Homeschooling (also known as home education) is a widespread alternative to the regular school education system in many developed countries. Homeschooling is often referred to as a progressive movement that gained its popularity in the 1970s. Parents choose homeschooling for many reasons including dissatisfaction with the present schooling system. Many parents cite their increased involvement and control over the child’s development as a reason to choose homeschooling. In some cases, homeschooling becomes a compulsion when a regular school fails to meet the needs of a differently-abled child. Homeschooling is legal and prevalent in many countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Mexico, Chile, and the United States.
Dissatisfaction from the present public and private schooling system has some legitimacy. As a matter of fact, the condition of our kids is worse than factory labourers. They keep studying day and night, at school, at private tuition and finally at home. The fun element of learning is filtered out and the process evolved more mechanical than humanistic. Yet, same syllabus, same curricula, same pedagogy and same board exam are nowhere near ensuring the same quality education to every child. Many argue that schools are not only for education but also for socialisation. Still, it cannot be denied that schools are primarily for education and getting the future generation ready with full-grown human potential. Here, homeschoolers get some advantage over school going kids. Homeschoolers have greater freedom to choose from a wide variety of available educational resources. They learn more in less time. They get more free time to develop other human skills. This method of educating children at home is more in line with the concept; education is fun. Homeschoolers can have a very flexible schedule, and parents can adopt the best model suited for their child. At the same time, parents have to take more responsibility and devote more time. The success of homeschoolers largely depends on parents’ ability to manage it effectively. That is why homeschooling is not everyone’s cup of tea.
However, the question here is not whether homeschooling is good or bad. The question is whether parents should have a right to choose homeschooling over regular schools. It essentially involves the right to education of choice. The state has no reason to deny it. The efficacy of homeschooling is already time tested. It’s popularity among the well-off educated urban parents is slowly increasing in India. These parents do not want to send their children to mainstream schools because they are confident that they can manage quality education for their kids at home. It gives them the freedom to choose the best learning model suitable for their kids with the flexibility to eliminate hyper-stress and hyper-competitive factors.
The context of NEP is an important factor to consider while analysing it. We are living in a technology-driven information society which is rapidly moving towards a fully automated world. Human society is evolving through technology as a whole. There is no reason to believe that the traditional system of schooling will remain in the same shape in future as it is today. Online education platforms were already present in the pre-COVID-19 era, challenging the traditional education system. From MOOC (massive open online course) to basic preschool apps, education is at the boundary of the space-time limit. These education platforms can be clearly divided into two categories: open-source (free) and paid service. While the paid platforms are profit-oriented, the open-source free platforms are equality oriented. When COVID-19 challenged our traditional approach to systematic school education, following the rules of natural selection, we were forced to adopt online education over physical schooling. This transformation is temporary, but it definitely has given online education an edge over the traditional school, if not seen as a permanent replacement. National Education Policy 2020 came up with high hope to reshape India’s future through education at a time when technology appears to be the right candidate to fulfil the dream of quality education for all.
The National Education Policy 2020, which seems to be a high dream in many aspects, has failed to consider the need of India’s homeschooling enthusiasts. It is understandable that, at present, homeschoolers in India are a rare breed and statistically insignificant, but democracy is only ruled by the majority; it is essentially not a rule for the majority. A democratic government cannot ignore the legitimate need of a small group, even if it is the tiniest one. Any policy of a democratic government has to take care of every single sect or group irrespective of their size.
NEP 2020 completely mis-conceptualised the concept of homeschooling and dealt with it very narrowly. It speaks of home-schooling only in the context of Right of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act 2016. NEP states “Resource centres in conjunction with special educators will support the rehabilitation and educational needs of learners with severe or multiple disabilities and will assist parents/guardians in achieving high-quality homeschooling and skilling for such students as needed. Home-based education will continue to be a choice available for children with severe and profound disabilities who are unable to go to schools. The children under home-based education must be treated as equal to any other child in the general system. There shall be an audit of home-based education for its efficiency and effectiveness using the principle of equity and equality of opportunity.”
This reflects a gross misconceived notion of homeschooling, undermining the credibility of Indian homeschoolers. Our education policymakers even refused to accept and recognise homeschooling as a choice based alternative mode for providing quality education for children with no disability. On the other hand, top universities of the world unequivocally make no discrimination between school and home educated students for admission. While Oxford welcomes applications from students from any background, including those who have been home educated, Harvard’s admission portal says ‘homeschooled applicants are treated the same as all other applicants’. Recently, 17 year old homeschooled Malvika Raj Joshi from Mumbai, made her way to MIT, the prestigious institution that has a long history of admitting homeschooled students. Cracking IIT-JEE with all India rank 33, 14-year-old Sahal Kaushik is another worthy achievement of an Indian home educated kid. It is noteworthy that recently Maharashtra Government has started an Open Educational Board to facilitate homeschooling in the State.
Homeschooling in India has remained a grey area since long. Previously, the Right to Education Act made no room for homeschooling which created a lot of confusion. NEP 2020 has also failed to recognise the right of the parents to choose the mode of education for their children. This comes at a time when technology has already taken part in the process of evolution of the education system, and it is known that the present school education system can never provide the same quality education to every child. It is a simple question of privilege, equality, and fairness. Like parents enjoy absolute freedom in selecting the best affordable school for their kids, they are also free to choose some other alternative way if they can handle it. National Education Policy 2020 could have made a progressive change in this regard but unfortunately post NEP 2020 situation remains the same. The democratic demand of Indian homeschoolers is not fulfilled.
Jewel Chanda [LLB, LLM, MBL, MA(Env. & Dev.), MA(Sociology)] works as a Civil Judge at West Bengal Judicial Service. He is a Doctoral Research Scholar of O.P. Jindal Global University.