Swashikshan Annual Meet – SAM 2020

7 Dec

The next meet is scheduled for Feb 13 – 16, 2020 at the Pegasus Institute in Chettinagar, Tamil Nadu. More details and registration at:


Swashikshan Conference 2019 – Hyderabad

24 Nov

It is time for the 7th Swashikshan Annual Meetup – the annual meetup of Indian Homeschoolers. The first two conferences were held at Khandala in Maharashtra, the 3rd conference was at Aavishkaar campus at Palampur (Himachal Pradesh), the 4th at Visthar campus, Bangalore, the 5th in Indore and the 6th in scenic Goa!

Hyderabad/Secunderabad has a small and active group of homeschooling families and it was decided that Team Hyderabad host SAM 2019 here!

The weather in February in the Deccan Plateau is pleasant, with cool mornings and evenings and the day time temperature isn’t high, therefore the event has been finalised to take place from 14-18 February 2019. The venue is a lovely, expansive and rustic retreat near Keesara village, 30 kms from Secunderabad Railway Station. For more details, please visit sam.homeschoolers.in

Registrations close on 31st January 2019

I am homeschooling my child in her best interests

1 Feb

Childline, an NGO in Kerala, complained to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) that a certain family was not sending their child to school. The complain was made in October 2015. The family was summoned to the CWC, which asked them to file an affidavit. After lengthy discussions and help from advocates, here is their reply.

The Chairman
Child Welfare Committee
Mini Civil Station, Thodupuzha


  1. I submit the following facts for your kind consideration and favourable action in reply to the petition filed by Child Line dated 21.10.2015.
  2. It is submitted that the petition filed by Child Line is factually and legally wrong and untenable.
  3. It is submitted that I am imparting education to my child Jislia aged 7 years under the home-schooling system. I am taking every effort to ensure that my child is educated and prepared for life. None of my child’s rights are affected.
  4. It is submitted that resorting to home-schooling is not connected to the financial capacity of the parent. Rather it is based on the willingness of the parent to take extra and strenuous effort to teach his own child. It is submitted that many parents are only interested in income and career advancement and have outsourced the education of children as a whole to the schools. Home-schooling involves tremendous effort and painstaking care on the part of the parent.
  5. It is submitted that the petition filed against the home-schooling of my child is in fact an attempt to unnecessarily harass a parent who is in fact more committed and sincere to educate his child. The rights of my child are in fact more protected since I am taking the extra effort to impart education.
  6. It is submitted that provisions of the Right of Children for Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE for short) have been misconstrued. The provisions of the said Act only cast a duty upon the State for educating a child. S.8 imposes a duty upon the appropriate Government to provide free and compulsory education to every child. The very same S.8 excludes any parent from claiming any reimbursement of expenditure incurred in an elementary school other than the one established, owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government.
  7. It is submitted that the said exclusion clearly makes out a case where the child is not being sent to a Government school. Hence there is no duty cast upon the parent to send his child to a school that is not up to the mark in his/her opinion.
  8. It is submitted that S.10 of the RTE Act is to be read in the light of the exclusion provided in S.8 of the very same Act. The parent has the option to teach the child more effectively in the best possible school which can be done by resorting to home-schooling method as well.
  9. It is submitted that there is no absolute bar in the RTE Act preventing a parent from ensuring that his child is educated through home-schooling method. This is further fortified by the fact that there is no penal provision in the RTE Act to be enforced against any parents. The Parliament has in its wisdom decided not to penalise a parent for not sending his/her child to school since the Parliament understands that parents may have compelling reasons which prevent school education.
  10. It is submitted that I am fully complying with the moral duty cast upon me by S.10 of the RTE Act by taking every effort to educate my child. S.10 does not compel a parent who does not wish to avail the rights of the child under S.3 for free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school. The existence of a right and exercise thereof are distinct and severable.
  11. It is submitted that even the petition does not have a case that I am not educating my child. The fact remains that I am taking more care for my child and educating her. The methodology adopted by me as a parent is not illegal or unlawful. Home-schooling is a widely accepted method even in the most advanced nations.
  12. It is submitted that I am home-schooling my child in her best interests and for her utmost welfare. It is submitted that I have not violated any child rights. Rather I have taken utmost care of my child and her rights to the best of my abilities. I am providing individual care and attention for her education. I humbly submit that I may not be penalised in any manner for being a caring, loving and sincere parent.

In the above facts and circumstances, it is humbly requested that all proceedings in pursuance of petition dated 21.10.2015 filed by Child Line may be dropped in the interests of justice and fairness.

