Sunday, March 23, 2014

ON THE THRESHOLD OF HOME LEARNING…BEING UNCONVENTIONAL OR BEING NATURAL???

ON THE THRESHOLD OF HOME LEARNING…BEING UNCONVENTIONAL OR BEING NATURAL???
I became a mother on 19th APRIL 2001, and life changed. I held my bundle of joy and promised the world to him .Circumstances so transpired that we, as a couple, were led into starting a coaching class in order to make a living. That one classroom became our KARMABHOOMI. In a way we were sort of homejobbing so that we could take care of our little boy and work around our own limitations of not being able to go into the job world.

As we worked with the little kids ranging from age five to fifteen we were exposed to all kinds of fibs and strife of school life. Preparing them for exams was part of our job and that is where we realized the immense stress these kids carried. We saw and felt very closely the mad race for MARKS…The cramming just on the last days…the atrocious oral taking up of the answers …wrong spellings. Try as we might some kids just could not get the spellings right or a certain subject was totally unfathomable. Writing creative stuff like essays or letters or reports or speech was just not possible in the very MEDIUM they aspire to be. Parents cited the reason that since it is a non- English background child is unable to write ….I was totally aghast when a suggestion to simply make them BYHEART the stuff given in their school books….PHEW…I could feel compassion for these mothers who wanted their kids to show a better report card or at least better than the ones they were competing with….the crazy obsession with maths have to be observed to know the devastation it creates …only few survive and stay afloat...often tuition kids went to two or three maths coaching other than coming to us. The reasoning being ..more the teachers more the learning…expensive the fees better will be the result…the students were crushed and are repeatedly crushed…parents did not consider the good marks in OTHER SUBJECTS…after all how will he or she take science?? No one ever asked the child, “Do you want to take SCIENCE?”
So when it was time conventionally to get my kid enrolled in a school we knew the inside out of all the schools in the vicinity. We went to all of them and found them sorely lacking. The staff was not too cordial.[some unwritten law permits the school staff to deal with parent community in an offhand manner]Toilet facilities repugnant….crowded classrooms.. At one point I fainted thinking my child may get trampled if there was a stampede during breaks. I was of course told I was being paranoid. Children adjust is what I was told…did we all not manage??
Finally we came across a small school with a ratio of 1;20 .We were thrilled. Prompt admission and well we basked in the glory of being responsible parents.We enjoyed the subsequent years sports day…annual day…grandparents day…pyjama party…hmmm
Then came my second bundle of activity and we put him too in the same school. As they say after the honeymoon the practical life begins….As our kids began to proceed into higher grades the Cracks in the system began to become apparent. Till it was “Jack n Jill” and 2+2 makes four it was all well ….
We realized slowly that the teachers do not have fluency in the very medium they teach…in order to  hide the inadequacy of lack of skilled staff the assessments were manipulated and at times modified to suit the client and varied according to their demands. There was no curriculum …no grammar portion…

The teachers cancelled the correct sentences my kid wrote and wrote wrong sentences over it. My poor child came home thinking he has made a mistake...After all, Teachers are GOD at that age. What took the cake is the goof up on TORTISE!!!!! YES ANYONE WHO KNOWS ENGLISH WILL JUMP AT THE SPELLING I WROTE …IT IS INCORRECT …I know it is…stay with me and you will know why I wrote that…There was a test and in the blank my kiddo wrote TORTOISE as the answer .That is the blank he was given incorrect one mark was cut. We thought there was a misunderstanding and went to meet the teacher .SHE INSISTED THE SPELLING WAS INCORRECT AND SHOWED US THE TEXTBOOK!!! After all the printed word is FINAL…This prestigious and expensive publication had written TORTISE and obviously we parents were so ignorant!!!!
Not so easy on giving up I NOW DUG MY HEELS AND INSISTED THE SPELLING WAS TORTOISE…We were the customers so the head of the department was called in. They logged into the INTERNET to verify the spelling …Surprise …surprise…TORTOISE!!!! They tendered an apology and corrected the mistake realizing their goof-up. My kid was happy. Being an avid reader from childhood, he intuitively knew the correct spelling. He did not need a publication to tell him …however the teacher needed the net and printed book to establish a spelling.

