In 2018-19, my sisters Kashish & Tanishk had to join additional classes apart from their daily school, entering 9th & 8th standard. They joined these extra classes not because they wanted to, but because their friends were taking them to score better marks and grades in exams. My sisters were not happy about that. Their everyday routine involved school, classes, home-work and preparing for tests, etc., leaving very little time for doing things they truly wanted to do or learn. They hardly got any time to explore their personal interests. There was so much to learn & explore but they got tied among 7 subjects: half of which they were not interested to study and the other half was outdated and irrelevant. The world is changing much faster and the current education system’s content, format and teachings are growing less relevant to this age. We need to set a lifelong-education curriculum/system to our kids to become self-sufficient, employable and grow in all of their interests. Traditional schools are killing curiosity and are making kids less adaptable to change, making life difficult for these kids. We, parents, are also to blame for dodging a kid’s questions as silly.
I see no need in discussing the obvious flaws in our education system today. I am for schooling, if they choose to educate and not just teach the text; if they focus on learning than marks; if they encourage exploring their purpose in life than just stacking meaningless certificates; if they teach to appreciate failures as much as success; if they feed curiosity than run to finish a chapter; if they instill interest in picking up a skill than fear imperfection; if they choose to build values and character than neglect to dissuade from becoming greedy. Somehow the system or the people fail us; unless we create the system and choose to be those people, things are not bound to change.
Hence, time came in my family, where we chose to empower and enable my sisters to write their own life. Homeschooling was one option I wanted them to explore. With homeschooling, I thought we can encourage and teach them skills that interests them and may help them make their own life. Needless to say, it will be a tremendous responsibility to undertake. It takes an entire tribe to raise kids. Once society evolved collectively, people created a dedicated community of people for teaching and housed them under what we call as schools or gurukuls. Today, this dedicated group within that system is failing us. So, we ought to make our own selection of people from the tribe to help us raise these kids. In this digital age, it’s not that difficult. You only need to ask for help and many will step in to help you and your kids find their way.
Drop out of School?
Once, I was very clear in my thoughts: I was ready to take the responsibility of creating that system. I spoke about my sisters difficulties, falling marks and lack of interest in their education to my uncle (my sister’s dad) with my understanding of their past, present & hope for their future. I explained how the death of their curiosity has made school difficult, more of a routine instead of a place to explore and gain knowledge. I requested him to consider unschooling and start homeschooling my sisters.
My uncle took his time to think and came back with so many questions and together we discussed on how to go about this. I had done plenty of research about this earlier which came in handy. I was not rushing them into this. No matter what, their parents had to be very sure about this because they will have to engage with my sisters all through the 24 hours and they will have to play a major role in every aspect to shape their life choices. This meant that the decision was not just about homeschooling my sisters but also meant that life would change for the parents too. You ought to change your lifestyle in every aspect. Instead of depending on a school for your child’s progress, you try to create a system that you have to manage on your own. This meant that you would have no one else to blame for any irregularities. So, homeschooling may sound easier but for parents it is bound to be a million times harder when you have to adapt and change as an adult for your kids’ well-being.
Adapting to home-schooling was not the hardest challenge, it was societal acceptance, the resistance from society was the hardest to deal with. Leaving school was extremely difficult because nobody knew what homeschooling was. People had many prejudices: that your child is dropping out of school because he/she is not good at studying or that you didn’t have money to pay the fees or the worst of all, they assumed that we wouldn’t care about them because they were girls. None of them were true in our case. We were actually working harder everyday to plan for our girls’ education, our budgets in fact had to be larger to include travelling and enrolling into programs. The girl-factor was the opposite: we wanted them to be empowered and choose the life they dreamed.
