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down a different educational road

If schooling was presented to past, future and potential students of Chennai – probably the first things to come to their minds would be the holy trifecta – CBSE, Samacheer Kalvi, or ICSE. Indeed, up until the late 2000s, or even the early 2010s, those three seemed like the only options to pursue for schooling – the only curricula by which to measure.

However, as times have changed, so has the education system. More and more alternatives to traditional schooling have sprung up, for students who prefer a different, perhaps more relaxed approach, various options have arisen. Here are some of the new and popular forms of alternative schooling:

A Love of Nature

Located on an organic farm of ten acres in Thiruvannamalai, Marudam Farm School, affiliated with the Forest Way, is self-funded. It both has a passionate love of, and is devoted to the environment on which it has built itself. Focusing on sustainable development, agriculture, afforestation, environmental education and organic farming, the children of this school learn at one with nature.

Based on the belief that the best teacher is the environment, and the land you live on the curriculum of the school draws inspiration from it. The children, ranging from the ages of four to ten, are constantly seen on the land – they play together on it, participate in the harvest of the fruits, crops and vegetables grown on it at least twice a week, with some allowed to participate more out of interest, and take regular walks every Thursday over the Arunachal Hill to stay in harmony with nature, where they are educated about the nature that surrounds their school. They participate in activities such as the annual rescue of the Olive Ridley sea turtles.

Featuring an eclectic mixture of activity-based learning, mixed-age group learning and discussions, the children are never idle on the farm. Kindergarten children, ranging in age from 3.5 to 6, learn key skills such as communication, teamwork and discipline through play and activities such as puppet shows, stories and games, with no formal classes held. The primary classes, ranging in age from six to ten, do not have a fixed curriculum. Subjects such as arts and crafts, theatre and martial arts are available.

They are allowed to study in mixed-age groups, where the older children coach the younger ones, at their own pace, to push them out of their comfort zones. Their lesson methodologies are inspired both from the environment and Montessori-based learning – they learn through experiments, games, projects, illustrations and artwork. For instance, the students of one geography class learned their portions through visiting beaches and oceans, and another class learned mathematics through pottery.

“The children are evaluated through periodic assessments call slip tests – but not marked. This is to know how each child stands and how much help to give them. The children work with the land, and they live their lives as one with it. It helps them become free thinkers and avoid rigid thinking”,

arun venkataraman, founder and principal of the school
Open Schooling 

Struck by the realisation that while everyone wanted to learn, not everyone could afford traditional schooling, the Ministry of  Human Resource Development established the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) in 1989, to enable people of all backgrounds around India to study without attending a school. They prepare study material, and send it to people signed up.  The Board allows everyone to have access to its material, irrespective of the learner’s age or background. The learner is given freedom to schedule his studies and if he wishes, his classes, and learn at his own pace.

Under NIOS, there are various courses offered, with material prepared for each – Open Basic Education Programme, Secondary Course (equal to Class X), Senior Secondary Course (equal to Class XII). It also offers various vocational education programmes, such as handloom weaving and life skills, for interested learners.

The NIOS board conducts exams twice a year – once in October/November, the second series in March/April. If someone is registered under NIOS and has chosen five subjects in Grade 12, he can choose to advance a few to October/November. For example, out of five, he could take two then, remaining three in March/April. He can schedule his examinations as per his wishes. Examinations are conducted in NIOS centres around the country.

There are certain combinations of subjects registered on the website – a child will have choose one from each, or two-three from one cluster – you get to mix and match subjects. The subjects range from the traditional to the rare. 

“Children who are keen on pursuing sports as their primary career, or want to pursue other qualifications for getting into a job, they have the flexibility of staggering their exams. You don’t have to have the child attend school, but you can homeschool the child. There is material available for it on the website, such as past papers. You can download everything and study at your own pace. Children who want to get into IIT, or devote time for coaching, have the option of finishing their twelfth by October or November, and take the last few months out for preparation”, says Gomathy, head of Higher Schooling at APL Global School, Chennai, which allows students to take the NIOS system.

 “Around 80 students of the schools have registered for the program, ranging from Classes IX to XII  “NIOS provides a lot of accommodations to students with learning disabilities. They provide scribes and word processors, they ignore spelling if the child is dyslexic. If the child has dysgraphia, they allow for that as well. They’re really inclusive”

gomathy, principal of apl global school
A Place to Unlearn and Unschool

For some students, the school is not the chosen environment for them to learn. Due to various reasons, such as wanting to set their own pace of study, set their own curriculum, inability to attend a regular school, or any other, some children have chosen to be educated inside their own home.

With homeschooling, or home education, children may set their own pace of learning, and choose the style of learning that suits them. Homeschoolers may take up traditional curriculum, such as CBSE or ICSE, or choose to forego the traditional entirely – and learn through experience, projects or anything that suits them.  They may choose to order resources and textbooks from their chosen board, and take examinations, or evaluate themselves through other means.

“Due to my poor attendance at regular school, I chose to be homeschooled for my twelfth standard. I chose to continue my commerce course which I had been doing in the eleventh, along with an elective of psychology. I applied to the Board for my textbooks, and studied by myself. I had a pleasant experience, as I could make my curriculum flexible, and I learn best on my own”, says Nandini Sasidharan, a student who has opted for homeschooling in Kerala.

With homeschooling, there are concerns that the child will face an absence of peer and teacher interaction, and as a consequence, not develop appropriate social skills. Homeschooled students, in fact, do have peer interaction, but it is up to their choice. “I still contact my friends, talk to them and meet up with them”, says Nandini “With homeschooling, I get to finish my studies and then have fun, at my own time!”

 Societies such as the Cascade Family Learning Society, in Besant Nagar, Chennai, and Bhavya, Bangalore, have been set up to fix that problem. They provide a place for home-schooled children and their parents to visit and educate their child separately, with room for interaction between the children as well – a community of homeschoolers. Here, the children are educated by their parents, who have been trained. Guides are present in order to give the parents guidance with the education, and discuss and fix the pace and schedule of the child. A child is allowed to set his own schedule, and learn any subject they want. The guides arrange for the visits of experts to the campus, if the child wishes to learn a particular skill, such as martial arts. Children learn through various unique learning styles, as suited to each child, teacher and parent.

“Homeschooling and un-schooling give the parent and the child room to grow. We are there to ensure that the children end up well-rounded individuals, who learn to question the world”.

vinitha MATHEW, head of bhavya learning
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