By way of explanation, we were told that they are not able to find good teachers “All the highly educated teachers are joining call-centres and so we face a shortage of quality teachers” INDEED
Later years brought more goof-ups…added to bus woes…heavy bags…repetitive tedious SPORTS DAYS[NOW]…Expensive senseless costume hunting for a thirty second annual day performance…rigorous tiring annual day drills…
We wondered at the month long preparations for the so called annual day and sports day .At the end of the year we saw many-many chapters and concepts in the textbooks untouched. When pointed out to the school the only response we got was “textbooks are so lengthy …there is not enough time!” OF COURSE …busy little people. What did we know as parents??
As the year turned we realized scores of notebooks we bought were empty. Scrap book…Dictation book…Composition book….grammar notebook…question and answer book…math book…geometry book…map book…history….each had been used for maybe once or twice. Pages and pages went empty. Come the next year we had to buy all of them again.

When we asked the kids what did you do at school today? The answer we got varied from…Nothing…went to the club…teachers were absent…I slept…Kids never complained when we missed the alarm and they missed the day. They were more than happy to sleep late and catch up on their favourite cartoon.
So we thought we had made a wrong choice and WE CHANGED THE SCHOOL. We jumped from fire into a frying pan!!!!

This one was a bigger school …grand facilities…home-staff to manage water coolers and toilets and cleanliness…their own auditorium …ground…roomy classrooms not the pigeon holes of the previous school. There was no A/C though which our kids were accustomed to. However the class had forty kids but their own chair n desk. Some Trade off we had to do. As time went by, my kids excelled academically. Often the younger one was pulled up for taking non-veg food [egg sandwich]…to junk food[you see for the teacher the home -made pasta I sent  was JUNK FOOD].He was fired for completing his worksheets earlier than she explained. Elder one too excelled and got straight away full marks in almost all the subjects.. .except English…YOU SEE THEY HAVE INSTRUCTIONS TO NOT GIVE FULL MARKS IN THE SUBJECT.
My kids excelled academically despite no notes no proper test format .Whatever was asked they solved with lot of common sense God has endowed them with and the avid reading they do helped them just glide through the thing called Exams!!!!
We as parents never had to create a regime or study time for them to give tests. We never had to tell them to sit with their books when there was a test. They did it on their own surveyed their field and were ready!!!!!
But again the heavy Bags with tons of paraphernalia…often unneeded….Sports day…Activity day…Annual day…here it was worst. The staff as I said had the license to treat the parents as an unwanted but inevitable appendage.
The Principal felt that Parents were all an uncivilized and savage ill -mannered lot who have not trained our kids. So every disciplinary issue that came up it was always the parents who had to take the onus of their kids misbehaviour.

Any kind of academic GOOF-UPS just had to be ignored .If the kid did not understand a maths concept it was not the teachers fault but the child who did not pay attention when the teaching was done. Any discrepancy in the question paper was not to be corrected. You just had to accept all that the teacher corrected. If you dared to involve higher authorities it would take months for the sheet to come back. Often they realized the goof but never accepted .The child was reprimanded and chided. I remember my little one complained one day of heavy corporal punishment from a teacher in his class. Her bangle broke on the head of a second grader .When I put in a written complaint, my kid was called and interrogated “Are you lying? “The proof was sitting in the nurse room getting treated due to the bangle injury!!!!!No parent was willing to come out in the open and protest. This eight year old had the unequivocal courage to ask me “Mom, How could I allow my class-mates to be beaten? You always tell me beating is wrong!!!!”

THEN WE FATHER and MOTHER of these two kids wondered, What NOW???? If the math and English and science and social sciences they learned on their own with a little help thrown in from our side…what are we sending our kids to…

When my kid is injured during the annual day practice all the school authorities including Principal and counselor is interested in knowing…Will he perform? We will announce his name as an example..
This came as a rude eye opener at a time when my elder one had an injury on his eye in the school and could not open his eyes for a week!!!!!!
It was not their responsibility!!!!!
Whose responsibility is it anyway????
Their staff cannot speak English…Parents must stimulate English Reading…
Their toilets stink…there are no stoppers to lock the doors…water guns do not provide water…According to them parents have not installed clean toilet habits in children…
Bags are heavy leading to backaches …parents must make their kids strong….
Again we pondered…whose responsibility is it finally…
Kids were ours…their childhood preciously slipping away…their creativity stifled…their academic brilliance not given wings or appreciation..

