Nepal | November 14, 2019

Alternative schooling: Learning with an inspired spirit

Geeta Rai

Personalised education in our context is suitable for children who have learning difficulty and lag behind. The idea of personalised learning is best suited even for students with extraordinary talents because of boundary-free learning

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Basic level education is a must for everyone, and the place to get such education is, of course, the school. But with diversified ways of development in all spheres of life, schooling of children is also going to take a different route. Alternatives to regular schooling are emerging in the form of unschooling and homeschooling, which are personalised or customised trends in education.

Unschooling is a kind of school where there is unstructured learning without a definite curriculum to follow. The life lessons of exploration, research and experiments are the fundamental components of this self-motivated learning process. So it is an endeavour of ‘learning by living’. The pupil gets an education in the private space of a home, where parents take the role of facilitator.  Here, the learner’s strong passion to acquire knowledge goes beyond earning a degree, and thus there is no mandatory criteria of taking an examination.

On the other hand, homeschoolers follow a definite curriculum similar to the school, and the pupil is educated from the comfort of the home. Here also parents guide and support the child. The ways of testing differ from place to place, but a board examination at the end of the schooling is a common practice.

The alternative school movement is picking up momentum elsewhere. However, Nepal is yet to be familiar with the concept.

The reasons for unschooling and homeschooling are varied. The conscious choice of traditional homeschooling is for conserving religious beliefs. Sometimes, it is required due to medical conditions. Parents concerned about their children’s education are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of classroom teaching. It is worth mentioning that homeschooled and unschooled families come from a good academic background. Now, the question is, why are the people of intellectual domain seeking customised education?

According to the homeschool or unschool community, this type of education provides a wider space, and children learn with an inspired spirit. Privately taught students are as competent as regular school students. Homeschoolers and unschoolers are given preference over regular students in world class universities. For instance, in 2016, Malvika Raj Joshi from Mumbai, India won a scholarship at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) without a certificate of having passed the school board exams. Her admission was based solely on her computer programming skills.

The advantages of homeschooling and unschooling are manifold. A pupil gets ample time to work on the task in hand without time limitation for a particular subject. So he or she learns by doing. The time spared from travelling to and from school is useful for recreation or break from study.

Being bullied is an undeniable fact of school. Its impact is so deep that the troubled child finds the world a hostile place to be in. The constant competition to score high in the classroom is a serious threat to a child’s creative ability. Failure to live up to the expectation of the elders results in low confidence. The safe home environment protects the children from unfair treatments at school. Also, the parent’s role as a facilitator creates a strong bond with the children. The children learn the best from the person whom they love, admire and respect.

But the homeschool and unschool also have their downsides. One of them is grooming children within the boundaries of a home keeps them out of the social circle. Children who attend school experience the cultural and social differences among themselves. And for the parents and family members unable to help the children at home, public school remains the only way for an education.

Customised learning lays the foundation to nurture the special talents of a person and paves the way for him, or her, to stand out from the crowd. The competition-free environment of a home encourages the child for purposeful goals without the fear of failing. On the contrary, the lesson learnt in the classroom is “what everyone does is right.” This uniformed and mechanised method of institutionalised schools, at times, seems irrelevant for today’s dynamic world.

The practical implementation of personalised education in our context is suitable for children who have learning difficulty and who lag behind. The idea of personalised learning is best suited even for students with extraordinary talents because of boundary-free learning. The education policies in our country support personalised education. There are provisions for taking the board examinations as a private examinee even for basic level education.

The drawback felt in homeschooling can be tackled easily by adopting innovative ways. Forming a social network with people of similar interests and necessities is an easy solution. Organising workshops to share experiences and ideas is a wonderful way of keeping relationships among members of the community.

History is full of great people who have made enormous changes in the world. Many of them had personalised education. Edison never had formal schooling beyond grade four. Mark Twain said, “I never let school interfere with my education”. The exemplary transformation of our own author, Jhamak Ghimire, from an illiterate kid with a different ability in a village to a creator of literary epics is a radical form of unschooling.

A version of this article appears in print on May 14, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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