The idea of alternative schooling germinates from the thought that the mainstream education does not fully comprehend the developmental cognitive needs of the child and that there are certain groups of learners that require nuanced pedagogical approaches for development.
Alternative schooling may differ from the mainstream schooling in several ways. It can use non-traditional curriculum and pedagogical thoughts, it can experiment with non-traditional instructional models etc. The common theme that run across the alternative schooling models is that of customization of education for the benefit of the child and integration of ideals into education.
Alternative schooling has found different manifestations and has received qualified acceptance world over. Educational approaches that were originally developed as bases for alternative schooling eventually became popular enough to be adopted into the mainstream schooling. These include Montessori, Waldorf educational, Multiple Intelligences and career-themed approaches.
Alternative schools are highly innovative, experimental and child-centered in their outlook. They are averse to the regimentation that characterizes traditional models of schooling and encourage free thought on the part of the students.
In India, the right of choice exists, as accorded by the universal declaration of human rights, for the parents which allows them to freely choose the mode of schooling for their children. The majority of the parents opt for traditional schools while there are parents who opt for alternative schooling as they find it more suited to the needs of their children.
Alternative schooling has resonated with the children with special needs and have proven to be effective in overcoming learning disabilities. The alternative schooling model has also found acceptance with the students who are characterized as gifted. In the case of students who choose alternative schooling for other reasons, emphasis on creativity, free thinking, and all round-development are seen as chief factors that tilt the balance in favor of alternative schooling.
The alternative –schooling movement in modern India is associated with luminaries like Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurbindo. The Vishwabharati University of the former and the Sri Aurbindo International center for education of the latter are the leaders in the field of alternative schooling not just in India but in many different nations. The educational thoughts from both these institutions has percolated to a steady stream spawning various institutions of merit.
Unschooling and radical unschooling —often associated with home-schooling, unschooling is based on informal learning techniques based on activities chosen by the learner that take place in familiar environments. Unschooling questions the efficacy of standard curricula and traditional grading methods.
Montessori Method—Alternative schools rely on this method for its constructivist bent. It is preferred for its flexible curriculum and interactive design.
Waldorf method—another popular version of constructivist educational approach, Waldorf emphasizes on learning from within and complete freedom of choice of mode of learning in early years.
Democratic schools—learning spaces where voice of the children is as decisive as that of the teachers. The idea of democratic schools is finding substantial acceptance among educational thought leaders. It is being replicated in early schooling by many alternative schools.
Other types of alternative schools that are popular in north-America but have not yet gained a foothold in India are Paideia schools, established by the philosopher Mortimer Adler; free schools and self-directed education based on the concepts of the Scottish educator Alexander S. Neill; as well as continuous progress schools, schools without walls, and “back-to-basics" schools.
In addition to the above educational approaches, the alternative schools in India do rely on National Institute of Open Schooling for securing diplomas for their students. Alternative methods of schooling do not preclude the enrolment of students in traditional diploma and certificate examinations issued by the CBSE, CISCE or Cambridge International.
Notable Alternative schools in India
Rishi Valley, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh—Based on Jiddu Krishnamurthi’s educational thought.
Anand Niketan, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh—A democratic school
Aarambh, New Delhi—based on Waldorf education system
Mirambika, New Delhi—Aurbindo School
Arivu, Mysore, Karnataka—Thematic Study based school
Aurinko, Bangalore, Karnataka—A school practicing a blend of alternative educational philosophies
Be Me—Bangalore, Karnataka—A democratic school
Center for Learning, Bangalore, Karnataka—A Jiddu Krishnamurthi school
Abheek, Bangalore, Karnataka—A school based on exploratory learning
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Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.
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