In a country where CBSE and ICSE results are widely considered ‘markers of victory’, the Indian education system as it stands must be reevaluated in light of experiences of those who’ve taken a somewhat different approach to learning - being homeschooled. While traditionalist schools seem to emphasize the importance of exams, tests, competition, teamwork and scores, homeschooling systems seem to prioritise extracurriculars, self-discipline, and space to grow and learn in a way that is best suited to each individual child.
Like any system, homeschooling has its pros and cons. While encouraging self-learning, extracurricular activities that may not be offered at schools, flexible times and unique curriculums, there are a few arguments made to counter these advantages. For example, what if the parent/teacher is not able to continue to teach, forcing the child to switch to a different system half way? Or what if it inhibits a person from social interaction with others their own age? What are the prospects of higher education when you’ve been homeschooled in a non standardised manner? No system is perfect, and in an attempt to sneak a peak into this form of learning, we asked our Instagram followers to write in with their own experiences. While this is not representative of ALL experiences, it does give us a slight glimpse into a very niche system of education.
I. Bianca Ballentyne
32-year-old artist and designer, Bianca Ballantyne, lives in a little village in Himachal Pradesh called Bir. Born in Bombay, she spent most of her life in Goa and was homeschooled for a majority of her school years with her three siblings. Bianca attended school for a couple of years, but unhappy with the restrictions the school imposed, the family unanimously agreed to homeschool the four children for a year. The family stuck with it through high school to junior college despite criticism, as it worked out quite well for them. Now, they have established themselves in their chosen careers of being an artist, musician, chef and personal trainer.
Her parents taught her younger siblings, designing their own curriculum, but it did not alter the family dynamic in anyway. “They were still very much mum and dad. We would regularly take extended road trips at every given opportunity,” she reminisces, adding that their schedule was flexible enough to allow them to purse their own interests wholeheartedly without being restrained by the fixed regiment that came with regular schooling; learning was more important than studying.
The only thing Bianca remembers initially missing about school, was seeing her friends regularly from school. Their interaction with tutors for science, math and language, fulfilled the experience of being influenced by teachers. Ultimately, deciding that homeschooling has more advantages than disadvantages, both her and her husband have decided to homeschool their five-year-old daughter too.
II. Jeremy Fernand
Jeremy was homeschooled from classes 1 to 10, and studied his intermediate at St. Andrew’s College in Mumbai. His parents decided to homeschool him 10 years ago, finding that the education system did not offer too many options back then. His mother was his teacher and taught him all subjects till the 7th grade, and enrolled him for Science, Hindi and Math tuitions after. On whether or not this affected his relationship with his mother, Jeremy said that he found it hard initially to interact with her as a mother and as a teacher at different times, but grew towards adjusting to it.
Jeremy dismissed the misconception that kids who are homeschooled never study. “I definitely had more free time than the average kid, but I wasn’t just sitting around watching TV the entire day either,” he said. He studied for around 5-6 hours, spread across the day, but being homeschooled meant that Jeremy’s schedule was extremely flexible, allowing him to devote ample time to both academics and extracurricular activities. He pursued cricket and music, eventually focusing on the latter. He can now play 3 different instruments and is the bass guitarist for 5-6 bands across the city.
Homeschoolers largely feel that having not gone to school, they missed out on experiencing the classroom as a social space and did not have enough exposure to the world. Owing to his cricket and music classes, Jeremy had no difficulty in making friends. “For me, that wasn’t a problem as my parents really pushed me to go out a lot,” he explains, adding, “I was generally an outgoing kid, making friends wasn’t much of an issue.”
III. Elixir Nahar
Currently working with CNBC in Mumbai, Elixir Nahar is a 22-year-old anchor, producer and a host, who had been homeschooled till her 4th grade. A Bangalorean by birth, Elixir’s mother had started teaching her at a very young age and homeschooling came as a natural progression. “I could pretty much read the newspaper by the time I was two. So I guess my mother realised that this kind of one-on-one attention showed better results,” said Elixir, adding, “I think that in the 90s, there weren’t many school options. You would be one in a class of 60.”
