Is an Alternative School right for my child?

Is an Alternative School right for my child? Cover Image

Should I opt for an alternative school for my child? Should I homeschool my daughter? Will my son fit into a mainstream school? If you’ve had any of these questions, this article is for you.

“When my cousin, a reputed educationist, chose an alternative school for her son back in 2007, all of us were amazed because it seemed like such a radical thing to do. Today, alternative schools are becoming more popular, especially in Bangalore, with the Valley School being ranked as one of the best schools in India by Education World and seats in schools like Shibumi being booked all the way up till 2017.

They may seem like a current trend but did you know that India has been home to many alternative schools before Lord Macaulay’s system of education would go on to be the present mainstream education in the country? My mother comes from the Gurukula system and she tells me that it was so advanced that she taught her own guru a few rare compositions she had learned from another school of music – she was a teenager and he was old enough to be her father! Rabindranath Tagore’s Vishva Bharati is another example, as is J. Krishnamurthi’s philosophy that steers the vision of the KFI schools in India to this very day.

“From what I have been through personally, the last thing I want my son to do is measure his happiness or success against his peers. I want him to set his own yardstick to define happiness and success.”

There has been so much written on alternative schools but as a parent, if I were to put it simply, it is this: a majority of children learn a certain way but what about those who learn differently? So is an alternative school right for my child? What if their interests are different and they need different methodologies? Alternative schools cater to these fringe voices in education. Says Sowmya Parthasarathy, who opted for an alternative school for her son, “From what I have been through personally, the last thing I want my son to do is measure his happiness or success against his peers. I want him to set his own yardstick to define happiness and success.”

Each child is different

I studied in a large, mainstream school and I loved it. I was an above-average academic performer and I was good in a few subjects. This was because my parents encouraged me to do what I liked and there was no pressure. I enjoyed competition and actually loved a large class.

On the other hand, my daughter could not fit into a big school because she needed individual attention. She could not thrive in a large class. She used to have huge problems with writing and comprehension. A one-shoe-fits-all approach doesn’t work on children like her and as a parent, I had to value her for who she was. When I put her in a Montessori, the teacher identified that my daughter loves drawing and craft, so she made her draw more, use play dough and string macaroni shells so as to strengthen her fingers and today, she can read and write well and enjoys school. Alternative schools are able to effectively solve a child’s learning mismatches more so than a mainstream school.

Adapting to the mainstream

There are tons of information on the Internet on the types of alternative schools but the foremost question on most parents’ minds is this — will their children transition easily to a mainstream setup and will they be able to take on the world and its pressure?

Interactions with people whose children went to alternative schools or students will throw up different points of view – some of them got ‘learning for life’; others struggled. It is important to understand that the world is changing and alternative schools have evolved into full-fledged pedagogies with remarkable calibre and vision. Having said that, not every alternative school may be able to get their teachers on the same page as far as their work is concerned. It is important to understand their methods completely and confirm that they will be able to implement their ideas on a large scale. There are many alternative schools that don’t follow systems and a few of them may set out to do something but end up doing something vastly different.

Sangita Jain Vasuraj, a homeschooling parent who opted out of an alternative school choice for her daughter in 1996 affirms, “It is important for parents to first introspect on why they want an alternative method of education. It cannot be limited to a short term benefit like ‘I want my child to be in a relaxed environment’, or ‘I don’t want my child to have unnecessary pressure.’  The decision has to be taken with long-term goals in mind.”

If you are looking at an alternative school, find out more about the school.

  • Take a day and visit them to see what they are doing.
  • Talk to the parents and if possible, the students.
  • Is the school open to other forms of learning, to the rest of the world and what is happening in it?
  • Are its methods relevant or antiquated?
  • Is it thinking originally or borrowing ideas?
  • Is its system applicable in today’s world, with huge technological strides?

Click here to view the list of Alternative Schools in Bangalore

Balance is important – a child should be able to fit wherever you put him or her and should not be limited to choices. Once you are happy with your choice, commit to it wholeheartedly. And remember that there is no take-home survival kit – we all have our own ways of coping with the world and we will all get there, in the end.

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