An Alarming letter from George Verghese on the homeschooling list indicates that the Anganwadi system in rural India may already be putting homeschooling children in the “RTE approved” education assembly line.
We have been living on a farm near Sirsi, in the Western Ghats in Karnataka, for the last 7 years. Our kids are unschooled and have never been to school.
Ours is a small village called Danandi where everybody knows everyone else. There is an annual child census conducted by the government and the names and ages of our kids were recorded every year. The local anganwadi has them on their list and we are contacted by the anganwadi teacher every time there is a pulse polio drive or some vitamin A drive (every 6 months) or even to collect the monthly food packets (mixed grain flour for porridge) that the government provides to children. When children cross the age of 5 yrs and 10 months, they get taken off the anganwadi’s register and now show up on the local primary school’s radar. Our local government primary school has classes from 1st to 7th, 2 teachers and a headmaster and about 25 students. The number of students enrolled is very low and there is a constant threat of being shut down, hanging over the school. On Monday this week, we had a visit from the Headmaster who enquired about which school our oldest daughter was going to. We told him that she is homeschooled and we did not plan to enrol her anywhere. He said that it was mandatory that she be enrolled in a school. We explained to him that there was a communication from the Ministry of HRD that
homeschooling was not illegal and that we might consider NIOS for the 10th and 12th exams. He called some official in the education department and got me to explain to her on the phone about what we were doing. She seemed satisfied by my explanation and the Headmaster left. Two days later, the headmaster returned with three officials from the Block education office. They too asked us about why we
weren’t sending our daughter to school and tried telling us that it was mandatory to be enrolled in some school. When we explained our position, they suggested that we enrol her in some school for the record. Their predicament was that if any child was not enrolled in a school, that child is considered a ‘dropout’ and they have to report
on and explain the existence of ‘dropouts’ in their regions to the higher-ups. So you’re either enrolled in any school or you’re a dropout. There’s nothing in between. We engaged them in a long conversation about the problems with the current school system and about why we chose to educate our kids ourselves. They were in agreement with the idea but they still had to figure out a way to account for our children that the system considered as ‘dropouts’.
For the past few weeks, a few families in Sirsi and the surroundings have been meeting up every Wednesday evening to watch an education-related documentary and then have a discussion. This week, we happened to be hosting it. So we invited the officials to join us in the evening and meet a couple of other homeschooling families too.
One of them (he was the most supportive about homeschooling) promised to attend, and he did come that evening with another colleague. We watched a documentary and then had a discussion in which they actively participated too.
So that is where things stand now. But we are sure that we haven’t seen the end of this. Some higher official is bound to pursue the ‘dropouts’. So we’re steeling ourselves for the challenges ahead.
So much for Kapil Sibal’s magnanimous reassurance that the law would ignore homeschoolers breaking it (yeah. Kapil Sibal had said it.) As George notes, this is a pause in the storm, because at the end of the day, the “status” of children is recognized only as “school” or “dropout” and the Sarkari machine will forever be hunting down the dropouts to get their enrollment statistics high enough to peddle in the next election campaign.
Given that there is currently no legal sanction for homeschooling in India, this basically leaves parents to one of two choices – be hounded by the system over and over, or get out of the dead end by enrolling in some school.
It is not the fault of the Anganwadi system either, which only works for the welfare of young children, and transfers them to the responsibility of the school when they grow out of their target age bracket. Indeed, it is astonishing that a school headmaster and education officials in a small village in the back of beyond have shown so much sympathy, though there is nothing they can do about the status of homeschooling itself not being supported by the system.
Until there is recognition for homeschooling and children can be recorded as “homeschooling child” instead of “dropout from school”, this area of conflict with the system will remain, with the only solution being the “workaround corruption” that the official recommended – a token enrollment in some school to get the government off the child’s backs. I doubt this will come for free, and with children’s well being at stake, and deliberate violation of the law, it will be an area where parents will end up paying money to the school to “get their paperwork right” – the ultimate goal of Indian laws in order to protect their child from continued prejudice and parents from pressure to enroll.
Is it not a sad result of a law designed to protect a child’s right to education? That a child getting customized education by parents who care enough to be illegal if that is what brings their child a responsive and supportive learning environment is considered deprived of the right to sit in a classroom everyday for years on end and being dictated to?