A small but growing number of families in Urban and semi-urban cities, are rejecting traditional education models in favour of ‘unschooling’. Un-Schooling or Home Schooling means with no lessons, no grades and no rules. Could the ideas of this fringe movement grow and challenge the Current Education System and be the future of education? Unschooling parents are typically bombarded with many questions, however 3 in common.
The first hurdle: How will their child attain basic literacy?
The answer to this often comes as a surprise to the parents themselves. Many can’t pinpoint the exact moment their child learnt how to read or write, and the process is often described as “magical” and “unexpected”. They learn from observation, pretend games, interactions with people, sometimes from necessity. But it does demand alertness to the child’s interests, and the financial ability to supplement these interests. And since for millions, a formal degree is still a necessary entry point into stable careers, unschooling remains a safer bet for the elite.
If unschoolers decide to opt for degrees through distance learning institutes like the National Institute of Open Schooling and the Indira Gandhi National Open University, they might have to account for knowledge gaps in their learning. For instance, Rayn learnt writing by hand at the age of 18 in preparation for his IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams. This was also the first time he studied math, a subject he found fascinating and joyous, despite not having previously encountered building blocks of the discipline, like algebra and trigonometry. His results included three A-stars and two As; his lowest score was in math, a decent 83, but a personal disappointment.
Muzaffar Shaikh, a former IT professional in Pune, who is currently a stay-at-home unschooling dad, was surprised at his 10-year-old son Kindo’s ability with language. “My education was not in English, it is my second language, so we do not speak it at home. But he speaks English like a native by watching videos and playing games,” he says.
Second concern is Employability. Can unschooler be absorbed into the workforce?
There are no clear answers here, but you get the sense that an anti-capitalist world view threads through the community. These parents are aware that their children might never obtain six-figure incomes, and are more likely to find a calling in the arts or in fields relating to sustainability. This is a frequent area of discussion at unschooler meetings. “There are challenges, like when my son goes to meet someone for an internship, he feels like he will not get a certain kind of job,” says Sumi Chandresh, an Ahmedabad -based unschooling parent whose 18-year-old son, Qudrat, wants to pursue film-making. “There are pros and cons in both the system and in unschooling. But the system has brainwashed us so we can’t see anything beyond a degree.”
On the other hand, companies like Google, Apple and Intel have made announcements about hiring candidates without college degrees. In 2016, IBM revealed that 10-15% of new hires in the company did not have formal education.
Unschoolers who have never attended school often rely on accounts from friends and relatives to make up their minds about it. One parent was even bemused by the ways in which his sceptical relatives presented school as a tempting wonderland to his 10-year-old son. He was not buying it, having played enough student-teacher pretend games to know better. Qudrat, on the other hand, was curious enough to find out for himself. “At the age of 7, I knew I was slightly different from the others. So I went to school for a day,” he says. The verdict? “I just couldn’t bear to sit in that classroom.”
While there are no in-depth studies on how unschoolers feel about their education, in 2013, American psychologists Peter Gray and Gina Riley surveyed 75 grown unschoolers (of which 65 were from the US, and 10 from the UK, Canada and Germany). Three of the 75 reported that they were unhappy with their unschooling, citing reasons of social isolation or dysfunctional families. A majority said the biggest disadvantage of unschooling was the judgement and criticism of others—over the course of their childhood, unschoolers are met with surprise, envy, scrutiny and, in some cases, ridicule.
In terms of employment, 53% of the respondents were entrepreneurs, 48% of the participants were pursuing a career in the arts and 29% were pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Most found themselves in professions beyond the mainstream: there was an orientation and mobility specialist, a circus performer, a wildlife photographer, and an assistant to a film director.
Third and most common question. What about socialization?
There is an emphasis on forming relationships outside of classrooms. Children interact with people of diverse ages and class backgrounds. John Holt’s view was that qualities like kindness, patience, and generosity were better learnt in intimate relationships and smaller groups. “By and large, human beings tend to behave worse in large groups, like you find in school. There they learn something quite different—popularity, conformity, bullying, teasing,” he wrote.
The unschoolers I met reported their social circle consisted of friends made in their housing societies, hobby classes, and meet-ups with other unschoolers. Qudrat says he’s formed intergenerational connections over the years, like when he travelled to Nashik to study Warli art at the age of 10. While Rayn also reports an ease in socializing with people of all ages, he does admit to a feeling of social exclusion. “I’m not good at things like small talk and banter…but this could partially be a result of my own personality,” he says.
World of Home-Schoolers
“Unschooling is like religion, no two families adopt it exactly the same way,” says one parent. “To be honest, there are times when I also get confused about what exactly radical unschooling is, and I don’t know how many of them are actually following it. Since there is no central authority, there will be some differences.” These differences can include encouraging their children to learn from the outdoors, limiting gadget use or packaging educational lessons as games (which is a contravention of the self-learning principle).
Aparajita Kumar, a stay-at-home parent and blogger in New Delhi stopped radical unschooling for her children, aged 2 K and 4, after experimenting with it for two years. “It was too loose and scary for me. I’ve heard stories of unschoolers who couldn’t sign their names at 18 and I didn’t want to take a risk with (my children’s) future,” she says. Now, she favours a more relaxed form of home education. “While I don’t follow a pre-prescribed curriculum, I draw from philosophies like the Charlotte Mason method and project-based learning.”
To help new entrants negotiate such fears, several unschooling parents endeavour to be seen: they post frequently on blogs, participate in studies, let journalists into their homes, share email addresses on online forums. On a national level, the annual Learning Societies UnConference and the Swashikshan Association of Homeschoolers have emerged as platforms for alternative education seekers to network.
Dola Dasgupta manages the Unschooling in India group on Facebook, where parents seek each other out for support. It currently has 441 members. “By deciding to unschool them (her children), I have created an unknown path as a parent. That’s why we have forums to share our doubts,” she says. “But it’s important to mention we’re not anti-education activists.”
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