Learning and Farming – An Indian View

11 Dec

Learning and Farming plays a very critical role in life of individual as well as society says Claude Alvares. He claims that though they seem separate, but, in reality, they are deeply interconnected. He laments the fact that the way multinational corporations, for their vested interest, are destroying native agricultural practices. He also grieves over how modern educational institutions have destroyed innate learning capacities of students. He emphasize how by returning back to soil (and manual work) will enhance overall education.

Our Very Own History Channel

11 Apr

Advertisement as a source of historical information. From Our Pasts III, NCERT textbook, p. 3

Advertisement as a source of historical information. From Our Pasts III, NCERT textbook, p. 3

I have written earlier about our out-of-the-book and into-the-world approach to the study of history, a process that is driven by questions that multiply each time one of them is answered.

What happens when a child who has grown up questioning the world and the past in this way encounters a history textbook?  I had heard about the improvements that the National Council of Educational Research and Training had made in the approach to history and was impressed by the names of the members of the Advisory Committee for Textbooks in Social Sciences.

We decided to find out. One fine day I unceremoniously pulled the NCERT textbook Our Pasts from the shelf and suggested to my daughter that she read the first chapter. (more…)

Reached Somewhere … Going Nowhere

26 Aug

So, the decision to home school the kids was taken and the thought began to settle in our hearts.

In May , the feeling was pretty much subdued as the month of vacations was on and kids were totally involved with well, boys’ stuff – cricket, video games, getting up late.

Come June and gradually it began to seep in. The routine began. Home learning felt as if we were moving house.  You take with you all the memories …good ones …you can take a few things with you to relocate but some things attached and unmovable …unnecessary maybe you leave behind. (more…)

Homeschooling Children with Special Needs – A Talking Point

22 Aug

In the last year, we have had numerous queries from parents of children with special needs about homeschooling. Many are fed up and frustrated with the existing set up of a mainstream school, where they have to constantly fight to fit in and be included. Some are also unhappy with special schools as they feel their children are not being challenged enough. Added to this is the fact that children with special needs often need many therapies to help them cope with and manage their disabilities.

Many parents approached us wanting to know more about homeschooling as an option, as their kids were getting too tired and stressed out with such a full day of work at school, followed by the many therapy sessions, with no time left for family or to pursue their own real interests. Then, there was also the question of the Right to Education Act (RTE) – how that would apply to children with special needs, and whether it would meet their needs, if they chose homeschooling as an option.

As a starter, we approached Vidya Sagar (formerly The Spastics Society of India, Chennai), one of the pioneering organizations in the disability movement in the country, and spoke to its current Director, Ms. Rajul Padmanabhan, in the hope of getting some questions answered.

Trained as a special educator, Rajul has been working in the field of disability for more than 38 years.  She is also the Vice President of ISAAC (International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication) and has also done her Montessori training with Association Montessori International.

Rajul was keen to attend the second India Homeschoolers’ Conference earlier this year, to learn more about homeschooling and take this discussion further, but could not make it.

Following is the interview that we did with her through a series of emails. While she is a believer in formal schooling, and yet is not against homeschooling, she emphasizes the role of the community in educating and bringing up a child.

We do hope this interview will kindle enough questions in parents to make an informed choice, while exploring homeschooling as an option for children with special needs. We would love to keep the debate and discussion alive and open, by hearing your thoughts and comments.  Do read on to find out more and do write in…

We have had quite a few queries from parents of kids with special needs, about homeschooling? What are your thoughts and views about homeschooling children with special needs?

Ever since the question of home schooling for children with special needs was brought up, I have been thinking about it. Being familiar with the concept and reading Holt and other authors, educationists and philosophers, I realize that I have actually just skimmed the surface.

But this was an area I was confident about, with over 35 years of experience in the field – from when it was initiated in this country up until now.  I have seen the paradigm shift in the disability movement from the medical model to the social model, and now am a participant and spectator with the disability activists.

With this paradigm shift came the concept of mainstreaming and inclusive education, and the outcry that disability is a human rights issue and that the disabled are a marginalized group.  Today there is a Disability Rights Bill in the Parliament and the activists are divided. My activist friends (who like me) want to kill the Bill as it is regressive and maintains a status quo, and is not in line with the United Nation Convention Rights of People with Disability (UNCRPD), while the other faction wants to pass it.

Vidya Sagar, a Chennai based NGO, working with children and adults with special needs and their families, has also worked aggressively to include disability in the RTE Act.  But all along there have been questions in my mind. Not that special schools are better but rather, can mainstream schools be made better to include more children?