Thankfully, my uncle overcame all these barriers. In early March this year, my uncle agreed to unschool and home-school my sisters after considering every possibility and immediately we sat down to discuss this with my aunt. Again, we had to be very clear to her in every aspect because she would be central to the girls’ involvement and development. One thing that persuaded us into believing in this uncommon path, was the confidence in our girls that they will independently make choices in life and can write their own story. They have to learn to manage their life, become self-sufficient in every aspect and spend their lives with confidence that they built themselves all on their own. We had many days of discussions, even with the girls, as they were in 8th & 9th and had a perspective of their own. After many a discussion, we left the decision to the girls. We gave them our full support in their independent choice. We gave them time to think, research and discuss with whoever they felt like talking to. They decided to take this road less traveled. Now, we were confident despite the risks.
Now that we decided to home-school the girls, we had to enroll into the Open schooling board in India, the National Institute of Open Schooling(NIOS). NIOS conducts exams for open-schooling students. Interestingly, NIOS provides incredible subjects to select from that got the girls excited. With this, we had no risk of not passing 10th or completely loosing college opportunities. This process is recognised by the Indian government. With freedom, now they have time to experiment and build the skills that they like and in this process, may be they would discover what they’d like to do with their lives. The one aspect people worry a lot about is that they would miss a classroom environment of peers of traditional schooling and friends. In our case, the girls left school at the right time when they already had many friends from their old school. So, they continue with the same circle of friends. But besides these friends, they make new friends as they explore the world while doing many activities. They meet new peers, get new perspective, understand our culture, heritage and much more. They are broadening their horizons.
Learning Jewellery Making from Terracotta at Medini Handicrafts, Mumbai.
To give them an idea about how this was going to be, we began with their creative taste. We took them to a Terracotta-jewellery-making workshop. They thoroughly enjoyed it and the course had their entire attention. This was to set an example of how their next few weeks was going to be. It was a perfect start to their homeschooling journey. Besides learning hands-on art, I introduced them to successful women from various fields. These women shared their experiences from their independent life’s journey and talked about the opportunities that exist in the world beyond the commonly known ones. These women were mentors and guides to them. They also made them look at the world differently beyond just our familiar eyes of the family. This way, the girls could look beyond our biases.
Learning by Doing and Observing
The first thing, I did, was to give them a taste of this lifelong journey ahead in unschooling. I planned to take them on a trip as a family. I knew they liked Arts & Creative endeavors. So, we planned a trip to Jaipur – the Creative capital of India. This was not another usual family trip. This was different from any other trips we had taken. We did not just tour the city but walked through every nook and corner understanding every story behind. We walked through the forts, city palaces, streets, traditional art communities of block printing, pottery, Lac Bangles, Carpet making, theatre, Virasat Foundation, Jawahar kala Kendra, Mud Houses, Jantar Mantar and much more. It was not just art but history, culture, tradition, people and stories behind each stone of that place. The Jaipur journey was life changing to them and they learnt so much because they had never explored anything this deep.
We, then, traveled to Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajastan. This was a college without degrees. The entire Barefoot college was run and built by less literate villagers. This model seemed to have worked in Tilonia that visitors from South Africa and many other countries drop-by for learning, and training. Our family was amazed to see how the men and women, who never walked far in formal education, transformed the lifestyle of the place. They were living a dignified life, earning their livelihood by making solar products, puppets, khadi work, managing radio station, doing basic dentistry, kabaad-se-jugaad and many other things. This instilled some more confidence in my uncle, aunt and the girls. Now, they were beginning to sound more confident in how they can achieve great things outside the traditional systems.
After the Tilonia experience, they went to Udaipur to witness how homeschooling worked. They went to meet Manish & Vidhi Jain, Founder of Shikshantar Andolan and Swaraj University; they were Unschooling their daughter too. They do various activities everyday in which kids participated and parents got to learn many insights from Ms. Jain. She was enabling and engaging with many home-schoolers, un-schoolers with her daughter. Ms. Jain believes that parents are the best teachers and Guru. She suggested kids to spend more time with their parents, grand parents, family, relatives and community to make friends for life. This seems obvious but an eye-opener sometimes. We forget this is how humans made friendships and not just in schools.
