An article on RTE ACT which I wrote came in HERALD on 29 June 2010. I am posting it here to debut my homeschooling blog as it was the first article published concerning this topic. Please do post your comments. Thanks.
RTE: AN ACT OF CHILD LABOUR.
With a sinking feeling, I read the news that the working hours of schools may be increased to 45 hours per week. (page 5, Herald, 24 June, 2010). That sounds like one more hour a day of imprisonment for teachers and students alike.
A typical school day for an average child begins at 6 am. He is rushed through breakfast and toilet chores, dressed hurriedly for school and then driven at a dashing speed so he can enter the school premises before the warning bell is rung. For almost three hours at a stretch, he sits in one place as one teacher after another walks in, teaches and leaves. Then, for barely 15 minutes, with one eye on the clock, he gets to exercise his cramped muscles in the break. If the mid-day meal is served in those 15 minutes, all hope of getting even this exercise is lost. Then, once more, he has to sit in cramped conditions for another three hours before he is ‘released’. If anyone has seen children leave for home after school, it looks as if prisoners are being released from a jail. Is this the kind of life that a child from three-fourteen years of age is condemned to live?
And what exactly is done in school? The text is read, explained, answers written and rote-learned and some extra-curricular activities thrown in for good measure. Teachers, bogged down by completion of syllabi and corrections of books, have neither the time nor the energy to train all their students for these ‘extras’, so they choose a few ‘good’ ones while the vast majority is left by the wayside. The school prides itself on its trophies, shields and certificates and those who earn these prizes for the school are applauded.
If working hours are increased, the children would be imprisoned for another whole hour every day. Ask any child if he wants that and the answer will be a flat and empathic ‘No’. But who is concerned about the needs of children after all? They must be educated; the Right to Education demands this. Whether the means satisfy the ends or not, it doesn’t matter. The means cannot be altered so the sheep must be herded; the cattle brought in faithfully.
Parents ought to seek other options and one emerging on the horizon is HOME SCHOOLING! After all, the present generation of parents are an educated lot. Why can’t they teach their own children? If the government allows parents to prepare their children for examinations held periodically, home-schooling would enable parents to be teachers in the home. Activities like dramatics, dance, music, elocutions and debates could be organised in the school premises and sports could be conducted on the grounds on a regular basis for interested students. The home schooling programme presently prevalent in Goa prepares children to appear through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), which has ‘a mission to provide relevant continuing education at school stage, up to pre-degree level through Open Learning system as an alternative to formal system.’ It provides opportunities to interested learners by making available the following Courses/Programmes of Study through open and distance learning (ODL) mode.
• Open Basic Education (OBE) Programme for 14+ years age group, adolescents and adults at A, B and C levels that are equivalent to classes III, V and VIII of the formal school system.
• Secondary Education Course
• Senior Secondary Education Course
• Vocational Education Courses/Programmes
• Life Enrichment Programmes.
In NIOS, one can choose the subjects that the child is comfortable learning to train him for these levels. For example, a child weak in Mathematics can drop it entirely; this option is not offered at the mainstream level. English and Hindi are offered at the SSCE level so those who find it difficult to cope with Konkani need not learn it. Parents can begin teaching their children at any age. The ideal age to begin reading and writing would be six years as against that of the formal system which prepares children at three years of age. A child can be taught at home by the play-way/ Montessori method from three to six years of age.
The advantages of home schooling is that children get personal attention and the strengths of each child can be enhanced. Children get closer to their parents when they spend more time with them. The financial costs of schooling is restricted to the purchase of text and note books only; no uniforms, shoes, bags, water-bottles, etc. Time-table is flexible; it can be geared to the child’s optimum level of attention. As the child learns at his own pace, stress on him is zero. Children do not have to be ‘reached’ to school so their safety and the transport expenses involved is avoided. Children with learning disorders thrive well in this system as they would be harassed and ridiculed in the mainstream school by teachers and classmates. One can incorporate many syllabi like CBSE and ICSE alongside SSC and use varied audio-visual aids at home, making learning a fun experience. Mainstream schools do not stress on moral values as much as they do academic performance, so with home-schooling, a parent can instill the right values right from the beginning.
The disadvantages of home schooling are lack of social interaction and lack of discipline. To overcome these two obstacles, parents have to make a significant effort to seek avenues where children are exposed to social activities in the community, religious institutions and support groups. Parents, themselves, need training on teaching methods, creating an environment conducive to learning, how to instil discipline and so on. As the children learn organisational skills and team work from interacting at various social events, there will be a more disciplined approach to life on the whole.
Home-schooling is a tremendous challenge for parents as one has to swim against the tide. Society questions such changes and tends to put down those who want to make a difference. The government needs to re-evaluate its RTE policy to include home-schooling for those who can effectively implement it. Today education has become a business of sorts; a stormy situation. Let us not be pulled in by its treacherous undercurrents, but learn to survive the tempest by seeking better options for our future generations. If any educational policy is child-centred, it can never go wrong.