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    From life skills to choosing their own subjects and curriculum, we look at alternative ways to give your child a more organic education. By Susanna Chandy (m susanna@newindianexpress.com)

    Many parents are beginning to feel that traditional schools are run like factories — by the bell. And they offer the same subjects, assignments and evaluation processes in each class, regardless of the child’s individual characteristics, traits or abilities. The good news is that there are ways to escape the often poor teaching quality and questionable disciplinary methods in mainstream schools along with the rigidities in timetable and curriculum they come with. “Up until a few years ago, only about ten per cent of parents were even looking at alternative schooling options. Today, that number is up to 40 per cent because most parents have themselves tired of the regular system,” says Anitha Loganadhan of Golden Bead Montessori. She also feels that teachers must be guided for them to be able to teach with passion because, “When you teach, it should encompass education for life, not just rote learning”. From organic teaching methods to customised curriculum, we take a look at home schooling and three of the newest alternative schools in the city.

    Aarohi
    30BJ32Here, the Life School concept allows the child to learn ‘naturally, organically and openly’. There are no standardised groupings, and no curriculum, lesson plans, classrooms, teachers or tests. The child to teacher ratio is 1:12 and the kids are broadly grouped age-wise into Aarohi Cubs (two to five-and-a-half years) and Aarohi Lions (five-and-a-half upwards). “We believe that every child is capable and ‘am-able’, and that it is after all, the child’s life. So we let him or her decide what to learn, how to learn, when to learn, with whom to learn and how much to learn,” begins Ratnesh Mathur, founding faculty.

    The system is strikingly similar to one in the UK – the School in the Cloud, where children learn subjects that catch their fancy. Mathur and his team believe that ‘everything in the world is worth learning about with age no bar’ and so their curriculum is unrestricted with students of up to 25 years of age. “A child can learn maths, embroidery, music, chemistry or politics or … whatever subjects fall under the eight (multiple) intelligences,” says Mathur, referring to Howard Gardner’s theory that broadens the definition of intelligence to include more than just ‘one general ability’. Mathur describes a typical day at the O Campus — “Imagine a free learning environment and children setting their daily or weekly goals, working on them and then reflecting on their achievements. Very similar to an adult scenario”. However, the school, while willing to support any child who wants to sit for board certified examinations, does not integrate students into the mainstream at any point.
    Near Kelamangalam town. Details: 9845045833

    Aurinko Academy
    The founders of Aurinko Academy felt a gap in the education system that is demarcated into Academic and Special schools. Neglecting children who did not want the former or need the latter. “It creates a divide between ‘intelligent’ and ‘non-intelligent’. The divide itself is invalid, as only academic skills cannot define a human being,” shares Seema Chhabra a founding faculty member, adding that this narrow definition of “intelligence” has led to increasing social maladjustments across the world. “At Aurinko, nature and nurture work hand-in-hand with learning that stems from experiences and culminates in a book,” she explains. Working with the NIOS syllabus, every class has between five to eight children with two to three teachers, depending on the activity, with art, craft and experiential games forming a major chunk of the timetable. Older kids (grade 6, grade 7) are traditionally assessed, while grade 8 is encouraged to focus on careers through internships with established organisations. “Our classrooms are very active and bubbling with energy. Children and teachers work together and the Pin Drop Silence rule prevails for anyone sharing knowledge and not only the teacher,” Chhabra tells us.
    At Kudlu, off Hosur Road. Details: 9845497901

    Fact file
    No transport facilities provided in-house. Most parents car pool
    No uniform restrictions
    A community kitchen provides for food and refreshment for all on campus
    Field trips conducted every alternate Friday (an average of 20 a year)
    Academic calendar flows from June to March
    Fee structure: Rs. 90,000 per annum

    Poorna
    This school tackles education by raising socio-cultural awareness early. “We want children to explore the world around them and growBijal1 into sensitive and caring members of society, first and foremost,” begins Indira Vijaysimha, trustee at the school. They bring together children from diverse social stratas, religions and learning abilities, and group them broadly according to age. “We focus on the needs of the learner. The teachers plan the curriculum through group discussions, keeping in mind the child’s personality and the socio-cultural environment. We bring traditional and indigenous forms of knowledge into the school,” explains Vijaysimha. They follow the open school system with a teacher- student ratio of 1:12.
    At Bagalur Cross. Details: 22792042

    Fact file
    Transport facilities cover all major routes
    Their simple, sky blue uniform is made from functional sports material
    Snacks and refreshments are brought from home
    Field trips on a regular basis, as most lessons are
    experiential in nature
    Academic calendar flows from June to March
    Grades: 1-10 (five to 16 years)
    Fee structure: Rs. 1.5 lakh upwards per annum

    Leila1Home Schooling
    An increasing number of parents find Home School an appealing alternative. However, in India, the exact numbers are not very clear as most are not registered and not reflected in statistical data. However, online forums like homeschoolersguides.com and alternativeeducationindia.net and organisations like Swashiksha or the Indian Association of Homeschoolers, that facilitates the Indian Homeschoolers’ Conference every year, offer parents an interactive platform and professional guidance. We spoke with two parents who make this system work.

    Leila Alvares took her son Kieren (13 years) out of regular school when he finished the fifth grade and began schooling him at home. Her daughter, Keira (7 years), followed suit and she set up a regular schedule and selected the CBSE syllabus to follow because it is ‘a lot more pictorial and less taxing on the child’. “Kieren was following the ICSE curriculum when I pulled him out. I just felt that there was no meaning in putting him under so much pressure, even though he could cope,” says Alvares. A regular day at their home has a well-defined schedule, strictly adhered to by both mother and kids. Languages are taught in a conversational format for two hours, while social studies and science are taught chapter-wise for an hour. One hour everyday is devoted to math, again from the curriculum, with ‘no chapters skipped!’

    Based in Coorg, Alvares runs a home-stay that both her children are an active part of. “When we have guests, the kids don’t follow the schedule. They talk to guests and interacts with different kinds of people that gives them an experience like no other,” she says in response to queries about the social ramifications of the system. The kids also learn swimming, horse-riding, golf and karate, and practical lessons in computers and programming. Alvares’ only worry is that her son might not be able get back into a system of rote learning, but is willing to take the chance in order to give him an all-rounded education.

    Bijal Pamar, on the other hand, has pursued this option because the motivational speaker and his wife, Yogi, who organises tours in the USA and Canada, did not want to leave their children behind when they travelled. Their daughters, Shivani (13 ) and Khushani (9 ), have a full-time tutor when in the country with a daily study schedule from 9 am that goes on for an hour post lunch. “We cover maths, English, Hindi and science, with one open hour everyday when they can learn about any subject they choose,” says Bijal, who uses a mix of Indian and American syllabuses. When they travel, they cover maths and English, with social science taught through experience. “We show them around all the places we visit and explain to them their histories in detail,” he says.

    And the down-side? Bijal feels that the only drawback is that they are not part of school activities and team sports or group events. But, they make up for it with the large group of ‘kids their own age they spend plenty of time with’. “A lot of the ramifications can come from shielding your kids from the outside world. We don’t do that. We let them mix with different kinds of people, and that’s very important,” he warns.

    Not wanting them to be a part of the ‘rat-race’, Bijal says that what is important is that his children can identify their talents and interests, and be empowered enough to hold their own in everything they do. They do however, intend to enroll them in regular school for grade 10 under the ICSE curriculum so they can obtain their board certification and follow an academic path if that’s where their interest lies.

    Fact file
    School buses with escorts cover all major routes
     No uniform restrictions
    Snacks and refreshments brought from home, except on Wednesdays, when groups of students cook and serve a meal under the supervision of their teachers
    Regular field trips organised as well as an annual out-of-town excursion
    Academic calendar flows from June to March
    Grades: 1-12
    Fee structure: Rs. 60,000 upwards per annum

    Pics: Jithendra M
    Location Courtesy: Gambolla Kids Club

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