India has always had pioneers who paved the path for different education systems. One of the earliest proponents of an alternative education system was Raja Ram Mohan Roy under whose aegis the Hindu College of Calcutta was started. Thereafter came a series of schooling systems such as Rabindranath Tagore’s Shanti Niketan, Jiddu Krishnamurti’s Rishi Valley and Shibumi Schools, and Pune’s Sahyadri School to name a few.
Though these schools have existed, they are mostly accessible in that region, and the majority student population is left to what is offered by CBSE, ICSE, and State Boards. The conventional education systems follow the one-size-fits-all approach, and they are slow to adapt to the changing needs of society, and though students passing out of these boards are doing well, many students fail to benefit from these systems.
Students such as –
1. Unusually gifted or motivated
2. Having a special talent or interest that cannot be further developed in the present school
3. Underachieving or failing, requiring more individualised attention
4. Have special needs due to a learning disability or medical condition
5. Exhibiting behaviour such as substance abuse, inappropriate sexual activity, and oppositional defiance
6. Engaged in petty criminal behaviours and is self-destructive
7. Diagnosed with emotional and/or psychological problems that require a more structured therapeutic environment
8. Working full-time
As per NEP 2020, no student can be denied admission to a class so long as the child can sit through the class. But how much are they learning? What are the challenges the students and teachers are following? Are the students able to adjust to their peers healthily? Finally, will the students be able to achieve regular college or gain any type of employable skills?
What are alternative schools doing differently?
At the most basic level, alternative schools adopt a more involved pedagogy where students are learning by doing. The classroom sizes are small so that teachers can give individualised attention while helping the students to engage with one another in a healthy environment.
Some examples of alternative schools are –
Boarding schools that have residential educational facilities
Vocational centres that train students in some employable skills
Magnet schools train students in certain subjects
Independent study programs where students study remotely (homeschooling)
Special needs day school etc.
These schools are designed to help students who are unable to excel in conventional schooling systems and cater to a wide variety of students. They have a strong support group in the form of specially trained teachers, on-staff psychologists, social workers, and alternative education programmes that use tools such as sand pits, sports, arts, interactions with animals, and therapy to help students understand the world and pick up new skills. Finally, these schools offer students immense flexibility in terms of learning pace, the number of subjects they take up, and where they want to learn among other things.
NEP 2020 and NIOS
The National Education Policy 2020 created a provision called the National Institute of Open School to create a formal, government-recognised route for alternative schooling in the country. The policy specifies subjects and topics to be covered, issues books and guidelines, and takes a liberal approach towards the school structure so that the educationists can design a conducive learning space for the students.
Students can choose as many subjects as they like and finish them in their schedule. Many schools offer NIOS curriculum books and classes. They have supporting extra classes to help students balance their interests and have a wholesome education.
Life after school-
After school, based on the results of their board exams, students can apply for courses and get admission to any government-recognised college in the country. Most of these students adjust well to college life as they are now studying only the subjects, they are good at. Also, they continue to get supportive therapy wherever required to help them adjust to their altered social life.
The social ecosystem is changing, and post-COVID many parents are reassessing the purpose of education and how well their children are responding. Thus, although alternative schooling is still gaining popularity, students availing of these schooling options are witnessing less judgment and better understanding.