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April 26, 2012

India: Homeschooled Students Cope with “Real” Life

By Dr. Mathew S P

This is a synopsis not only of our personal journey into homeschooling but also of the Indian homeschooling scene and our experiences over the past few years.

Personal journey

When we started homeschooling our daughter Grace in 2005, we could count on our fingertips the families who were homeschooling. We heard about homeschooling from a Christian family that came to India from California to talk about scriptural challenges to successful parenting. At that time, our daughter was in a Christian school, where we wanted her to have a sound foundation in the important basics of life. These ‘basics’ were what we her parents did not receive when we were growing up, resulting in one of us believing in the theory of evolution and the other not knowing the purpose of our existence.

We realized as we grew and matured, that there is indeed a God, a Creator, who loves us and cares for us as it is written in His Word. We desired to see that this fact was taught to our child right from the beginning.

When we heard this speaker talk from scripture about the responsibility of parents to train up their child, it spoke to our hearts and both of us agreed that ‘homeschooling’ it was going to be.

Indian scenario of institutional education

Kids selling their own creations at the Young Open Learners Association Bazaar at Nikhil’s place in Mumbai

In India, the majority of middle class or upwardly mobile parents wish to give the ‘best’ education for their kids, believing that this will ensure a sound future for them. Responding to this great desire, educational institutions have sprung up like weeds all over the cities, and many of them do not have any value system to speak of, while promising to teach the children admitted under their care ‘international’ standards of education. The result is mindless competition, endless anxiety for parents, with immense pressure to perform, both on the teachers and the helpless kids.

The kids who pass through institutional schools are trained to believe that their value in life, indeed their whole existence, is based on how they perform in the school exams. The ‘objective’ results will determine the child’s career, future, and status in life. Sadly, we have evidence to show that the product of this educational system seldom understands even the basic concepts of subjects in which they have supposedly excelled.

Indian homeschoolers

The community of homeschoolers in India is a varied lot. Many of them are homeschooling because they are fed up with this educational system and wish to bring up their kids without any pressure to perform at all. There are different degrees of homeschooling, with some following a structured curriculum based on either the state or national boards, or on some international board. There are some families that do not wish to impose any structure at all on their children’s education, but rather would let the child follow his or her own curiosity. Here the parents act as facilitators for their children, believing that the children are mature enough to make choices regarding what to learn. These would be defined as unschoolers by the global definition of the term. However, in India the term “homeschoolers” is used to include all those who are teaching their children at home, in an open environment.

The Indian Government

As of now, the Government of India has not yet directly addressed the issue of homeschooling in black and white terms. Waking up after a gap of more than 50 years, the Indian Government declared education a fundamental right of every child in 2010. Surprisingly, what came out of this delayed response was that the “Right to Education Act” turned out to be a Right to Schooling Act, which envisaged that every child from the ages of 6 to 14 would have to compulsorily attend ’school’! Little do the bureaucrats realize that education has long since moved out of these so called schools!

In a letter addressed to HSLDA in January 2011, the Indian Human Resources Department (equivalent to a Ministry of Education) did mention that as of now parents opting for homeschooling may continue to do so. The government is currently asking the National University of Educational Planning and Administration to look into how homeschoolers are coping with ‘real’ life.

Networking & a national organization

National Learning Societies ‘unconference’ at Hideout near Mumbai March 2012

Using Facebook, emails, Yahoo groups, and the mobile and telephone, we homeschoolers in India have been linking up with one another over the past many years, and now we are planning to form a national body representing all homeschoolers in India. We feel at this stage that it is better for us to be collectively united as part of a national body so as to best represent our rights as parents to educate our own children in the best way we can.

It has been an exciting time as we have met with other families in and around Mumbai, and even from the country in the past few months. We have had meetings at Paushyam (a friend’s office at Bandra, suburb of Mumbai) to discuss the formalities of forming a National Body. We have also had picnics to gushing streams during the rains, organized bird watching trails in the national park, seen the lunar eclipse from a terrace, visited the planetarium and science museum, organized a bazaar where homeschooling kids sold their creations, had a bonfire and visited farms to learn about alternative lifestyles.

It is an exciting time to be an ‘open learner’ in India. We pray that we parents continue to have the freedom to choose the best means of education for our children now and for the future generations to come. Thank you for your interest, and please spread the word around.

Visit Dr. Mathew’s homeschool blog for updates about homeschooling in India and efforts to create a national homeschooling organization.

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s India page.