At the outset, I want to say – I believe in schooling – but schooling of a sort, where learning happens with “joy and curiosity“.  I also want to say that I don’t believe in “one form of schooling”. Education is one area where so many ideas have been tried out – from Nalli Kali to Gandhi’s Basic Education, to the latest Activity Based Learning (ABL). I think homeschooling is another form – but to me, it is based on the politic of the individual.  Homeschooling depends on so many parameters and therefore becomes a choice of the elite. I do not subscribe to the notion of the child being only the responsibility of the parents, and this is more so when the child has special needs.  The community has to take responsibility for the education and rehabilitation of the child with special needs.

I think like all other parents, the choice has to be with the parents – except that it has to be an informed choice from the perspective of cognitive development and enhancement, rather than from the perspective of safety, charity and low expectation.

Low expectation is the “killer” for the child with special needs. A parent rarely challenges the child with special needs, a teacher definitely does not. The whole concept of IEP (Individualised Education Programme) is based on where the child “is” and not where he should “be”. And his future is decided on the basis of protection and care, and not what he or she would like to do.

The second “killer” is isolation. Children with disability are isolated – physically, emotionally and socially – because of their disability.  He or she cannot explore the environment due to physical limitations, cannot converse because of lack of speech and cannot be socially and emotionally mature due to a number of limitations.  How much learning can then happen?

Plus a parent of a child with special needs may also be going through a traumatic period. The parent is often busy looking after the physical needs of the child. Would that then provide an environment conducive to learning?

How do you think the needs of children with special needs can be met in mainstream schools? Or is it only a remote possibility?

You know, I am a little confused about what one means when one says “needs” of children – special or otherwise. But if we go by the traditional or conventional meaning – I think if the school decides to take ownership of the child’s education, the school will have to find “ways” to meet those needs.  One school, institution, organization or even one set of adults cannot meet all needs of anyone.  It is the interaction with different people, situation, circumstances that can make your life richer; and that I hope a mainstream school will provide.  I had once asked a young boy with disability who was studying in a mainstream school, if his friends were insensitive or left him out, or if he felt stigmatized. He replied “Nothing can be more stigmatizing or more boring than a special school.”

I think we underestimate government schools teachers.  I think it is possible for any school to make a child feel wanted. There was a young disabled girl studying in a mainstream school who came to me really happy and said “Didi Didi, Aaj teacher ne mere ko bhi maara!” (Didi Didi , today teacher hit me also). The teacher used to lightly hit all children, but leave this child out, and when she included this child, she was really happy.

So I think a mainstream school, mainstreams a special child.  That is the first big step – but having said that, how much learning really happens is a huge question.  Some disabled sail through with the same pluses and minuses that a non-disabled child goes through, but where there are disabilities which require special interventions, they sometimes lose out. But this would happen in any environment. A parent or community may or may not be able to address special needs. The fact that the child is with his peers, listening to conversations, may ensure some amount of incidental learning.

Friendships – again there are very few, in fact none where the teacher is sensitive enough to nurture relationships which are based on equality. Most are based on the ‘helper’ and ‘helped’ and they don’t last.  But if there is a single disability with no behavior implications, then it is an equal playing field.

As of now, I don’t think any of the challenges that a disabled child faces in a mainstream school are addressed by the school.  They are invariably supported by special educators and parents.  But then, how many mainstreams schools meet all the challenges of any child?

The question still remains – can parents meet all needs or can a community provide an environment that is rich and accessible to all?

Do you feel that parents of kids with special needs are best equipped to handle the unique needs of their child? If not, then how do you think homeschooling would or could work best?

I don’t think parents are equipped to meet all the needs of a special child – they should not be. But then I don’t believe in very individualistic education.  I don’t think the child belongs only to the parent.  The responsibility has to be shared to a certain extent by the community, for any child, and more so for the child with a disability.

Special children are isolated and protected. They have very few benchmarks; they have very few friends. Similarly a parent of a special child is isolated and if he or she does not share responsibility he or she is further isolated.

I think it’s necessary for any parent to lead a life of their own, and that is my one big fear vis-a-vis homeschooling.  There seems to be so little space for all in the family.  With disabilities that fear is quadrupled.

How do you think the RTE framework and the NIOS support children with special needs and their families? Since the RTE Act gives ALL children the right to education, and the NIOS gives kids an alternative to the mainstream choices, do you feel that they contradict or actually support one another?

RTE actually is not very supportive of Inclusive Education and the new Disability Bill (which might become an Act soon) is quite regressive as far as Inclusive Education is concerned.

The RTE can be used – the way I think we should use it is to strengthen the “school management committee”.  If this is strengthened, there will be ownership and the community will take responsibility for their children, disabled or otherwise.

