Learning at Home and Beyond: Who does it?

Learning at Home and Beyond: Who does it?

Learning without schooling is in some sense as old as the hills. In the context of the prevailing modern education system, starting from Kindergarten and continuing through high school as a preparation for college and career, those who have the means to enroll their children in school but opt not to do so are considered to be homeschooling. In this sense of the term, homeschooling has a more recent history, and many of the families who identify as homeschooling draw inspiration from American authors of the 1960s and 1970s including Jean Liedloff and John Holt. The United States census estimates that 1.5 – 2 million children, or 3% of those in grades K-12, are educated at home and estimates that number is growing at the rate of 15 to 20 percent per year1.

In India I am not aware of any official or unofficial estimate of the number of children homeschooling in this modern sense. One cannot assume that any child not enrolled in school would, given the opportunity, prefer to be there, but it is fair to say that all children deserve and would like to have the conditions that make that opportunity possible – secure home and family environment, with resources required for life and livelihood, health and leisure.

Although those who are generally recognized as homeschoolers could without much difficulty go to school and pass if they put in reasonable effort, there are others who leave schools because in spite of their efforts, they are not able to follow what is taught or to pass the tests. Often the classroom is overcrowded, poorly lit, the teacher is unable to attend to each student, or may not attend class at all.  The textbook may be dull, difficult to read or not in the student’s native language.  There is no time to ask questions and no one to answer.

A movement is afoot to reject the term “dropout” and recognize these students as “walkouts” – leaving a system that has failed them, and seeking something better. To find and create that something better requires a community effort. The movement of walkouts envisions learning as a social experience taking place in living communities via countless paths, and not in factory-model schools with standard outcomes. In a learning society, all can learn from one another, anywhere and anytime, regardless, ideally, of class, caste, gender, age, or educational background.

Without estimating the number, the Ministry of Human Resource Development Department of School Education and Literacy has acknowledged, in a letter responding to an enquiry concerning homeschooling in India that:

“In India, some parents do opt for home-schooling for their children.”

Why do it?

Again, to quote the Ministry of Human Resource Development Department of School Education and Literacy:

Parents who are otherwise dissatisfied with the curriculum and syllabus followed in schools, or feel that the school schedule does not leave their children with any time to pursue other interests follow the home-schooling approach.

The Ministry has eloquently summarized the broad range of reasons that appeal to families who decide to follow this approach.

How to do it?

There are in a sense, as many methods of homeschooling as there are homeschoolers.  Some methods are organized with ready-to-use curricular resources, support groups, expert guidance, and training sessions for those who follow the chosen method.

One can use textbooks corresponding to school subjects, but it is not necessary to do so. What books to use, whether to use them at all, regularly, or just a little, what other paths are out there – once you start exploring these questions you will find people ready to share their experiences and insights with you. By trying things out and seeing what works for your children, you will find your own way.

There are a number of theories about methods – whether to use them, how to choose them, and when to let go of them. To anyone sorting through the question of “how do I do it?” I recommend this article by veteran homeschooling mother Lillian Jones: “Considering Methods & Styles of Homeschooling:”


There are countless websites on homeschooling, learning, living without school.

While these websites can offer reassurance or new ideas, it is not necessary to read them if they are not your cup of tea. What is necessary is to connect with your child, be available so that your child can connect with you, and create an environment where both of you can hear your own thoughts, express them and listen to each other.  Regardless of your method of learning, one precious gift you have given yourself is the gift of time. Your child is now able to do things for as long as he wants rather than being arbitrarily told, time’s up, next subject, or no, you need to finish that before you can do this.   When there are time constraints, one can take the child into confidence and address them together rather than obeying a bell on a daily or even hourly basis.

When people hear about homeschooling for the first time, it is typically around this point in the conversation, just as they are about to get happily lost in this world where we learn at our own time and place and pace, that a looming question arises. What about Board Exams?

What about Board Exams?

According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development Department of School Education and Literacy:

There is no separate syllabus for home-schooling. Most children use the textbooks prescribed for formal schools. On reaching Class 10 a home-schooler can take the board exam privately by registering with the National Institute of Open Schooling or International General Certificate of Secondary Education. This is done at the child’s pace and time….”

The National Institute for Open Schooling offers “On Demand Examination” making exams available each month so that a student can appear for any subject as and when he or she is ready to do so. In India, the British Council offers the IGSCE and related examinations2. Exams are also offered by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. More information about these exams is provided in Priya Desikan’s article, Boards and Homeschoolers on the Swashikshan: Indian Association of Homeschoolers.

In India, a growing number of homeschoolers who are now young adults have taken exams through one of these standard Boards. There are qualified tutors and institutions that help out-of-school candidates to prepare for these. Others have been able to demonstrate equivalent readiness for advanced courses or careers without having taken these exams or have chosen paths for livelihood preparation that did not require these exams.

Swaraj University in Udaipur offers students, or khojis (seekers) the opportunity to study and practice in fields of their choice in a two-year program. It has no standard syllabus, requires no entrance exams or diplomas for admission and grants no degrees3. Swaraj students can create a portfolio of the projects they completed that may serve for gaining admission to higher studies or employment. Swaraj supports khojis wishing to set up their own community enterprises, and maintains a database of employers who accept a portfolio in lieu of a degree. Swaraj resists the commodification of community resources and promotes a kind of sharing termed as “gift economy,” which would, if practiced fully, make employment and income redundant. Even small steps in this direction help to control price rise, reduce waste, and incrementally curb the acceleration of the “rat race.”

This would free people’s time and energy for meaningful work and play and improve our collective quality of life and engagement with planet earth. Dreamers may have a natural appetite for this way of thinking, yet it is eminently practical as well. The rapidly changing world offers no guarantees and many reasons to doubt that the educational and employment structures of the past will be relevant in the future. Such is the premise of Ken Robinson’s talk at the 2006 conference of Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED), called “Changing Educational Paradigms.” Robinson narrates, with generous doses of humour, the demise of creativity in the prevailing school system.  So what? one might ask.  Is it not necessary, one might ask, to learn what is already known before one sets about creating?

To that question, I return another:   What is Learning?


1 Kurt J. Bauman, “Home Schooling in the United States: Trends and Characteristics” US Census Bureau, Working Paper Series No. 53, August 2001, retrieved in 2012 from http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0053/twps005…

2 Details about the O-Level, A-Level, and IGCSE examinations offered by the British Council in India are available at http://www.britishcouncil.org/india-exams-educational-exams.htm

3 Manish Jain and Shilpla Jain. .Healing Ourselves from the Diploma Disease. Shikshantar: Udaipur, 2005.  http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/healingdiplomadisease.pdf


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: