Of late, there is an increased propensity among parents and guardians to follow unconventional elementary education models, trying to overcome the perceived shortages of conventional elementary education. At present, the excessive emphasis on rote learning, rather than problem solving solution, its stifles creativity in favour of conformity, writes Vineet Bhalla of the Centre for Civil Society, India's leading think-tank in thequint.com report.
Stating that the popular imagination about school education in the country centred on children studying in either government schools or mainstream private schools that follow the conventional classroom teaching model, the report goes on to say that while homeschooling is at a very nascent stage, with conservative estimates putting the number of families in India who have opted to homeschool their wards were estimated to be 15,000, the alternate education movement has existed for several decades since pre-independence era.
Defining homeschooling as the education of school-aged children at their homes rather than at a school, the report further added that the proponents of homeschooling argued that the children who are home-schooled are able to learn more, and turn out to be culturally more sophisticated and are able to excel in their natural abilities as their learning is broad, and just not confined to school environment.
Although there is no organized study conducted in India as to how home-schooled children go on to do in their lives, apparently, studies conducted on home-schooled children in the overseas destinations have revealed that such children perform substantially better than their conventionally educated counterparts in areas of development such as verbal fluency, independence and life skills, noted the report.
One classic instance the author cites as a key reason as to why homeschooling is better than the conventional education, he writes, "It is noteworthy that Sahal Kaushik, the youngest person to ever clear the highly competitive Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examination in 2010, who had ranked 33 in the country and stood first in Delhi at the tender age of 14, was home-schooled."
Kaushik further writes, Malvika Joshi from Mumbai, who was admitted to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of 17 in 2016, was another product of the homeschooling model of education.”
RTE hindering Homeschooling
Proponents of homeschooling are opposed to sending their wards to formal schools. However, the RTE Act does not recognise a child’s right to education at a site other than a school fulfilling the recognition norms set by the statute.
In that sense, the Act is more like a ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Schooling’, since it is making schooling compulsory for all children in the age group of 6-14 years, he argues.
In the Act’s imagination, elementary education, that is to be compulsorily provided to children of the target age group, can only be taught by recognised schools. Rightly so, there is no space for homeschooling in such a scenario, but the type of schooling made compulsory is restrictive, and threatens the existence of certain kinds of schools, Bhalla cautions.
Another impediment posed by the RTE Act is over the external certification of elementary education through homeschooling. Proponents of homeschooling usually avail of the National Institute of Open Schooling’s (NIOS) Open Basic Education (OBE) program. The OBE programme’s value lies in the fact that it is recognised by the Government of India as equivalent education to formal primary and upper primary schooling for purposes of higher education and employment. However, due to the restrictive notion of elementary education germinated by the RTE Act, the NIOS announced in 2011 that in light of the RTE Act, the OBE programme will discontinue catering to children of 6-14 years of age after 2013.
Public Interest Litigation
That same year, public interest litigation was filed before the High Court of Delhi by 14-year-old Shreya Sahai contending that the RTE Act does not recognise any other mode of imparting education except the one through formal schooling, which is in violation of the fundamental rights of children. In the course of the hearings in this matter, the Union MHRD Ministry filed an affidavit stating that there is nothing illegal about homeschooling, and that the RTE Act doesn’t come in the way of homeschooling. However, it also disclosed that the OBE Programme of the NIOS would not cater to children in the age group of 6-14 years beyond March 2015, he writes.
The petition was ultimately quashed by the High Court in 2013 on the grounds that it would not be justified for the Court to direct the Government to amend the RTE Act “as it is the right of the Government and legislature to amend any Act or any provision of the Act” (which is unfortunate, since High Courts are empowered through their power of judicial review to strike down or modify the reading of statutory provisions if they are found to be unconstitutional).
Since then, the OBE programme has been incrementally extended for 6-14 year old children periodically, first till March 2017, and most recently, till March 2020, “subject to the NIOS showing regular progress on mainstreaming children as per Section 4 of the [RTE Act]”. What is meant by mainstreaming children as per Section 4 of the RTE Act, however, is unclear, and not clarified anywhere by the Union HRD Ministry.
The Union HRD Ministry’s affidavit in the Shreya Sahai matter, affirming the legality of homeschooling, brought some consolation to the budding homeschooling community in India. The affidavit acknowledges, albeit indirectly, children’s right to education of choice,
While the OBE programme has been available to them for elementary education, they have faced tremendous uncertainty about the same since the enactment of the RTE Act. Though their worries have been placated through periodic incremental extensions of the programme, it is imperative that the Union HRD Ministry looks beyond such piece-meal measures, and arrives at a more permanent and sustainable solution.
One way to do that would be to perpetually and permanently extend the OBE programme to 6-14 year old children, so that temporary extensions are done away with altogether. Another solid step would be to include homeschooling within the ambit of the RTE Act.
The decision to homeschool is the gallant exercise of choice made by parents for their wards to shape their horizons and customise their learning beyond the confines of the formal schooling system. A statute that seeks to provide for compulsory elementary education for all children in the country must recognise and facilitate such a choice, not ignore it, Bhalla concludes.