When Sahal Kaushik, the youngest to ever crack the IIT-JEE at 14 years, was a toddler, his mother decided to school him at home. Ruchi Kaushik gave up her job as a doctor 12 years ago and stayed home to teach her child.
Now, with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, which stipulates eight years of formal education for all children, parents in favour of homeschooling are confused about whether the Act has scope for the mode of education.
A writ petition to this effect was filed in the Delhi High Court in March this year by 12-year-old Delhi girl Shreya Sahai, who decided to go for homeschooling as it would allow her more flexibility to pursue her interests — music, photography and painting.
In April, the PIL, which said the RTE infringes on the freedom of parents and needs to be amended to accommodate homeschooling, was heard by a High Court Division Bench. While the Bench dismissed the petition, it gave the petitioners eight weeks from April 13 to make a representation to the Ministry of Human Resouce Development, asking for their vision on homeschooling.
In April after the court’s advice, a group of parents who either send their children to alternative schools — there are about 100 such schools in India — and those who homeschool their wards, met in Bangalore to draft a presentation for the MHRD. The homeschoolers also drafted a letter to be sent to Minister of MHRD Kapil Sibal asking him to accommodate homeschooling in the RTE Act or clarify its stand on homeschooling and alternative education.
According to education experts, the RTE Act defines what a school is but does not say every aspect of educating a child will be governed.
Baladevan Rangaraju, who has worked with the School Choice Campaign, said the RTE Act does not make not sending a child to school a punishable offence.
“The Act does not discredit the National Institute of Open Learning (NIOS). Any child can take the open school examinations at the age of 15 for Class X. Homeschooling is not so common in India and the MHRD can explain its vision.”
Shreya is among the increasing number of children in urban areas who have opted out of the conventional schooling mode. “Homeschooling has given me time and opportunity to do whatever I like.”
Her father Sandeep Srivastav felt his daughter, who had her solo painting exhibition when she was nine and her first photography exhibition at 10, is gifted and different.
“By 11, she was a Hindustani classical violinist,” Sandeep Srivastav said. “She is even writing a book. Homeschooling is encouraging her to do what she is interested in. Children are on a conveyor belt with a barcode in our education system. The world is moving too fast. We can’t let our children be archaic in their education.”
Shreya’s decision met a roadblock when she wanted to opt for the NIOS. When the family approached the NIOS, it denied their request for taking their exams before Class VIII, with the RTE Act coming into force from April 1 this year.
According to advocate Somnath Bharti, who represents Shreya and her parents in the High Court, the Act doesn’t distinguish between first-generation learners who are in need of state-sponsored education, and second-generation learners who need the freedom to decide the kind of education they want to opt for.
Later, through a letter to Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust, which had taken up the issue of enrollment of learners from 6-14 years in the Open Basic Education Programme, the NOIS informed that it has re-opened admission uptil Class VII for the next three years.
Homeschooling in India does not require any registration, recognition or regulation by any agency or authority, but most parents who choose the mode either follow the CBSE curriculum or opt for the respective state board syllabi.