionment with the system that drove Deepa to opt for homeschooling for her 11-year-old daughter Pallavi. Now, four months later, Deepa says her daughter is a changed person. "My daughter and I suffered a lot. Her power to assimilate knowledge is different and she used to face flak from teachers for under- performance," says Deepa.

Being a single, working mother, Deepa was at wits end when she took the plunge. Now Pallavi teaches swimming to children in her apartment, and even helps in the kitchen. She also takes that extra effort to improve her English.

Deepa also gets support from other homeschooling parents in Bangalore, numbering nearly 25.

" We often meet during weekends and share our ideas. This is great as it helps us to do a course correction or experiment even more," says Deepa.

STRONG BASICS THERE are many ways of homeschooling.

The basic idea of homeschooling is about not creating a replica of school at home. Uma feels it's the biggest challenge she faces. " In a day, we devote 40 minutes to curriculum and it's left to Anandita to decide what she wants to learn. On some days, there is a schedule, and on some days, there is none," says Uma. If mathematics is learnt by counting the number of vehicles sitting in the veranda, history is taught by going to the National Museum or historic places in Delhi. When it comes to curriculum, Uma follows NCERT books. Kanti also seconds this teaching method. She doesn't have a fixed schedule and follows the CBSE syllabus.

" I pick up NCERT books, which are more interesting. Lessons are taught through stories and kids love them. Why does one have to remember dates which are irrelevant to our lives?" says Kanti. But then their children don't learn their lessons from text books alone.

" Srikant got a special gift last birthday -- a three- day journey from Kuttipuram to Bangalore, changing three trains, and a Railway map. Such is his love for trains that his geography lessons are learnt through it," says Kanti. Whatever catches the fancy of the children, becomes a lesson.

For Bangalore- based Chetana Keni, the best thing about homeschooling is that " children learn to learn themselves". Chetana says that being a creative person, her nine- year- old son Aniket's methods of learning are different. When they felt that school could not complement his skills, Chetana and her husband Anoop Keni decided to pull him out. " He was going into a shell and losing confidence. But within six months of homeschooling, he could read and write. I don't have to sit with him any more for studies. He also has a workshop with a vast collection of tools," says Keni, who left her IT job to be with Aniket.

PROFESSIONAL INTERESTS WHAT IF homeschooled kids want to become a doctor, an engineer, take up a professional course or sit for a competitive examination? How is the integration with the mainstream made possible? Punebased Samson family has the answer. " That's not a big deal. It just takes a few years to pick up the syllabus," says Urmila Samson, who likes to call her family as ' unschoolers'. Samson's three children, Sahya ( 16), Rayn ( 12), and Niom ( 9), are no more bound by curriculum.

Samson says textbooks cut children off from reality. Though Sahya hasn't appeared for her board exams, she already has a few poems and short stories published in her name. Interestingly, their names come from the musical notes Sa, Re and Ni. Samson says schooling only limits the learning process and unschooling makes it a continuous process. From tidying the cupboard to putting money in the bank, everything is a learning process. Her husband John Samson, who was a dental surgeon, also left his work two years back to explore his creative side. Urmila, who was a teacher with Mirambika, Delhi, and with a few other schools in Pune, gave up the job to be with her kids.

However, there aren't many who are as radical as the Samsons.

Most of the parents who are into homeschooling are open to the idea of children sitting for examinations through the National Institute of Open Schooling ( NIOS). " If Aditi wants to sit for the class X or XII exams, she can do so through NIOS. She is also interested in photography and has posted her works on her blog. It's up to her to choose," says Kanti.

Rajat has a different take: " We all go through the same rigmarole of life, school, college, job. Why can't we allow our children to explore their inherent strength." STUDY THIS! HYDERABAD- based Alice and Rajesh Lele, vice president, HSBC, it's the disappointment with the system coupled with the desire to go according to the Bible that helped them make their choice. " The school system teaches us to compete. We don't want our children to grow up like that," says Lele, who gave up her job as a tutor for her kids. The Leles don't believe in the evolution theory and think that schools have failed to inculcate faith in children.

They are quite systematic when it comes to study and follow a combination of ICSE and CBSE syllabi. Their elder daughter, 13- year old Abiva, will be sitting for the 10th Board examinations.

PARENTAL TRAP? Homeschooling is not everyone's cup of tea, cautions Urmila. " It's an individual choice and one should be inclined to do it," says Samson. As for Arun and Kanti, it's a 24x7x365 job. But won't constant interaction with parents be too much for kids? " Not at all -- we are very interesting parents with an interesting friends' circle.

Besides, I don't think they want to go back to school," laughs Arun.

Keni who runs a school for special children from home says that though she is available all the time, Aniket is responsible for himself. But for a single, working mother, isn't the pressure too much? " There was more pressure on me earlier. I feel happy I'm contributing to my child's development," says Deepa. And Keni sums it up: " The best thing about home schooling is that I found the real Aniket. He taught me more than anything and both of us are just loving it!" (c) 2009 India Today Group. All Rights Reserved. Provided by an company

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