The home-schooled experience – all that different from going to school?

About a decade back, back when English medium schools were reaching peak demand, one fine morning my parents decided not to bear with the commercial nature of English medium schools anymore, and for me to be, fortunately or unfortunately, homeschooled. Was it necessary?

Homeschooling, in easy language, is learning at home, and under the context of Bangladesh, is being partially or fully dependent on coaching classes for taking the SATs or the O and A-level exams. In colloquial language, we address these students who drop out and are “homeschooled” as “private students.”

One fine morning my parents decided not to bear with the commercial nature of English medium schools anymore, and for me to be, fortunately or unfortunately, home-schooled.

Students generally drop out in grade 9 or 10, and while some hire tutors to come to their homes, others pay top-notch teachers to get them their parent-coveted As and A-stars. Some, though very few in number, take exams through rigorous self-study only. Homeschooling is, more or less, the same as learning in school except, instead of the ringing of bells, you get to hear the occasional hissing of pressure-cookers and instead of your teachers inquiring, you find your parents prying.

Image: Caleb Woods

To understand the roots of homeschooling in Bangladesh, one has to understand irony. One of the major reasons why homeschooling has been on athe rise is because of the portentous failure English medium schools have brought on themselves with their (delusional) success in the first place.

Once rare, English medium schools have now sprawled left right and centre. While some parents believe they’re handing over their children to a more competitive curriculum (in comparison to the more rigid but less rigorous Bengali curriculum), others admit their children into English medium schools for an erroneously conceived but widely-believed idea of the children (or of the parents themselves) having an elevated social status, or at least an entry into an elite club by admission into these schools.

It all looks picture-perfect seeing kindergarten children cutting out colourful flowers out of chart papers and second graders learning how to make boats out of them. Until the day children enter middle school, which makes parents look beyond the colour of the confined walls of the classroom, take a look at the rickety foundations of English medium schools and realize that in the process of trying to teach children how to cut paper, English medium schools themselves had long forgotten how to cut their coat according to their cloth. Too many students but too few teachers. A lot of ambition, but no set goal. A quintessential example of mismanagement.

While not all schools are downtrodden, aiming for admission into schools like ISD, AISD, CISD – schools which actually (read apparently) care about the growth and progress of students- are like for aiming for the sky anyway. An exclusive edition sky.

Most “other” English medium schools fail to recruit efficient teachers for the higher grades. Students — then option-less — sardine together in coaching classes; thus, creating a loop: because schools can’t hire better teachers, students swathe coaching classes. Because students would eventually swathe coaching classes, schools don’t hire better teachers, which is also the reason the teachers do not bother improving, adapting or adjusting to the needs of the students in the higher level of classes.

Now that going to coaching classes has been established less as a mandatory task but more as a culture, English medium schools have since long grabbed the opportunity to capitalize on it, in two ways. They don’t spend (thus saving) to hire or retain (more) efficient teachers, not now not before, while still keeping thousands of students tethered to paying monthly fees, because this is where the plot twist comes: numerous students choose to stay registered till high school, only so that they can take exams being a registered student and obtain a certificate which, according to a widely-held notion, aids in college admissions abroad. Otherwise, going to high-school for students is like what going to Burger King is for you.

This leads us to our next and the million dollar question: do students become home-schooled because they want to? Or is it because of the dearth of better options?

Mehzabeen Alam Naomi, an ex-student from Sir John Wilson, is at first waspish about her experience at school and takes no time to open up about why she personally prefers being a private (homeschooled) student.

“I get to choose the tutors,” she says, “Teachers whose teaching methods suit my learning process.”

It is, in fact, an open secret that regardless of students complaining about inept teachers being inapt for their inability to teach and communicate, high-school teachers in profit-oriented schools don’t share their students’ headaches to complete the syllabus as soon as possible, let alone providing students with in-depth knowledge.

Sharaf Anan Megha from Maple Leaf International School also recounts how she never found a point going to school once she was in the ninth grade. “Students are not present and teachers not available to take the classes,” she says.

Do students become home-schooled because they want to? Or is it because of the dearth of better options?

High-schoolers, therefore, are now just like homeschoolers: fully or partially dependent on coaching teachers, but fully independent of school teachers.

This makes one wonder whether it is because teachers believe they, too, have a passive role in letting students eventually become coaching-dependant? Or is it just because they are, as incriminated, just plain and simple bad teachers?

Image: Patrick Fore

Reasons such as these as well as coping up with the constant hike in school fees while having concurrent fees of coaching classes to pay for – stand as a great hurdle to middle-class families in supporting their children’s school education. This leaves no better option than making their children leave school for good and become home-schooled (various students shift to the Bengali national curriculum).

Students, even though rumoured to become lethargic and homebound once homeschooled, actually have more time to invest themselves in community work or to partake in activities that may add to their extra-curricular activities. They have a say in selecting teachers and can ace and pace their studies according to their personal speed of learning and processing.

Many may argue that homeschooled children are low on EQ and suffer from periodic mood disorders due to lack of socialization. Naomi, on the other hand, agrees to disagree and says, “I actually get to make more friends, and have a wider network from coaching classes.”

While homeschooling is the most feasible path to tread on for many students, it should not be established as a solution to a more convoluted problem that results from the poor infrastructure of English medium schools. Because if homeschooling is the final resort, then maybe one day there would be no need for high schools (read: school) at all.  If there’s no high school, there would be no high-schoolers anymore. If no high-schoolers, there would only be homeschoolers left in the future. But when was there a difference between a high-schooler and a homeschooler anyway? Is the future already in the present?

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