The COVID-19 pandemic has forced several parents in Chennai to consider alternate methods of schooling. Interest has surged in new initiatives based on a learner-centric approach, and in home-schooling, 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 say parents have shown a lot of interest in their programme, wherein the learning goals of children are prioritised.
They meet parents every weekend and talk about what The Unschooling Project offers. “The definition of home-schooling has always been limited to the idea that the parents take the entire responsibility. But here we will be the bridge for the working parents who want their children to shift from mainstream boards,” Mr. Srikanth says.
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,” Ms. Sharanya says.
The learners may work with digital tools or with teachers, depending on how they choose 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.
It has been nearly eleven months since schools were closed at the start of the nationwide lockdown in March 2020. While schools have reopened for Classes 9-12, there is no word yet on when the classes 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,” says Raaji Naveen, who, along with Naveen Mahesh, founded Beyond 8 in Chennai.
Beyond 8 takes in learners above the age of 14 (or after grade 8). It has adopted a learner-determined approach to education. “We are not an alternate school or a supplementary education programme. We take a strength-based approach,” Mr. Naveen says.
A curriculum is chosen on the basis of the learners’ interests. They are then assigned a mentor and a coach and learn with their peers, who are part of the programme. “We offer programmes tailored to multiple curricula, and our teachers are experts in the subjects that the students pick. For instance, we have a chartered accountant to teach accountancy,” Ms. Raaji says.
Given that older learners are concerned about Board examinations, the Beyond 8 founders think it is important to plan the curriculum based not on what they want to offer, but on what the learners’ interests are. “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? It is important that parents listen to what their children want to learn,” says Vinod Chandramouli, whose son shifted to Beyond 8 from a mainstream school in March 2020.
Vidya Shankar, founder of Cascade Montessori Resource Centre, says adopting an alternate education model is not rocket science for parents who put the developmental needs of their children first. “The pandemic has encouraged parents, especially those of young learners, to think beyond schools.”
Cascade was started 10 years ago as a home-schooling cooperative. Instead of having children at home, this initiative brings parents and children together to pool in their resources. “This paved the way for a new model nearly a decade ago. In the last 10 months, the parents of several young children have been enquiring with us about how our system works,” Ms. Shankar says. Parent groups from across the country have shown interest in new options such as pandemic pods, wherein small groups of learners can work with a teacher, she says.
“We realised early on that an online mode did not work with our children effectively and drew up a system wherein parents and children could access resource material which they could use at home later. Six new parents have joined us over the last few months, and we are opening an additional centre at Thiruvanmiyur,” she says.