As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to be all-rounders, excel academically and become successful and happy. Yet, most often we’re left struggling because we’re unable to cope with their academic pressures. It’s even more stressful when this pressure impacts other areas of their little lives.

Here’s a 2-part series that explores the different educational systems and opportunities available, the importance of parental mindset, financial implications, support groups and resources available to parents. Vineeta Sood, internationally trained Certified Transactional Analyst, shares her personal experience of homeschooling both her children and being an educator working in the field of alternative and non-formal education for the past 20 years.

1) Hopes, aspirations and expectation of parents about their children’s education – Has it changed?

Yes. I’ve experienced many changes. The amount of pressure on children due to parental and teachers’ expectations in mainstream schools is increasing. Today a child’s time is filled with loads of activities and grade frenzy. It’s almost like the child is not a priority anymore. Instead what we do with the child and what we make them has become the priority. Having said that, an increasing number of schools are providing children with the space to learn and making the teaching-learning process more meaningful.

Earlier, parents were either happy or unhappy with mainstream education systems. A few who were ready to examine their own conditioning sought alternative education for their children. Today, there’s a wide spectrum of mindsets amongst parents. Many more are stepping out of mainstream systems. For some though, their anxieties play up and they expect children to learn all that they would have in a mainstream school, at more or less the same pace, but without pressure. Their anxieties and fears make it harder for them to examine their conditioning. Simultaneously, there are some others who feel what the child learns academically in a school is unnecessary. Sometimes though they tip the balance to the other side and struggle with providing a structure to the child.

2) Does the Indian culture view learning differently?

Our culture has been subjected to influences from people who either came here as traders, seekers, travellers, settlers or invaders. What we have today is a mixture of many cultures which came together due to our unique historical background. In olden times, learning in the Indian culture was focussed on spiritual development, relational development, learning from and about life through the Gurukul system. With the mixing of cultures, our educational system has altered to accommodate changing realities and needs of the society. Industrialization and British education changed the way education was viewed and practised, worldwide. And since then, our schooling system has become information heavy and highly competitive, moulding children to fit into our political, economic and social systems.

3) What are the different options for parents to increase the value of their child’s education?

This is a difficult question to answer as each person’s meaning of value varies. Today, there is a wide spectrum of schools, from heavily academic oriented and competitive to egalitarian alternative schools to many varieties of a combination in between. There are also options like alternative education and homeschooling. With some research, parents can find one that caters to what they want for their child.

My personal understanding of value in this area is to let the child’s innate curiosity, initiative, creativity and connection with self, stay intact. Obsessing over a child’s learning always limits their exploration. The child has the capacity to grow and explore in directions which we don’t even consider. So trust the child and the process of learning, stay open to learning from the child, support the child in his/her area of exploration with a spirit of free play. Give a humane, empathetic and free environment for the child where there’s freedom to choose, explore and express. Respect the child as much as you want the child to respect you. Stay invested and engaged in learning and life. It is these subtleties which increase the value of education and impact the child much more than the defined outcomes that we seek in this process of teaching-learning.

4) How is alternative education different from regular education?

Mainstream, regular education is well defined, academic-oriented system, where the academic curriculum and the exam system are the main focus and predefined. In some effluent schools, there is an increased emphasis on co-curricular activities and exposure to certain aspects of life. Yet it is all an agenda driven by the system. Unlike mainstream education, alternative education is not one standardized way of doing things. The emphasis of each alternative school can be different depending on the focus of the team which is at the helm of things. There is not one method or system that can be called ‘alternative education’. However, the underlying idea in alternative education is to understand the child more, to create a space for the child’s voice in various ways, to include the child in the process of decision making, taking initiatives and taking charge etc. In the majority of alternative schools, children make decisions and lead the process of their growth and learning with varying mix of structure and unstructured. In some others, the exploration might happen through the medium of art, in others, nature, in yet other schools, it can be emotional development, depending on the orientation of the people who work there.

5) Is homeschooling an alternative form of education or is it viewed differently?

Homeschooling again is not one defined way of doing things. What is common is that the family decides they will not send their child to school any more. Sometimes, when children are older, they might decide to move out of the mainstream education system and take charge of their own learning. How they go about homeschooling depends on the belief system and the capacity of parents and what they and the child want to pursue. The variation in what homeschooling families do is subjective. Some families keep it very structured and formal academic learning while others, just let go of all structure and allow the child to decide the course of action depending on what interests them. There are even more variations in between these two boundaries.

Different names are given to different approaches like unschooling (no structure at all), homeschooling (usually structured academics is a serious business), road schooling (learning through travel), whole being learning (learning through all your senses) etc. I prefer to call itlearning from life (staying open to our physical, emotional and spiritual experience, as we live, explore and grow together).

Homeschooling, as an umbrella term for these variations, is a lifestyle choice. It is about complete engagement and learning about self, others, this world and life from every situation and opportunity. It is not about a certain area of learning. However, if you consider the format of schooling system as a mainstream education system, then homeschooling/unschooling etc fall under alternative education. Yet it is different from alternative schools.

6) Is this trend growing or does it still find resistance amongst parents? What are the common roadblocks?

It’s definitely a growing trend. More parents are becoming disenchanted with the mainstream education system but find themselves stuck because they don’t know that they have options. Lack of information, awareness and doubt about their capability to move out of the mainstream system continue to be major roadblocks. I receive five to six calls every week from parents who want to take the plunge into alternative education and homeschooling. They are in the process of understanding it better by talking to people like us, who have been through this process.

7) How do they access resources, keep abreast of year-specific educational material to teach their children? Or is there no particular set pattern?

There is a lot of information available online. There are various online groups, facebook pages and families who are either homeschooling/unschooling their children or are a part of alternative schools. I believe that when we seek something, we intuitively find a way to reach there. These parents somehow find each other, come in contact with homeschooling parents either through word of mouth or through online resources. When they take the first step, their inner wisdom guides them to embark on this journey.

There is no particular pattern to follow. In a city like Bangalore, there are many homeschoolers/unschoolers. They meet on a weekly basis and pool their resources and expertise to cater to their children’s needs. They’re developing resources as they go. They use public spaces like parks and museums, public libraries etc. as resources. The whole world is a learning space for them.

Availing such options call for examining one’s own conditioning, staying open to new challenges, new learning, to find resources within and around ourselves. It’s about creating a new path.

As a parent, if you’re still in doubt as to your capabilities, mindset, skills, outlook, pressures, then await Part 2 where Vineeta explores what it requires to be a homeschooler parent and shares her personal experience.

(If you’re worried and struggling with academic pressures on your child, then here’s an effective way to ease that was first published on Momspresso on 5 September 2018 / Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash)