All unconventional choices have to be explained. In my case, it’s my choice never to send my son to a formal school, at least for his ‘early years’. The fact that I even perceive formal schooling as a choice is itself contentious. “There is no question!” an irate aunt once said to me, when I mentioned my decision. Several studies show parenting and a child’s home environment makes the strongest difference to his/her her learning, regardless of country and context.
Other studies document all of the ways in which parents’ encouragement and motivation lead to academic competence and positive attitude toward academics and are therefore key factors in successful development. Through their choices and actions, parents communicate a set of values and family characteristics to their children that can affect how children conceive of their own identities, abilities, and goals.
One of my biggest goals for my son’s education is for him to learn in a way that is linked to the natural environment, through discovery and play. This is one of the reasons why I find the Montessori curriculum so special. In the Indian education system (which is where I am from), this is hard to find. A 2006 study of 30,000 of India’s top schools by Education Initiatives suggests that rote-learning dominates most curricula while “it appears that many practical competencies, important in real life, are not being developed very well”.
In my view, formal schooling is reflective of an older, less connected world that needed automatons more than problem-solvers. As education expert Sir Ken Robinson puts it: “… the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. … Schools are still pretty much organised on factory lines; ringing bells, separate facilities, specialised into separate subjects.” This is not reflective of the world we live in.
When I share my decision to home school with others, one of the most common arguments I hear against it is around socialisation. Interacting with other kids is important, people say. It teaches children how to behave in society. I couldn’t agree more, but home schooling with a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum such Montessori, doesn’t preclude my son establishing relationships and developing friendships with other children. Much like closed-book examinations that rely on testing what a child ‘remembers’, social experiences at ‘school’ are not real.
Just like you never have to actually memorise a formula or long-passages of text in real working situations, similarly one rarely has social experiences in life that constitute meeting completely homogenous groups of people (same age, same backgrounds). Instead, in life, we meet groups of people who are diverse, tall and short, fat and thin, dark and fair, from a variety of ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds.
Schools rarely reflect the actual diversity of real social situations.
The rote-learning in schools is also a hindrance when a young adult is about to enter the workplace. The world today values not memorization, but instead the ability to communicate, speak with confidence, to convince and negotiate, to problem-solve and break complexities into simpler smaller tasks, the ability to manage and respect time and people, the ability to think innovatively and the ability to apply theoretical concepts and act.
Formal schooling does very little to provide these skills, even schools where ‘extra-curricular activities’ are encouraged, the term itself ‘extra-curricular’ itself ought to be a giveaway to parents. In a system where application is considered ‘extra’ or outside of the rest of the curriculum, what hope is there for these vitally important and indeed central skills to be taught?
Ultimately, I am unable to see what is attractive about the formal school system. When studies have made clear children who have been properly home-schooled outperform the national average of their formally educated peers it begs the question (dear aunt): Why would I send my son to school? When the biggest predictor of children’s learning success is parental involvement, why would I send my son away from me for six hours a day?
I’d rather him follow a better curriculum in a more supportive environment – his home.
About the Author
Varna is a social researcher, photographer and mother living in Delhi, India. She is a social media enthusiast and long time blogger. Find her on twitter @varna.
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