On Monday they waited for Saturday holiday…And then My husband, bless his soul...he came across this Lovely ALTERNATIVE…HOMESCHOOLING…
We call it HOME-LEARNING now….
But the decision was not easy…With the perks came the dark clouds of gloom and indecision. The dragon called CERTIFICATE….In INDIA if you want to navigate in a college or any institute for further studies we need an appropriate certificate from an approved board. State board you had to show your ninth grade failing document or a previous failure document…I may be wrong ...my research is on. ICSE board has no provision for private candidate….IGCSE offers private candidates an outlet but schools will provide a desk and paper only…NIOS IS SUPPOSEDLY UNDER SCANNER FOR CLOSING DOWN…that is what we heard.

Now what shall we do? If we pull them out will they miss the daily peer stimulation? This is a question we asked now but never before when vacations came. Suddenly the guilt crept in. Are we being selfish and cutting them off from their lifelong peers???
Why shake the APPLECART? Why not like others accept the faulty but fool proof system of getting a certificate. My kids anyway were good with their paper and pencil.
Why am I being so critical of everything when others live with it? If the kids are with us all the time will we be able to tackle the mammoth task of constantly stimulating them?
Are we playing with their future? Are we being impulsive and not giving this enough thought? Are we simply adopting this as a fad? What if we get tired but there is a point of no return?

And yet with the doubts gently crept in the word FREEDOM. Kids would be free of assessment ..This weird assessment system made by our policy makers who, neither know the questions and do not care for my children and their innovative answers. According to them there is one set of answer to a question…whereas there are as many answers as one can make up and the ones that work for each individual.
I feel suddenly  free. I am on a path that will teach my kids to value themselves for just being them. Sky is the limit to what they can dream .They do not have to do something because everyone is doing It. They will do something because it excites them…it makes them come alive .It stretches their imagination and not only their memory…They can solve real life problems like getting into the bank and making entries into their own accounts…they can cook and know the laws of heating & cooling and the basic skill to survive anywhere on the planet…They can just be….

Certificates I guess…if as a community we get together we can find a way…We home learners are a relaxed lot who are redefining learning…quietly assessing conventional thought and asking a very vital question…
If this worked yesterday for me or my parents… is it necessary it applies today for my child???
Does something have to be done this way…can right and wrong not coexist?
Am I willing to not constantly keep clearing the path of my child but give him or her a bushy road and give the satisfaction of clearing it? Learning important lessons whilst they figure out a way to clear and forge a different path for him-self or her-self?
Am I willing to put my torch down and get myself out of this mould where I have to constantly protect?
Am I willing to be just a facilitator and not the know-all supermom?
Can I open up to the fact that the little one can teach me a thing or two?
Can I trust Providence to find a way for my children in future? Lot of things regarding education is changing…maybe schools will change someday but I cannot wait …my kids childhood is going by…it will never return.

So YES…we turned in the application for school leaving certificate and still I doubt if WE DID THE RIGHT THING?????
Still I get up in sweat at night suddenly imagining my kids labelled as school drop outs!!!My father first wondered at it and even suggested removing them from school may raise concern over our financial status as if we were unable to fund their studies. He could understand this only in one way that was the only reason your kids were pulled out of school….
He cannot for the life of him understand how we can cut school?????It was a necessity of life ...a way of life…for what you work…what you do to get status in society.. For all of us wanting to walk on this path we need to ask very vital questions to self and truly introspect in a deep, deep way.
Ask simply WHY DO I WANT TO DO THIS?

At the Conference in Khandala we met many brave [according to me] souls who had never send their kids to school!!! However, we who have climbed the steps of a system and have now decided to opt out or are on the path of making up our minds, this becomes a vital question. There are as many reasons as there are people and children. For some a certain unpleasant experience or series of experiences trigger it. For some the child has a special need and the school cannot or will not do justice. After all they are dealing with numbers here and they need a standardized system to deal with the numbers. For some it is disillusionment with the way it stifles the tender minds of young ones under the guise of creating a standard system for all. For some the child excels in a particular skill and needs to devote full-time to it.