The girls’ daily routine includes outdoor and indoor learning plans. We task them to do many activities. The primary intent was to build a lifetime habit that would enrich them physically, mentally & emotionally. This can make their life sustainable, self-sufficient, independent and happier.
Following is their everyday schedule which we change as and when required:
- Spiritual rituals
- Yoga, Going to Temple, Worshiping, Meditation. These are important in one’s life to help connect to the Soul
- Sports (Swimming, Badminton)
- One simple rule to living healthy is to constantly work our body. With changing times, we are not much physically active anymore. So, we make sure that there is enough sports, exercises, etc to be fit physically and mentally.
- Newspaper/Book Reading
- There is no doubt reading is essential for gaining knowledge and today it is crucial to learn many things from other’s experiences & failures. You can connect the dots among various events happening and deduce the ‘TRUTH’ that is hidden deep.
- Food is a fundamental need. Our kids should not be dependent on anyone to get a healthy food; not even the parents. The laziness in cooking is making people go behind packaged cans & unhealthy fast foods. Even parents want to make things in two minutes. This is dangerous to our well-being. So, girls experiment and learn cooking.
- Researching on Spices, Pulses, Vegetables, Fruits
- Food contributes to our health, thought process and our actions. It impacts us physically, mentally and emotionally. It changes our hormones and could mess with our body implanting diseases. So a sense of knowing about the evolution of that which makes our food is important. Which type of food/ingredient is essential to do what, etc. is a must-know. It can cure disorders, diseases and many health issues.
- Activity of their choice (Creative, Dance, Guitar, Languages etc)
- Learning something new is good for our mind. You will eventually find what interests you. Also, you are experiencing various things which may turn out to be useful at some point in your life. One would never know. Besides, it helps you connect with many fields and creates a different mindset.
- Monthly Study Topic (Climate Change, Water, Evolution in Human Body)
- There are many topics which needs attention, understanding, and research to create awareness. This may lead to a field one would want to dedicate their lifetime-work to social causes
- Story Reading
- Stories are the greatest methods to learn. We connect with concepts that are told to us as stories. So, reading stories can give us many perspectives. These stories can also teach us from every character’s experiences on how to act in different situations.
- NIOS Studies for their 10th
- This is to help in clearing their 10th exams. The subjects they have opted are English, Psychology, Home-science, Business Studies, Culture & Heritage.
- Religious learning
- Knowing one’s root, culture and tradition is important. This helps you comprehend your existence and grow as a human. Every religion has a few basic principles a) Non-Violence (In Thoughts & Actions) b) Understanding & Respecting Others: their perspectives and circumstances. Teaching such basic principles is a parent’s responsibility.
- Writing their daily experience about one thing they learned
- Comprehending your thoughts is very crucial. Writing personal experiences help kids in improving their language, vocabulary, grammar and most importantly articulating their thoughts for people to understand.
Besides their daily routine, travel is a critical observation-based learning that we plan to do every 2-3 months. This way, they learn about new places, people, culture, perspectives, traditions and much more, to make them more assertive and receptive at the same time. They need to learn to face any situation in their life. They need to leave their bias and accept/respect multiple realities and points of view.
Needless to say it’s all not as easy as it looks. Changing routine, mindset and behavior of kids, parents and me, as well, is a nightmare. There have been times when you feel everything is not going by plan; but it is also important to understand that, that’s how life works and will always be. We all have to give time to each other. We are trained to do things in a certain way but it is time we learn to break that familiar pattern.
As guardian/parents, our responsibility is to help the coming generations to find answers to their questions and introduce them to alternate opportunities where they can learn and grow further if that interests them. It’s a long road ahead for us and we are beginning to see good changes, slowly. We are out of that rat race, and we are walking in a direction of making this journey of life experiential, enriching, engaging and enjoyable.