The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling from Families Who’ve Done It
Manikya and his mother rummage through the dry leaves in their backyard. They are searching for thick twigs. They’re still wearing their jackets, having just returned from the morning walk that starts each school day. When you ask him why he’s looking for twigs, he explains they will be turned into knitting needles and used in the day’s history lesson.
When you ask him who his teacher is, he says, “My mother is my teacher.”
Every time she hears that, Anjali Sanghi feels pride.
“I haven’t taught him to say that,” says Anjali, who lives in Bangalore. “He’s recognized me as his teacher himself, and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
It’s a validation, of sorts, of her choice to homeschool her son, then 4. At the time, there were no other homeschooling families, no Facebook groups of like-minded parents for support. It was just Anjali, her son, and a desire to help him lead a healthier, fuller life. Three years later, Anjali and Manikya aren’t alone anymore. After moving from Delhi to Bangalore, they joined a close circle of friends with several other homeschooling families. While each family has a different approach, Anjali says, what connects them is a common goal to create an environment that nurtures their children’s innate talent.
Homeschooling in India, while still not common, is on the rise – at least, anecdotally. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an international advocacy group, estimates there are 500 to 1,000 children being homeschooled in India as of 2012. But this strikes Anjali and her circle as low. The truth is, the data doesn’t exist yet. The Government doesn’t track the number of children educated at home, perhaps because its stance on homeschooling is unclear; while a 2012 ruling acknowledged the Right to Education Act doesn’t proscribe homeschooling, the practice exists in a gray area, without official legal recognition or support.
The irony of willingly taking her child out of school in a country where formal education is still a privilege for many isn’t lost on Sandhya Viswan. But Sandhya, of Bangalore, doesn’t look at it that way. Pranav, her son, has always gone to school. It’s just that school, since entering grade 4, was held at home. The only difference, she says, other than the setting, is the flexibility it offers.
“My older son (Pranav) is gifted in music, and we wanted to encourage his talent, not just restrict it to a hobby class,” Sandhya says. When he learned in a classroom, “he got time for music only after school. We thought we would take care of the academics ourselves, while he would get time to pursue his interests, so we decided to homeschool after grade 4.”
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Sandhya says homeschooling has allowed her the flexibility to design a curriculum with activities around her son’s interests and thereby keep him engaged. In 2013, Pranav spent four months in Ghana with his grandparents, where he helped his grandfather with work, and spent his time drawing, sketching, and pursuing other hobbies. Sandhya says this experience was as important as any science or literature class, as it exposed her son to a new environment and offered an opportunity to learn important life skills.
It’s an opportunity only possible with support from extended family, which Sandhya admits she was lucky to have.
“My parents raised concerns on how we would manage the socializing aspect, since much of a child’s socializing happens at school,” she says. “My in-laws … didn’t see why we wanted to go against the norm. There was concern, but there wasn’t any opposition.”
While support from grandparents is helpful, it’s most important for both parents to be on board, says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani. Dr. Mirchandani says homeschooling isn’t something that can be done single-handedly by the parent who chooses to be the educator.
“It’s important that both parents should be in agreement when making a decision to homeschool,” he says.
But he cautions against letting homeschooling take over the family bond.
“[Parents] should also take time off and do things on their own, and bond as couple,” he says. “I’ve seen families where the parents take turns at schooling the child; this helps create a balanced environment.”
In fact, homeschooling affects all relationships in a family. It’s tricky to strike a balance between her two roles, admits Sandhya.
“There is so much you share as parent, as child, that it is difficult to be objective sometimes,” she says. “I am the kind of person who can detach myself from situations, yet I find it hard to make the distinction between parent and teacher.”
But even as it blurs lines, homeschooling can make certain things clearer. For Anjali, it gave her the time and space to come to terms with herself. She respects herself more since becoming her son’s teacher and has no shortage of energy or time, which makes it easier to give and receive love, she says. For Sandhya, it has helped her to get to know her son in a way she wouldn’t otherwise.
“Earlier, my introspecting was from an adult perspective,” she says. “With the homeschooling journey, I was able to introspect from a child’s perspective on how my actions are being perceived.”
The disadvantages of homeschooling, however, are more tangible. Curricula have to be developed from scratch, and with one parent at home full time, income takes a hit. Both Sandhya and Anjali brush off these considerations as necessary trade-offs — the price of education, so to speak. Anjali says that with rising school fees and education costs, her family actually saves on some expenses. But she admits she and her husband have made a conscious decision to simplify their lives in exchange for this constant, front row seat to their son’s growth; they don’t eat out as much as they used to, instead socializing with friends at home, and they invest less of their income in clothes and gadgets. There are certainly pros and cons to homeschooling in India.
Time will tell if the sacrifices have been worth it. One risk of homeschooling, says Dr. Mirchandani, is that children might grow up in a protected environment without being challenged by the differences, competition and school politics that prepare kids for real-world, adult interaction.
A more immediate test might be the 10th standard board exams, which is coming up this year for Sandhya’s son. Amid shifting homes and other family changes, Pranav, now 15, went back to school this year and has been preparing for the exam in a more formal setting, though Sandhya says they had been working toward it independently. But for Sandhya, her son’s ability to catch up with his class reaffirmed her belief that homeschooling had equipped him to face all kinds of challenges.
“In Bangalore, a lot of people thought we were brave once we took the step [to homeschool], since they thought we were taking a risk,” she says. “I didn’t see it as brave because I didn’t think it was a risk. The way I see it, the future is uncertain no matter what you do.”