NIOS – is an excellent alternative and has been used by a number of parents and institutions for a number of reasons. I don’t think NIOS contradicts any system.  It is flexible enough for anyone to use it to their advantage.

Vidya Sagar, as an organization, has come up with some creative solutions to the diverse problems and limited resources that families and communities with kids with special needs have in our country…..like the trans-disciplinary course and training and the Family Based Rehabilitation model or programme, where the dependency on professionals is greatly reduced…and the focus is on empowering the family or community….Could you elaborate on these a little more? Do you feel that these models could be a viable and alternative way of creating a rich, tailor-made, sustainable, stress-free and happy learning environment for a child with special needs?

Vidya Sagar’s strength lies in exploring and creating alternative systems and if they don’t work, throwing them out and coming up with newer answers. But all this is based on the belief that a person with special needs must have access to opportunity and exploration of his or her environment. This belief has led us to create a trandisciplinary course, a youth programme, a Kalakkal Café for young people to hang out and a marketing federation for products made by the disabled.  We offer interesting courses with a focus on disability. But though we have pioneered Inclusive Education and tried out experiments in Madurai, I still cannot say with confidence that mainstream schools today are “ALL FOR THE CHILDREN, FOR ALL THE CHILDREN”.  Once we realize this dream, the schools will naturally be happy places to be in.

What provisions do you feel need to be added to the RTE to make it more inclusive of children with special needs?

The Right to Education (RTE) Act in Chapter 3 talks about children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections.  Whereas the Preliminary chapter (chapter 1) has definitions for all terms including disadvantaged groups and weaker sections, it does not mention disability. But like all laws, you can interpret them differently. I would like to assume that all means all children. RTE is a powerful tool which can be used to include children in any mainstream school. But I would like to go a step further and say that RTE can be used to improve schools so that they become more inclusive, welcoming and happy places for children to learn and be in.

Besides legal measures don’t you feel the sensitivities of the society or community towards children with special needs need to change?

Legal measures set the tone, but only a community can interpret and implement the law, and for that you need an aware and informed community.  Disabled children are one minority; there are so many marginalized groups.  All children must have the same choice and opportunity.

How do you see parents from poor economic backgrounds affording a ‘good’ special needs school? Are there enough government schools offering free education to children with special needs? Do you feel that teachers in government schools have the required sensibilities and sensitivities needed to engage with children with special needs?

This is where RTE comes in – since it makes it mandatory for every child to have free education in their neighbourhood. The child with special needs can access a mainstream school.  RTE also ensures and provides that their needs will be met. In fact Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in South India has been supporting Inclusive Education in mainstream government schools.  They send regular peripatetic teachers and therapists to these schools.  These special teachers and therapists are trained by special schools. Special schools can be expensive, but today when the world is talking about inclusive education these government schools can be effective and also be an answer.

If a family has taken the decision to homeschool their special needs child, for whatever reasons, what kind of environment or support systems do you feel they could create in their community, to make their decision meaningful, rich and sustainable?

If a family decides to homeschool their child with special needs, they would need to understand the disability; more so, how that disability impacts the child’s learning.

They would need to work on all the therapies and incorporate them in their daily routine. They would have to make it possible for the child to interact with the environment and go through as many experiences as possible. They would need to work at sensitizing the community about disability.

They would need to be aware of the Rights of people with disabilities and build a support group within their community, to see that these rights are met.

Finally they would need to choose homeschooling because they believe in it, and not because there is no other choice or because they do not want to expose their child to mainstream education.

And again finally, they would need to create a happy atmosphere for the child, wherever he or she is.

The Day My Baby Taught Me How To Parent Him

4 Apr

When my eldest son was born, I was unskilled at mothering. I had been until then, under the misconception that once I give birth, I would instinctively know how to care for my baby. It could not be any other way, the rest of the animal kingdom do not have the luxury of parenting books, let alone parenting classes! But I would live to learn the contrary.

Looking back into the past, I now realise where my failings came from. The first day, I held my son in my arms, I was already prejudiced against his little being. He was expected to cry when hungry, be content after a feed, sleep when tired, settle quietly in his cot, cooed when cuddled, love baby massages….The first day I held my baby in my arms, I already had an image of how he should be.

The baby I was to bring home, was definitely not, the baby I had imagined him to be. Born full term, alert and gorgeous, smiled at birth, all the great things that should fill a mother’s heart with exhilaration were present. I certainly felt blessed to have a healthy baby, but my elation was overshadowed, by the incessant crying, feeding struggles and minimal sleep. I was already depleted by a thirty six hours labour, followed by a traumatic emergency c-section. Now I had a ‘strange’ baby. A baby that did not fit the box. A baby who bawled incessantly. A baby whose only consolation was to be breastfed. A baby who only napped while being held in my arms. A baby who screamed as soon as he was put down. A baby who fussed when held too tightly. A baby who shrieked when bathed. A baby who hated to be massaged, which was even stranger, as almost all who knew me advocated how baby massages would work magically, at soothing him!