Pick your time and be sure in your mind what is it that you are wanting to redefine or reinstill.
NEXT ASK WHAT IMPORTANCE DO CERTIFICATES HOLD IN MY SCHEME OF THINGS?
We grew up thinking that schooling is a must and if you do not have a degree you have no value. We were told again and again and again...till we adopted this as a way for life and never really questioned it. At times we dimly recollect hating the tests or how we happily skipped school. But in the overall scheme of things school, college and if circumstances permit higher education was a must. It added value to us as human beings. Even today we are introduced through our educational qualifications...M.A  in so n so…M.B.A…..Dr….In these scenarios then how important is it for us to perpetuate that same way of life for our children. As when I think today, I still am looking only at the Academic ladder as the only way to earn a decent living. My children as of today do not display any special skills of music or dance or drama or any such …

In that case, how will I then go forward and function out of school? There are options mind you if you are willing to go that extra mile…My government has yet to wake up to the existence of this community of HOME-LEARNERS. For them there are only two categories of kids. The ones who go to school and the ones who do not. The ones who go to school they come up with laws from time to time…scrap the unit tests…pass them till grade eight …after ninth???Well they have grown up and fend for themselves you see…get ready for public exams and bang you go…all taken care of. Your reports…your school leaving certificates…you can move forward in life onwards and off to becoming a doctor…engineer…graduate...whatever…
But the ones who do not go to school well …they are not EXISTING. They must be forced by some circumstances like poverty or family issues to not go to school…for them there are  Government aided schools to give them free education. No other line of reasoning is acceptable. What if they cannot cope with school? What if they feel deeply upset in the school? What if I as a parent wish to stimulate, educate  my child my way….THERE IS NO PROVISION…

As a saving grace you do have private state board or if you can afford it a foreign board which with adequate fees and some flexibility allows your child to acquire the MUCH NEEDED CERTIFICATE TO NAVIGATE FURTHER..

Now ask are you willing to completely let go off this need for certification [unschoolers …cheers!!!!!]??? OR are you willing to enjoy the intermittent freedom and work extra during those vital years of Certifications??

IMPORTANT QUESTION IT IS & apt; THINK VERY DEEPLY ABOUT IT.
NEXT ASK WHAT WILL YOU DO ACTUALLY WHEN YOUR CHILD OR CHILDREN ARE WITH YOU AS YOURS TO MOULD AND BEHOLD AND GUIDE?????
You will need to be an alive and alert and an individual who himself or herself is in love with life. The more time your kids spend time with you the more they ask questions and maybe you can create your own memoirs...mini Upanishads…The ability to provide stimulation to children. Schools ,if nothing else ,help keep the kids away from home for some hours and send them back with work or tiredness to keep them further occupied…either in tuitions or resting…At home they will have so much energy and questions and What do I do now???
You do not have to now look at an external force like school to fix them….so to speak.
ASK, am I willing to allow life to unfold in uncertain ways? Can I be O.K. with sometimes my kids doing nothing??? Can I provide things that will sustain their interest in life? Can I deal with all and many changes that come-by which I may not be aware of today? Kids change very quickly…what they like today will change the next day? I as an individual will have to refocus my lenses every now and often??
To many of this I do not have satisfactory answers but I am enjoying each day this uncertainty of this path…it is a new Beginning for all four of us.

May we expand our vision each day. There is a wonderfully intelligent...loving …non-judgemental family of home learners out there ready to talk and help….

GOOD LUCK TO ALL OF US. WE DARE TO BE DIFFERENT WITHOUT BEING REBELLIOUS. 

We dare gently to tell the convention that we do not agree with you yet we do not blame you .We wish to take our lives into our hands and shape it to our satisfaction. Our life is our and only our responsibility!!


© SONNAL PARDIWALA

2 comments:

  1. thankyou for sharing your experiences of schools...its as if you have given words to my unspoken thoughts. amazing article

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  2. Thank you Neha..in sharing our experiences we grow n learn.

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