Elixir and groups of other children, largely foreigners, were homeschooled together, ensuring that Elixir had company. The group followed the CLE syllabus and all parents actively taught all the kids in the group. “We would study, we would go play and we also would get the chance to, because we were in a group, at different times of the year such as Christmas, Independence Day and stuff, form our own dance troupe and we would go perform in orphanages,” she said. Because her mother did not teach Elixir after a certain age and since she was homeschooled only till the 4th grade, she says that the home dynamic remained the same.
When Elixir was 9, her mother decided that she should start regular schooling and researched for schools following the IGCSE syllabus in Bangalore before settling for the right one. Owing to homeschooling, Elixir found that her English level was stronger than the rest of class but other than that, she feels that she was not at any particular advantage over the others. On whether or not she’d consider homeschooling her own children in the future, she says that she does not find the need to now given the variety of options available in terms of schooling today, adding, “I don’t think that I would be able to give them the attention that you would need to give to be homeschooling them and I don’t know how comfortable I am to have other people teaching them at home.”
IV. Noopur Vasuraj
Noopur’s family decided to homeschool her and her two siblings because they felt a disconnect with the system as it stood. They knew that the kids’ school years would essentially shuffle between school and tuitions whereas they wanted a more wholesome system that paid equal attention to life skills and extracurriculars. Her parents believed that if life went beyond academia for her, she should have the leeway to choose and explore for herself. She was taught by her parents. “The dynamic never changed, but since my parents were my teachers too, there was an on/off switch between parent & teacher. But overall, it did make us more cooperative as a family as learning became a two-way street i.e. them teaching me and me teaching them” she explains
As for her schedule, she tells us “I would wake up at 7, study from 8am - 12:30. Break for lunch and have another round from 2pm-4/5pm. Of course, this was flexible sometimes and I got to study in my pajamas!” The nature of this system also allowed Noopur to develop a sense of self-discipline, engage in healthy competition with herself as the only contender and explore extracurriculars such as French, Art and Theatre. “Some of these extracurriculars threw me into environments with people of drastically different age groups and backgrounds when I was very young, and that fared well for me because I was and still am able to get along with almost anyone” she says.
People often think that kids who are homeschooled have difficulty making longterm friends, and Noopur’s experience busts this myth right out of the park as she has made life long friends that she met at all her extracurriculars. She believes in this system so strongly that when the time is right, she will do the same with her children.
V. Dola Dasgupta
44-year-old Dola Dasgupta is a Storyteller and Facilitator of Intentional Circles and Meetings. These are largely based on social, emotional, educational and parenting issues, while also supporting parents who want to follow an alternative education. Her children are both homeschooled by her and she hopes to provide her children with the freedom and space required to tap into their inner most creativity, recognising their own passions. This is something that the schools, with their predetermined curriculum, cannot fully achieve.
Dola finds that sharing the same space 24/7 has resulted in a deeper and more honest relationship between the family members, making conflict resolution very simple. She has not fixed a fixed schedule for children, recognising that everyone, depending on their age, physical and emotional growth has different needs. “Each one follows his or her rhythm of sleep, rest, activities, eating, play, socializing, learning etc. And it is always subject to the dynamics of change with age and physical/emotional growth” explains Dola. With such a flexible schedule, her children are able to explore their own interests in their own time, which also allows them to lead a healthier lifestyle as there is no rush to do anything.
On whether she feels as if her children missed out on “regular” school experiences, she says “Yes on a positive note, they have thankfully missed bullying, unhealthy comparisons, cut throat competition, peer pressure which leads to a lot of emotional and spiritual stress leading to low self worth and low esteem. Also they have escaped unhealthy imitations.”
Illustration by Anjul Dandekar
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