I felt totally inadequate as a mother.  I felt miserable about myself and angry that I was failing my baby. I was thoroughly incompetent in this substantial task entrusted to me. During my emotional turmoil I started asking myself, “Should I have become a mother in the first place?” But how did I reach here? The answer : the idea that parenting should be a one size fits all. Browsing through the magazines and pamphlets given to me by my NHS nurse during my pregnancy, I had inadvertently ingrained the ethos of these writings. I had come to believe that there is only one way of caring for babies and the way to do it, is the way advised in these prints. I had corrupted my maternal instincts, despite myself.

I spent days and weeks, trying to figure out what I was doing ‘wrong’. I visited the doctors countless times, they too had no answers for me. Then one night, out of desperation and exhaustion, I let him sleep in my bed. I can still remember the amount of times I woke up in a fright, less I might have crushed him to death in my sleep! My learning journey about parenting him started that day. I noticed that he had slept soundly and was less restless the following day. I realised that he needed the constant mother-baby contact to feel calm, so I started carrying him without the guilt of spoiling him. We started co sleeping and breastfeeding on demand. I stopped trying my best to massage him and instead, made sure not to let him become overwhelmed by over stimulations. We avoided daily baths and spaced them apart by 3-4 days and opted instead to top and tail. I conceded that my baby was going to teach me how to parent him.

My baby grew up, the intensity of the infant years magnified. As a toddler he was rather unconventional in his demeanour. He walked and talked early, was always on the move, slept little, approached everything and everyone with extreme gusto. The task of parenting him was a challenge. He had a strong will and a mind of his own. He processed the world around him differently to us. He grew a little older and it was time to go to school. School tried to squash his exuberant nature. He tried his best at controlling his quirks and when he failed, the attempt to control him by taking away privileges and using time out strategies proved unsuccessful. He did not care enough about the privileges to be vexed!

He is a free spirit. I often falter in my resolve to follow his lead and the older part of me always try to ‘teach’ him what to do and what not to do. This always lead to parenting catastrophes, as he has always been intrinsically averse to being dictated. He however welcomes negotiations. He is by no means intentionally confrontational, he just needs to question everything. There is an overpowering need to see the logic behind every request. He needs to be heard, just like he needed to be heard as a baby.

The day my baby taught me how to parent him, was the day I chose to trust my motherly instinct. The day I was brave enough to admit to myself, that just as every child is unique, so my parenting should be too.

Save Open Schooling

3 Apr

The National Institute for Open Schooling serves millions of children every year, and its programs, including the Open Basic Education program should be recognized and supported under the Right to Education Act.  Instead, some important programs of NIOS are facing cuts.

There are a variety of reasons that children may not attend or may not thrive in a legally recognized, Board-affiliated school and for these children, Open Schooling offers a meaningful path of education and vocational training and certification. (more…)

What is Play?

6 Mar

What is “playing” for a near-3 yr old?

Anything that she wants to do – it could be play-acting, knocking about a football or a balloon in the living room, making clay-models with her, having a shared story-telling session or running around with her in the nearby park. In fact I don’t think I have ever consciously thought about “playing” with her. It’s always been about being around her, ensuring she is having fun. For eg: When crawling around as tigers stops being fun, we might break into an impromptu jig. She loves singing and dancing and music is almost always present. She has her favorites, to which we sing and dance together, with gay abandon.

Our story-telling sessions typically start with a book selected by Disha and the story is often read/narrated multiple times. We recently audio-recorded one such story-narration and Disha had a blast while playing back the audio, speaking out aloud with the recording at various times while pointing at the relevant page in the book.

Disha rides her bicycle with Appa

We go on cycle-rides often, with Disha sitting in a baby-seat in the front. These end up being incredibly fun, with both of us singing aloud at the top of our voices. These songs are often made up on the go, incorporating things we see on the the road – cows, cycles, cars, trees etc.

She loves it when I talk about eating her “poppai” (Disha-tongue for “thoppai – the tamizh word for stomach”) – tickling her, pointing out various locations in her stomach where her food might have ended up at.

When we go for walks, she loves sitting astride my shoulders and touching the leaves of the trees that we pass by. Sometimes we break into a run and make her mom chase us down. Sometimes we run up to her mom, touch her and then run away, screaming away in delight.

“What is Play?” originally appeared on AskAmma.