Vijayalakshmi, age six, is not intimidated by exams. After all, she is tutored by her mother Sreeja, who also teaches her younger brother at home. The family settled in Bengaluru say with the ongoing Covid and the restrictions it brings to day-to-day life, home schooling is the best way forward. One of the myriad reasons to choose home schooling, apart from personal safety, is that the children are not concerned about marks and rewards. “I teach them on a one-on-one basis, they learn because it is fun and that is how expansion of knowledge should happen, not to pass exams or for other merits”, Vijayalakshmi said.

While schools are not certain about when they would go back to pre-pandemic routines, covid has affected aspects of teacher-student dynamics calling for the need to re-imagine schools. Her children did give online classes a shot, but pulled out when Vijayalakshmi realised that the children were straining to pay attention to their teachers on screens and were not interested in taking exams. “We were also paying an exorbitant amount as fees. Instead, children are now spending time on what they like and go around learning without a timetable,” Vijayalakshmi explained.

With the current situation, parents, who are spending a whole lot of time with children are re-thinking schools and allowing children to decide what they want to do instead of letting teachers take the call. Those arguing in favour of home school say the biggest advantage is that a parent knows the child best: strengths, weaknesses, trail of thought, interests and so on and are finding schools restrictive. While schools hand over a predetermined set of activities in the pretext of ‘choices’, a home-school allows a child to immerse in a subject. At school, after an hour of immersing in poetry or numbers, they are snapped out of it and forced to learn another subject. In the comfort of their homes, parents can chart out a syllabus for children based on their talents and interests. The big win for ‘unschooling’ is: a set of twins or siblings are different in capacities and interests, how can students in a class be taught the same way by a single teacher? How does the development of the wholebeing occur this way? Are we wasting thousands of hours at school just for a certificate?

Labelling and Boxing
There is immense talk about ‘gentle parenting’, similarly, at a young age, home schools give a free reign to a child’s imagination. While formal education asserts that children do not know how to spend their time wisely, home schooling gives children the freedom to learn from Youtube, or choose comic books over classic literature. Jayanth, a parent, said, “Knowing or not knowing something determines your position in school. A child’s abilities and potential are established this way. This hinders a student to pursue interest and fully explore their potential.” The biggest drawback of schools, many felt, was the way a ward is judged based on marks.

In Mumbai and Delhi, many families have ditched schools for home schooling. The example of Malavika Joshi of Mumbai, who made her way into MIT with a full scholarship is an inspiration and it is no way a mean feat. Incidentally, Malavika who represented India at three International Programme Olympiads, did not get admission into IIT. The only Indian university that offered her a place was Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI). There are testimonials on the internet of students who opt for home schooling with foreign institutions such as Harvard as the goal. Home schooling is sometimes referred to as unschooling as parents are given the liberty to design their syllabus. The child learns more from their environment, from trips and other experiences. There are testimonials of parents who allowed their child to play video games and pretend games for hours, for they believe the child was in alternate realities and was not wasting time.

To school or unschool
A controlled atmosphere. This is what champions of home schooling call a school. While many might argue that a home schooled child might lack the influence of peers and have difficulty socialising, the biggest advantage is a non-restrictive environment and potential to explore. Another factor which does not work in favour is the expensive study material and a parent willing to forgo a job and tutor the child. M Vijaya, a social worker from Chennai who bats for formal education, said, “In the current times, online school is the best option. Home school does not work for everyone. All parents are not well educated or experts in the subject. It is also a disadvantage for working parents. Being part of a student community is imperative. A student, once enrolled in a school, is taken care of by teachers and parents only have the role of monitoring their academics. Uniformity of education will not be there if home schooling is practiced. A teacher is trained for the purpose of teaching and a parent is not. A teacher qualified to teach mathematics cannot teach science, how can we expect parents to handle all of it? The quality of the child can vary. While home schooling is advisable only till the age of six.”

She added that in the past two years her two sons have been showing restlessness over online classes. “They are tired of being at home. They miss the social environment, counselling and physical presence of teachers. They sometimes evade learning and are not as dedicated as they are supposed to be. The fear of teachers is lacking.”