Looking beyond traditional schooling

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in interest in different approaches to education, from homeschooling to other learner-centric methods, experts say

The pandemic has forced several parents in the city to consider alternative methods of schooling. There has been a surge of interest in new initiatives that focus on a learner-centric approach, and also in homeschooling, especially for younger learners.

Sharanya Dilip and Srikanth Chandrasekaran, founders of The Learning Community at Quest, have started The Unschooling Project, an all-day programme based on self-directed learning. They said parents have shown a lot of interest in their programme, where the learning goals of the children are prioritised.

They meet parents every weekend and speak to them about The Unschooling Project and what it has to offer. “The definition of homeschooling has always been limited to the idea that the parents have to take the entire responsibility. But here, we will be the bridge for working parents who want their children to shift from mainstream boards,” said Mr. Srikanth.

Subject experts work with them as resource persons and the learners can pick subjects ranging from animation to paleontology. “If the first half of their day is dedicated to these classes, the second part can have documentary screenings, workshops, or other group activities,” said Ms Sharanya.

The learners might work with a mix of digital tools or with teachers, depending on how they chose to navigate the architecture of the chosen subject. While they work with learners virtually now, they will start working out of their physical resource centre once schools reopen in the State.

Lockdown effects

It has been nearly eleven months since schools in the State shut down following the first national COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. While schools have reopened for classes 9 to 12, there is no word yet on when schools will resume for younger learners. “We’ve had 14 learners join us during the lockdown and are speaking to 30 learners about what we offer,” said Raaji Naveen, who, along with Naveen Mahesh, founded Beyond 8 in Chennai.

As its name suggests, Beyond 8 takes in learners above the age of 14 (or after grade 8) and has adopted a heutagogical or a learner-determined approach to education. “We are not an alternative school or a supplementary education programme. We take a strength-based approach,” said Mr. Naveen.

A curriculum is chosen based on the learner’s interests. They are then assigned a mentor and a coach and learn with their peers who are a part of the programme. “We offer programmes tailored for multiple curricula and our teachers are experts in the subjects that the students pick. For instance, we have a chartered accountant to teach accountancy,” said Ms. Raaji.

Given that older learners are concerned about Board Exams, the Beyond 8 founders said that it is important to plan the curriculum not based on what they want to offer, but instead centred around what the learners interests are and prepare them for the same.

“When your son wants to become a chef, how do you go about creating an environment which ensures that he enjoys learning and helps him build skills for the future? As parents, it is important that we listen to what our children want to learn,” said Vinod Chandramouli, a parent whose son shifted to Beyond 8 from a mainstream school in March 2020.

Vidya Shankar, founder of Cascade Montessori Resource Centre, said that adopting an alternative education model is not rocket science for parents who are looking to put the developmental needs of their children first. “The pandemic has encouraged parents, especially those of young learners, to think beyond schools,” she said.

Cascade was started 10 years ago as a homeschoolers’ cooperative. Ms. Shankar said that instead of having children in individual homes, this had parents and children come together to pool in their resources. “While this paved the way for a new education model nearly a decade ago, we have had several parents of young children enquire about how our system works in the last 10 months.” Parent groups from across the country have shown interest in new options such as setting up pandemic pods, where small groups of learners can work with a teacher, she said.

“We realised early on that an online mode did not work with our young children effectively and drew up a system where parents and children could access resource material which they could then use at home. Six new parents joined us over the last few months and we are now opening an additional centre in Thiruvanmiyur soon” she said.

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