In social dynamics, there are enough evidence to show that patterns emerge to facilitate a social order. Some get articulated as a single thought architecture encompassing a large universe of social operation. They tend to exhibit a conceptual dominance over a period. Learning, through schools, is a social construct that helped institutionalization of both individual and social requisites that evolved after the industrial revolution. They have long been used to fertilize social, cultural, political and religious philosophies on a safer mode. They have also been used to develop the requisite social architecture for the enrichment and followership of such philosophies.
In early India, Gurukula, if at all one could call them as early schools, focused on fertilizing the mind of each learner, development of the individual personalised skills and in enriching them in all that the individual was capable of. Further they offered common conceptual frameworks that helped to develop social consciousness through appropriate learning experiences both within the framework of the institutions and from outside. They helped in designing and putting in place a lofty purpose for life. However, the recent models of schools became regimental adopting a top-down approach in the process of learning with a focus on mass education for a specific purpose or a social gratification.
The last two years, thanks both to the global health concerns and the impact of newer technologies, the purpose and process of facilitation of learning has witnessed and experienced newer grounds of operation. With excessive stress, competition and consumerism, there is an emerging desire to consider the feasibility of alternate schools. Some of them do seem to be either on a pilot stage or a project stage. The mobility of such ideas, though quite slow, cannot be ignored or marginalised by the education industry as future possibilities.
Here are a few reasons why I consider that the current ideas on alternate schooling might gain ground:
1. Work-life balance paradigm shifts
The last two years have indeed impacted the work-life balance paradigms that existed for over the last two decades. The fact that people world over had to remain either in closed doors or with limited mobility forced them to focus and reorganise or re-engineer their domestic fronts. Relationships that had gone dry over a number of years had a fresh lease of life, whether that was by choice or chance. The ‘work from home’ concept provoked and catalysed new models of work culture. With no compromise in their quality of deliveries to workstations, people learnt to use flexible timing and schedules, longer engagement with their workstations, parallel management of domestic and official priorities, differentiated modes of shopping and more convenient methods of communication. In this background, management of school going children at home and enabling technological support to them for home-based online learning became a new skill for them to manage. It demanded both psychological and operational support. Mentoring and monitoring children in such processes forced them to make both voluntary and involuntary interventions to the curriculum delivery process, pedagogical methods and the performance profile of their wards. Positive as well as negative interventions have come to the fore. Given the choice, many parents consider whether it would be safe for the children to learn from home through a blended model. A few consider such models as less stress-prone and cost-effective, liberating learning from the constraints of time and space.
2. Financing education
A number of cases were seen during this time where parents raised questions about the remittance of school fee as the students were delivered lessons through online modes. Failure to remit the fee, demands for lower structures for fee or delayed payment modes put a large section of schools in stress, hindering subsequent delayed payment or non-payment to the teachers and other staff. In a number of cases, the salaries were also cut proportionately. Over a period, it is seen that a section of parents do feel that home learning or alternate models of schooling could either be cheaper and their overheads on financing education of their wards could work out less. Many parents remarked that a lot of expenditure associated with schooling were not really warranted and hence they can work through models which bite their pockets less. Well, it must be understood that there is no significant correlation between the quality and the cost. Further with innumerable compliance requisites for running an institution, the industry might look for simpler, accessible, techno-savvy, customer-friendly models at cheaper costs that provide better universal access.
3. Blended learning tools
With technology intervention, newer models of learning are emerging. With open access to learning from a variety of sources, the impact of informal learning appears to be getting dominance over the formal learning methods. With a number of competitive websites providing free access to their knowledge portals, learning is becoming increasingly liberated from time, space and financial constraints. With schools using technology for blended or hybrid learning, the forced attendance of students in schools is becoming increasing questionable. With focus shifting to skill-based learning and competency-based learning, the formal institutions of learning have not been able to significantly come out with models which could meet such needs. The possibility of such learning through non-institutionalised resource centers appears to be increasing. Hence the relevance of schools in the existing modes is becoming increasingly unsatisfactory for many. The alternate models of schooling, however weak they are, as of now, are exploring the possibilities of parading their relevance.
4. Teacher quality and attention
There is an increasing concern about teacher quality and teacher attention in schools, both in the state and in the private sector. While the experienced teachers in the institutions seem to be struggling to cope with newer skills, the new teachers coming out from colleges of education appear to be suffering from inadequacy of appropriate skills for curriculum and pedagogy management, though comfortable with technology skills. Newer integrated approaches to curriculum management and pedagogical capsules appear to be beyond their easy reach without adequate training. With increasing student-teacher ratio, the teachers appear to be finding it difficult to raise their personal levels of attention to the learners thereby finding too difficult to meet the levels of satisfaction of either the parents or the management. This triggers the intention of the parents to find teachers who can deliver personal attention to their wards even in small groups, thereby slowly catalysing the concept of home schooling.
5. Flexible learning timing
Though a lot of neuro-psychological research has gone behind the design of learning and the school timing over a few decades, the complexity of the current social dynamics is raising several questions with regard to their sustainability. The need for compulsory attendance in schools for the learners, the effectivity of learning during their school timings, the load of learning during a given time capsule, the forced learning for a cohort without any motivation at a given time for same subjects, declining spirit of play and humour during their learning schedules are all raising several concerns. The future may like to find answers to some of these questions by providing a choice-based learning, a time-space free learning to them. One wonders whether learning resources of the future will be shopped on retail basis from massive knowledge structures in the models of Costco or Amazon?
6. Expanding learning universe
The convergence and divergence of knowledge is creating unimaginable pathways to learning - especially for inter-disciplinary learning, multi-disciplinary learning, and cross-disciplinary learning. Structured learning pathways becoming increasingly redundant, the expanse of the learning universe is indeed mindboggling. The learners and their guardians are finding it extremely difficult to make conscious and considered choices for their learning pathways. With shelf-life of knowledge decreasing fast, authentic, immediate and reliable sources of knowledge are becoming matters of concern. The stakeholders are finding it difficult to make compromises with the available inputs to knowledge resources. Hence, enormous opportunities do exist for consideration of alternate opportunities for learning situations.
7. Transport challenges
Transport systems have been put in place in many, highly populated cities, for promoting trade, business and communication. The unbelievable increase in automobiles has made most traffic systems highly intense, intimidating and complex. The timings for transport from the house to school takes more than an hour in a few cases, causing physical and mental stress. By the time children reach their schools, they are exhausted. Further, increasing levels of pollution has been a matter of major concern to many. To cap them all, the increasing cost of fuels has forced the transport managers to charge heavily for transport, which in a few cases surpasses even the core cost of school fee. Solutions to some of these challenges may lie in provision alternate models of schooling. One cannot shun to consider the above challenges.
8. Non-linear learning
With new technologies emerging and their concurrent skills, learning is turning out to be highly non-linear. Learning through classified verticals is increasingly felt as unsuitable to meet the needs of the future. Further, the classical models with a consumerist base have promoted learning by rote, thereby negating the core skills like problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, creativity and enterprise. Even the learners of formal schools are required to venture a bit of their timings to engage in other scaffolding and co-axial learning systems to gain all-round competencies. With declining focus on linear models of learning, institutionalised support to these non-linear models of curricular delivery is not indeed adequate. Either the institutions need to outgrow their current patterns of thinking, or they need to develop more hybrid models of learning in association with other learning scaffolds. The possibility of multiple schools for different faculties, the possibility of multiple schools for specialisations, choice of credited courses relevant for future are some of the current thought engagements one finds on the discussion tables.
The words of Abraham Lincoln are indeed worth contemplating: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”