“Parents have evolved, it's now time for the curriculum to change” says Shweta Sharan
Shweta Sharan is an educational revolutionist, a journalist and a mother. In 2012, she started the social group “Bangalore Schools” with 50 members. The group now has over 54000 parents and educators who turn to it for advice. In a conversation with Openhouse, Shweta gave us a few insights into how the demand for education is seeing a shift.
It’s really wonderful to be speaking to you today! We’ve been following your work and love your take on education. What drove you to writing about education though?
It’s great to be here!
I have been following Openhouse for a while too and I think you’re doing some very interesting work.
Coming to your question, I never anticipated working in the field of education. I was a business journalist. When my daughter turned two, I started looking for schools to admit her to. That is when parents typically start looking for suitable schools for their children. As I looked, I realised that there was no single source of information available about schools in Bangalore city. That was when I started my facebook group. It was a group for parents, a few teachers and principles to share their insights. As the group grew, I saw more and more parents reach out about their children being unable to cope with mainstream schooling. It made me want to study the possibilities in education and share them with parents in need.
Turning a community of 50 into one of 50,000 people is quite a journey. How did that happen?
My daughter’s needs led me to the field of education. As the group grew, I could have left it to someone else, but I was interested to learn more about education. I strongly believe that children are their own people. They deserve an education that expands their horizons and nurtures their individuality. Schools, as they are now, tend to confine children. Parents were recognizing this and becoming more vocal about their child’s learning needs.
Then, there were parents whose children had special needs. In the year 2012 Bangalore did not provide a lot of space for children with special needs. Since I was a journalist by profession, I thought “Why not put this skill into use to help parents and children?”.
I am deeply connected to the parent community because they genuinely struggle a lot to find the right school for their children. Often, helping their child cope with school curriculum can be so stressful that they miss out on opportunities to try new learning methods and experiences.
The kind of proactiveness you’re describing sounds like there’s been quite a generational shift in parenting. Do you see that as well?
I have seen a lot of difference in the way our parents used to choose schools and the way we pick them now. For our parents, where we went to school was a matter of convenience. We went to schools that were close to our homes. I was fairly happy with my schooling, even if it was not the best or most conducive of atmospheres. In contrast, parents today tend to change their children's schools very often in order to find one that is best suited to their child’s specific learning needs.
Finding the right school is a challenge. Often, if the school is a great fit, it will also be expensive. The schools that provide the most specialised and holistic curricula could cost over 8-9 lakhs per annum. Despite their cost, they are probably still unable to give children the life skills they’ll need as adults.
It is important for kids to be independent and think out of the box. Learning how to apply concepts to real life situations is the life skill that needs to be inculcated. More and more parents are realising this.
If this is something parents have realised, why aren’t there more parents lobbying for change? Why don’t we know more education revolutionists?
That is a good question. To answer it - there are indeed more parents contesting what is taught at school. It may not be at the rate at which we hope for, but change is definitely coming. We see it in the increasing number of schools that promote real world learning. Some schools even adjust their curriculum to the needs of students, but the admissions in these schools are almost always full. I won’t disagree, there are still parents who believe in the traditional way of learning, but change definitely is coming.
The parents that resist this change are mostly stressed about the opportunities their children will have for their higher education. Parents wonder how students who are the products of alternative schooling cope with hyper competitive college environments. Luckily, this will change too. Some colleges do not have a cut-off requirement, they are moving to a more holistic evaluation process.
Are there enough colleges that accept students based on their individuality and aptitude?
There are a few such colleges that are coming up. I recently did a panel discussion with one such college. They do not have cut-offs at all. They have their own evaluation processes in place. I know of a few students who have joined renowned colleges even after not scoring well on their board exams. I also see that colleges seek diversity - A student with a unique take on life could be a valuable addition to their classrooms.
An exciting development here is the edtech revolution! I sometimes hear from parents asking if their children will need a traditional college education at all if education is so easily accessible online.
I’m glad you brought that up! We love what Ed Tech can do for millions of students in India. They can now choose their own interests, pace, style and language to learn in. However, it does concern a lot of parents that online classes don’t really help develop a student’s social and interpersonal skills the way school would. What do you think?
It’s true that online classes are frustrating - my daughter feels this very often. She misses the interactions with her peers more than ever. However, a blended/hybrid learning environment could also solve this problem.
Is Physical schooling actually required then? Once things come back to normal, what if online schooling continues and children continue to meet over other interests?
That is a great idea, when children go to school it does not necessarily mean that they are having meaningful conversations and interactions. There is always scope for learning outside school.
In fact, people mistake homeschooling for learning within the confines of a house, but the truth is that they learn from the world around them and are often very well equipped with practical skills. They study the working of a much more dynamic world, unconstrained by textbooks written over 30 years ago.
We at Openhouse focus on experiential learning. The parents we interact with are immediately able to recognise the importance of what we offer, yet they hesitate to deviate from a marks-driven approach for fear of missing out. Is there any advice that you would like to give to these parents?
Well, the fear is rational. I too am concerned for my daughters exams and their outcomes. The fear is rational because the world out there is a competitive one and I want to do my best to prepare her for it.
However, I do also recognise the effect of being so achievement oriented. Kids these days are so used to being the best at whatever they do that they often grow up to lack resilience and experience with failure - something we deal with frequently as adults. It is hard to change parents’ mindsets, but I do believe that with time they will learn for themselves.
They will learn that they cannot push their child into doing something that is not meant for them. Every child is different and brilliance need not be defined by a single academic score. Widening students’ horizons, encouraging curiosity, giving them exposure to practical and people skills and introducing them to many different fields while young is the best we can do for them and their futures.
Here at Openhouse we believe that education can be fun. We believe in letting students interact and open-up. We ensure that children not only study but also include and indulge into the process of studying. We needn’t force a child into studying all we have to do is to make it interesting and fun.
At Openhouse, we believe that every child is unique - especially in the way they learn. Our classes are designed to be inclusive, student-friendly environments that encourage children to engage with their teachers and each other. This could be through interactive discussions, activities or experiments.
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