By Mukhtar Ahmad Farooqi
Alternative schooling is an umbrella term used for schools that typically step away from the conventional methods of teaching rather schooling. These schools shun rote learning, and provide their students with holistic, multidisciplinary learning. SECMOL (Ladakh), Isha Home School (Coimbatore),Marudam Farm School (Tamil Nadu),Abhaya School (Hyderabad), Mirambika Free Progress School (New Delhi) are few examples of alternative schools operational in India. According to G.B. Shaw “What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of child” .The traditional curriculum is based on the assumption that children must be pursued by knowledge because they will never pursue it themselves. Thus schooling came to be a method of controlling children and forcing them to do whatever educators decided was beneficial for them as when given choice, most children prefer not to do schoolwork.
Un-schooling is one of the alternative learning systems. There is no curriculum, no marks, no imposed learning and no exams. The children the set agenda and pace, and the aim is to learn through living. Unschooled kids pursue Self-Directed Learning as they are free to choose what they want to learn and who they want to learn from. Many urban Indian parents are ditching the current education system to let their kids learn whatever they want. According to a report published in the Mirror Now on 21 December 2017, as many as 15,000 Indian families have decided to keep their children from going to school and instead educate them about individual caliber, holistic development and the community machinery. Un-schooling is becoming a trend in urban India with Bengaluru and Pune leading the chart. Before proceeding further, let us first try to understand the concept of un-schooling and mechanism of its working.
Un-schooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Un-schooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction (Wikipedia). In simple terms, it is student directed learning which means the child or teen learns whatever they want and whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven not dictated or directed by an external curriculum, by teachers or by parents. For an un-schooler, life is in the classroom. It follows closely on the themes of educational philosophies proposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Paul Goodman, and A.S. Neill. The term “un-schooling” probably derives from Ivan Illich’s term “de-schooling” and was popularized through John Holt’s newsletter Growing Without Schooling. The term “un-schooling” was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, who is regarded as the father of un-schooling. Un-schooling or child-led learning has spread across the world since its inception in counter culture of 1970’s America. Some people confuse the term homeschooling with un-schooling but there is a major difference between the two with respect to how they approach learning. In a homeschooling environment, parents act like teachers in the classroom while as un-schooling operates with the faith that children are naturally curious and will follow their interests in their own way.
How does Un-schooling work?
The approach or method of learning is quite different from the conventional form of education but much of what these children learn is similar to learning the alphabet, basic arithmetic, the Periodic Table, World Wars and democracy like the regular school goers but a lot differently.
What they do: They pursue Self-Directed Learning and aren’t sitting idle. Self-Directed Learning means they are free to choose what they want to learn (coding, music, dance, sports, filmmaking, cooking, or even daydreaming) and who they want to learn from (books, facilitators, parents, Internet, internships or travels). There is no curriculum, no timeline, and no expectations.
Where they learn: Most of the education happens at home because parents of the children let them explore the world using a combination of textbooks, activities, projects, and tuitions. If parents follow or design a pre-packaged curriculum then it becomes homeschooling else if they avoid a structure then it is un-schooling.
How they learn: The mantra of un-schooling is less theory, more projects and practical’s. Once a month, children plan the electives they want to study (history, creative writing, coding, universe, and so on) during morning hours and pick a place they want to travel to. They also do research, itinerary, and budgeting.
Namrata Bhatt, co-founder of BeMe, an alternative learning space around Bengaluru says, “Children are far more intelligent and empathetic than we give them credit for. Since it is a space for them, it’s only fair that they make the decisions. Here, they learn about democracy, budget planning, and people management”. Three adult facilitators together with children till age of sixteen, decide what projects must be pursued till Friday.
Nook , another such learning centre, started by Abhijit Sinha ,in the outskirts of Bengaluru and at a refugee camp in Uganda. It’s part of Project DEFY (Design Education For Yourself). The Kaggalipura Nook has 30 village children and elders visiting the facility to learn English, electronics, aqua-ponics, and embroidery, and everything is off the Internet. There are no teachers and it’s for free.
There is no time bounding like 9 A.M – 3 P.M in the conventional school system. Organic farming, healthy cooking, solar projects, fine arts, music, filmmaking, photography, and entrepreneurship are what mostly these un-schooler’s pursue.
Once they identify their true interest, they can hone it through apprenticeship, freelance projects or sign up for a college through private exams (NIOS and IGCSE), but to make that happen, the students must document every single project, internship, and collaboration that they have been or are a part of.
The founders of various projects who defend this concept by saying that it is a class without walls:
Jain, a Harvard University graduate, who cofounded Shikshantar believes that schooling model must retire now and says, “India presents an interesting dichotomy. On one end, lakhs of youth are graduating out of good colleges, and on the other, CEOs claim that there is a shortage of good workers. That’s because companies are increasingly looking for employees who are motivated, who can take initiatives, and who are confident to tackle crisis which is what un-schooling prepares you for, and not those chasing the ‘American Dream’.” In 2015, for instance, Ernst & Young, one of the Big Four accounting firms, declared it won’t consider degrees while hiring. But to make that happen, you must document every single project, internship, and collaboration, they advise.
Sandeep Anirudhan, who has co-initiated education projects such as Citizen Gurukul (a pre-school run by parents in Whitefield to demonstrate how schools can function in a transparent way), explains, “The basic premise of schooling is flawed – that children are empty and they need to be fed with information. Instead, they are observing and learning from day one, at a pace adults can’t match – they can learn multiple languages at once. And what we do is uproot them from their natural learning environment and throw them in a prison called school for 15-16 years to study what they might not like or find relevant.
Few examples that are in favour of this who have excelled but have never been to a school are:
Janani Eswar quit schooling at 12. Today, at 22, she has worked for over 25 schools, taught two semesters at Azim Premji University, and served as a panelist at a conference in Vancouver as an expert who designs curriculum with emphasis on human-nature connection. That’s because she used her un-schooling time to go trekking, tree climbing, and photographing birds and bees. “Nobody asked me for my certificates. One person told another that I do good work and I got more work. Going out into the real world without certificates requires one to be alive, confident, and willing to learn,” she says.
Un-schooled 17 year old Malvika Raj Joshi from Mumbai got through Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her computer programming skills in 2016 without possessing a class XI or a class XII certificate,. Her application to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was ironically rejected owing to the fact that she did not possess a class 12 certificate.
Absence of various qualities in un-schooling if compared with established systems raise concerns about its merits. Some of those are:
Socialization: Unschooled children need other ways to make friends in their age group or social circle which is readymade in case of school.
Development: Children won’t learn what they need to know in their adult lives.
Isolation: Range of experiences that are provided by the school like encounter with people of other cultures and socioeconomic groups might not be experienced by the unschooled children.
The idea of un-schooling stems from the fact that children are keen learners so we just need to give them the tools to explore the world till their teens. Schooling isn’t full proof neither is un-schooling. The un-schooling community is not claiming that their education model is better than regular schools but say that the latter is fundamentally flawed. Un-schooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. At the end of the day, an individual’s caliber is what makes him/her a creator of circumstances or a creature of circumstances.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]