At home in school
Aruna and Raghavan have established Shikashayatan, a school where learning is as informal as it is informative
IF AS a parent you thought that education for your child meant attending a regular school, conforming to a prescribed syllabus with exams at the end of the academic year, think again. Aruna Raghavan and her husband Raghavan who co-founded Shikshayatan a school in Arasavanagadu, Tamil Nadu, have an exciting option for parents - home schooling. Proof of its success is their own daughter Nirupama, aged 15, who is entirely home schooled. She recently translated the classic "Parthiban Kanavu" into English.
Aruna, a postgraduate in English literature, who has taught high school students since 1982, and Raghavan, a chartered accountant, who has taught at municipal schools, slums and orphanages even as a student, felt what school going children were put through was terrible - school all morning, tuitions, loaded bags and uniforms.
"It looked like they were stifling the child's ability to think freely. Should we do the teaching at home, I suggested to Raghavan. Soon we drew up a curriculum when Niru was less than a year old. Around that time we also read the Mother's work where she asks parents how they could bear to entrust their children to strangers to educate. That only made us keener to teach Niru ourselves," says Aruna.
Home schooling to Aruna was fun and a "second chance at learning. "At school I had so many likes and dislikes - I liked English, I hated Mathematics, I loved History, I hated Physics. When I read the same subjects informally when I was older, they all seemed such fun. If Capra's "Tao of Physics" were a text, or "Uncommon Wisdom" was used as a subject for discussion; or the "Living Planet" was used to teach geography ; or Sagan was used as an introduction to Vedanta, can you imagine how exciting learning would be? Instead they have texts that are so topic- specific that the big picture is lost. We wanted our child to experience the excitement of learning."
How did they figure out the methodologies for teaching ?
"The methodology we incorporated came from Dr. Glenn Doman of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, Philadelphia, which enabled Niru read like a pro in just two-and-a-half years. She was 4 when she read the Reader's Digest and six when she had finished Roald Dahl. We use picture cards and word flash cards to teach a child to read. The method is simply to take the words that the child already knows and make word cards of them. The words can then be flashed. As the child grows, the words can be used in conjunction to form sentences."
Example : Stage 1: juice, book, drinks, reads, Asha
Stage 2: Asha reads books.
Asha drinks juice.
We flash a card 3 times x 7 days = 21 times - the child generally knows the word by then.
Each card is flashed for a second - just like an advertisement. So around 25 cards can be flashed in less than half a minute! You could divide the 25 cards into 5 sets to make it easier. If the words are associative, the child learns faster. Finally, you remove one card from each set at the end of day 7 and put in a new card everyday. So, from day 8, your sets will have a card that is new, a card that is to be removed and three known cards. You can bring the cards that have been removed together to make a small book or sentences that are interesting to the child. If, for example, the cards that are removed are elephant, motorbike, daddy, rides, Asha, you could have sentences like: daddy rides a motorbike,
Asha rides an elephant.
We have our own methods of teaching Mathematics. As for science, I remember doing classification of animals when she was three. We would walk in the garden and learn the relationship of plants, soil and climate; learn the laws of sound standing at a railway station; the laws of gravity at a theme park. Any time was learning time and Nirupama allowed us no Sundays."
Says Nirupama when asked if she missed being with other children, "My parents made up for everything." Incidentally, the Raghavans have conducted workshops for parents and taught these methods to schools across the country.
Is home schooling for everyone?
"Home schooling is for any child whose parents are themselves willing to learn, and spend at least a couple of hours everyday with their child. Asserting that theirs is a `regular' school one where a child is happy to learn, has the freedom to speak his mind and hone talents, she says, "Raghavan and I did not like a system that does not do justice to a child. We merely went about giving what we thought was the best to her."
As to how promotions from one class to another are determined, Aruna says "I generally have a dumb answer to this question: when did your mom feel you can make payasam? How did she know you had graduated to that level of cooking? Because she was with you - physically and in spirit. If a teacher works with every child in the spirit a mother works with her child, examinations would not be required. Examinations are necessary much later when selections have to be made for professional courses and such like. Promotions can be within a discipline - a child could be doing 3rd standard Mathematics, 5th standard English and 2nd standard French. Why not? This will help the child know his own strength. Or he will pursue only some subjects so that he becomes `specialised'."
Aruna and Raghavan's school Shikshayatan which means `Abode of Learning', certainly gives children the freedom to use and speak their mind and discover their true selves.
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