When Covid-19 lockdown brought out the teacher in some parents

As the pandemic led to a lockdown here, the world’s largest democracy and second-largest population, something got unlocked for a handful of students. Homeschooling.

While the word is self-explanatory — schooling at home — for these children it meant breaking the shackles of formal schooling and the format of mainstream learning. Take, for instance, Vedhas Gawali, 15. He will take his Class X Boards this year with subjects such as business studies, entrepreneurship, data entry operations. Not the usual subjects for Class X, by any means or Kavya Kasetwar, 8, who is learning mathematical concepts such as fractions while baking a cake.

Arnav Angadi, 13, has already selected his career path — animation — and has started training in it. Their parents said this breaking away from mainstream schooling became possible during the pandemic-induced lockdown. Having been exposed to unconventional learning as schools closed down, some parents decided to change the narrative by crossing over to the other side and turned educators for their children.

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While it is not exactly a new concept, and some estimates peg the number of home-schooled children at a few thousand, it is a community that has been growing after the lockdown.

“We (parents) were doing a lot for online schooling…while doing so, we saw Kymaia’s interest levels were dipping. This was bound to happen if you are not able to participate in a class full of windows on a screen with most children on mute,” said Pune’s Kedar Gadgil, who, along with Kymaia’s mother Natasha Singh, began homeschooling their daughter last year. “If I pay the school a certain amount, a general perception is there will be a teacher for every 15-20 children and my child will feel involved. But in an online set-up, even if you know the answer, your chance may come after a long gap.”

Kymaia, Gadgil said, is now learning topics of her interest —at her own pace. Her curriculum combines languages and social science of Grade-2 level, whereas for other subjects from Grade-4 level.

For Purva Badhe, a teacher at a higher education institution in Mumbai, online lectures made her realise the “teaching pedagogy”. “I could find out the limitations and its long-term effects,” she said. “It is also a rigid system, as schools have to follow a time-table.”

This schedule, Badhe said, is a hurdle in way of child-led learning. Citing an example, she said, “The teacher plays a rhyme, ‘Head, shoulders, knees, and toes’ for students during the music period, and my son enjoys the song; he wants to listen to it again and dance to that. But the lesson plan says that he needs to switch to identification of organs now.”

For Bhargav, 5, Badhe said they are developing ways to introduce different topics to him to gauge his interests and channel his energy accordingly. The family has not decided on a curricular framework for him yet.

In most cases, homeschoolers get formal certifications through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) which offers a liberty to appear for board exams with subjects of their interest.

Homeschooling began earlier this year for Mumbai boy Arnav Angadi. “We are freeing him from formal schooling. He has realised his passion, which has no room in a traditional subject list,” said his father, Mahesh Angadi. “He has started his professional training in animation.”

No one showed an interest in the concept of homeschooling when Mahesh discussed it at home. But that was until the pandemic struck, when “they learnt that education is possible outside of a school setting”. Mahesh said his younger son, Aarush, may soon join Arnav once he is comfortable.

Ketika Kasetwar, an educator, said the lockdown and online learning provided a smooth transition from conventional schooling to homeschooling for her daughter, Kavya. “The pandemic helped us connect better with the world and learning resources available across the world, simply because we had more time on our hands after attending online school,” she said. “Kavya easily pursued her interests in wildlife, environment conservation, gymnastics, parlour-and-video gaming. She learnt from people across the globe — about video game development from a person based in the US, and wildlife from someone in Australia. All this would not have been possible in a regular school set-up,” said Kasetwar, a single-parent from Pune.

Pointing out that she has not become Kavya’s teacher per se, Kasetwar said, “As a homeschooling parent, I definitely have had to upgrade myself to guide Kavya, not as a teacher but as a facilitator. We keep adding layers to what we are learning with several activities, as we learn at her pace, following her interests.”

“While there is this freedom, we also have a dedicated schedule to pursue academics. The focus is to not just perform academically but to provide a conducive environment around her with complementing social settings and people with knowledge who will help her grow.”

While Kasetwar said she is lucky in that she is not being questioned about the decision to pull her child out of regular schooling, it remains a worry still for Yogini Nene, whose decision to home-school her son Vedhas is still being “second-guessed”. Pointing out that this is “going against the conventional set-up”, Nene said, “Even Vedhas was not on board when we were discussing the homeschooling option four or five years ago. But during the pandemic, when online school began, we decided to experiment. I encouraged him to do self-study, with help from textbooks and platforms available on the Web. Within a few months, he had finished learning an entire year’s syllabus, which gave him time to explore his other interests.”

Once the child realised the advantage, “there was no looking back”, said Nene.

But she still had apprehensions about her son’s social circle. “When we are replacing his social circle, we explored ways to provide him with great companionship in his journey of discovering life. While he continued his friendship with schoolmates, he now also has peers in different hobby classes that he pursues,” said Nene, a money coach and crystal therapist.

Apprehensive at first, Vedhas is now glad that his mother helped him discover a new way of life. “The freedom this has offered me is definitely making my friends jealous,” he said. “I know I want to make a career in culinary arts, and studying mathematics and science just to complete formal schooling was a waste of time.”

“This set-up shows that a teacher is not just someone who helps you prepare to pass a certain examination but supports you build a personality,” said Vedhas.

While the jury is still out on how the picture will pan out in times to come, for these parents, breaking the rigidity of a school curriculum, introducing originality, and stimulating the child’s interest them chart their own course is the way to go.