What is homeschooling?
Homeschooling is a blanket term used to include education choices where a child does not go to school. While most of the time this means that parents assume responsibility for the child’s education in a home environment, it can also mean parents who travel a lot with children as a source of learning, or special tutors engaged to teach specific subjects or even parent cooperatives and intentional communities that collectively educate a group of children.
What is not schooling or homeschooling?
There are special schools that engage in alternative education which may follow diverse methods, teaching environments, beliefs and engage a wide range of people as educators. In general, parents pay for their children to attend school (or they run on donations), teachers are paid or volunteers, the syllabus may be diverse, but there is an education service organization provided for children where educators are engaged by the school, and children enroll. Such organizations can cater to diverse communities and interests including religious, art, sport, science, tribal and so on. While this is not recognized as a valid school by the RTE, it is an educational organization, nonetheless, and is usually described by the term “Alternative Education”.
What are the different styles of learning in homeschooling?
There are two main ways in which homeschoolers learn. One follows a curriculum and the other follows child led learning. Most homeschoolers do something in the middle or switch between the two ways.
Following a curriculum
Many parents who are dissatisfied with school, but feel a need to cover subjects normally taught in schools, use age appropriate text books or other curriculums for homeschooling available on the internet. Others devise their own curriculums based on the interests of the child using any content they wish, which can range from classics of literature to wikipedia or DIY project kits to lessons with subject experts. Or something else altogether. Children who wish to appear for board exams to remain qualified for further education will use the recommended text books while preparing for them.
How much the learning practice deviates from the textbooks varies from family to family and even child to child within families. Some turn the home into a classroom and follow the syllabus rigorously, others use the syllabus to spark off interest in various subjects that can then be followed using varied means that keep the child interested and learning.
Child led learning or unschooling
Unschooling is a term that emphasizes the lack of regimentation in a child led learning environment. Unschoolers have no learning agendas other than those set by the child. The role of the parents and others supporting the learning is to help the child discover new interests and facilitate their pursuit of those interests any way they can. The premise is that the child encounters learning opportunities or problems based on what is most useful to them, which also forms the motivation to learn. There is a strong emphasis on the child’s autonomy, which is respected as far as possible. Radical unschoolers extend this belief in the child’s autonomy to all aspects of life, including children deciding their own diets and bed times.
Unschoolers generally see being engrossed in activity as a sign that learning is happening, and have beliefs that often contradict classical “parenting best practices” like allowing children to stay up all night if they wish, or eat only snacks for as long as they want, or playing video games all day. There is some direction provided by parents in the sense of lifestyle choices for the family – if the family mostly eats wholesome food, the chances of a child wanting to eat junk food all day are considerably lesser than a family that enjoys junk food but limits the child’s consumption.
Is it possible to homeschool if my child already goes to school?
This is a trick question. All children learn at home. It is possible to take your child out of school and shift to homeschooling. However, children learning at home while attending school regularly is not considered homeschooling.
Is it possible to return to school if homeschooling does not suit us?
This depends on the age. While your child is under 14 years of age, according to the RTE it is mandatory for schools in India to admit every child seeking admission. Older children may have other challenges. For example, admissions to colleges require passing board exams and marks above certain levels. This is a problem of education at large in India and is not specific to homeschooling.
How do homeschooled children appear for board exams?
Homeschooled children can appear for exams privately with several boards. However the NIOS seems to be more popular among the community because of its existing support for open learning making it a little friendlier for homeschoolers. It is also possible to enroll through schools and private coaching classes.
How many homeschoolers go on to pursue academic qualifications?
This is difficult to answer. Homeschoolers by nature do not share the importance given to certifications that is found in the mainstream. Homeschoolers tend to see certification as something of utility that can be pursued for a purpose, rather than a default marker of completion of a phase of learning. So a homeschooler is more likely to want to appear for a board exam if they have something they want to pursue that requires clearing the exam for eligibility. Or if they want a job and would like to attach a measure of their competence to their profile.
Of all the homeschooling children I know who are of age to take board exams and above, the majority of them have taken them or are preparing to take them. This seems to be more about an interest in keeping avenues of further learning open than a qualification in itself. However, this changes in higher education, where homeschoolers seem to be in very career oriented pursuits rather than traditional Bachelors degrees. I noticed writers, programmers, musicians, apprentices on vocational skills and such and a few pursuing college degrees.
Can you reassure us that our child will learn well with homeschooling?
No. Wrong question to ask. No one tells you what to do. No one controls what you do in your home. What we can reassure you is that there is a large community and tons of collective experience and you will not fail for a lack of ideas or support as long as you reach out when you encounter problems. There is reassurance in seeing the community and in knowing that there are many before you who have walked this path and come out happy on the other end. There are many ordinary people becoming extraordinary as they embark on learning journeys with their child. Make no mistake, it is both the parent and child learning.
Are there people who should not homeschool?
This is a personal opinion. I believe that children at risk of neglect or abuse or with parents with severe mental problems or those who cannot or will not devote time and attention to address their learning needs should not homeschool. Naturally, this is difficult to judge without knowing the family in question, and is not good for a school going child either, but school can serve as a break from an unfavorable home.
It is very common for parents to rapidly learn sensitivity and become advocates of peaceful parenting when they experience the enrichment it brings to their lives. However, it is up to a parent to be honest with themselves if they can provide a safe environment to the child.
Additionally, I think parents who put a lot of importance on high scores in board exams are probably better off with their children preparing for them in schools. Schools are good at that – at getting students to score in exams created to enable products of school to score in. It is like going to a barber for a haircut. You can do it yourself and have a ton of fun, but if a less than perfect result will devastate you, the barber knows how to do it. This may vary. There are bad barbers and bad haircuts and bad schools and kids who fail exams in school too.
Can homeschooling children be at risk for abuse?
This is an important question. It is true that an abusive parent can iolate a child and hide abuse more efficiently if the child is not going to school and interacting with other children and adults who may notice and draw attention. At the same time, homeschooling is a very idealistic choice that a parent does with great soul searching, particularly in India, where it is neither a popularly known choice nor has adequate support from the state. It is a choice that requires considerable attention to a child.
Behaviorally, chances of an abusive parent choosing to homeschool are low, in my opinion. Abuse inherently requires dehumanization of the victim, while homeschooling is all about the individuality of the child. It is not impossible, but in my view it is less likely than the risk of abuse to a school going child, who has additional risk factors ranging from teachers to bus drivers and bullies in school.
An abusive parent is not homeschooling. An abusive parent is abusing. They can just as easily keep the child from school to prevent discovery as they are to keep a child from local socialization.
That said, in a country like India at least, the stories of abuse in school are considerably higher and scarier than homeschooling, with insulting behavior to children being the norm, and rising cases of rapes, beatings and deaths. This is apart from the exam performance related suicides. I have yet to see an Indian homeschooling parent insult their child. This is not to say it doesn’t happen, but considering that I know more homeschoolers than school going children, it is a fair bet that if there were unhappy children scared of their parents, I’d have definitely noticed by now.
I routinely see school going children cringe from their parents and guardians. The woman on the ground floor locks a 3 year old for hours in the toilet for being “uncontrollable”. I would complain to authorities in a jiffy, but would the child be better off with the consequences? Parents taunting their children in public over disinclination to study is common. I have not seen such things among homeschoolers yet.
Is it impossible? Of course not. But when it comes to my child, it is my determination to nurture him that trumps possibilities. Would I abuse my child if every homeschooler were abusing theirs? I wouldn’t. That is the crux of the issue.
Doubts and questions about homeschooling?
Have at it in the comments. I will answer to the best of my ability.