The Parent Trap

Jackie Pinto | February 10, 2024 | Life

We meet active learners from different walks of life who are choosing to be ‘unschooled’ and focus on developing their innate capabilities through travel and practical life experiences, guided and mentored by their parents.

Since December 2022, Mumbai based Kiara Aranha has been ‘missing from school’. And it all began with a family trip to Antarctica. Thanks to her parents Naveen and Danielle, Kiara was virtually born an intrepid traveller, and by age eight had already visited her seventh continent. An only child, mildly introverted, it was an eventful- 20 day long journey to Antarctica in the company of ornithologists, penguinologists, glaciologists and geo-political experts, that was a game changer.

“She would leave the cabin at 8 am to catch all the hardcore, technical lectures and discussions. She was the only child on board and it was not a luxury cruise liner, but the sheer excitement of learning from the experts inspired her. When we returned to Mumbai, the shift from experiences to academia was obvious, not in a good way,’ begins Naveen. He founded Sportz Interactive, at age 19, now he and his wife Danielle having exited the vicious circle with his wife, , they travel the world as a family, deep diving into cultures and communities.

“Kiara was a popular achiever in school. But after Antarctica we felt that school methods were limiting! I put together a 60 slide presentation to show her how different her learning curve could be if she chose alternate learning methods. Then the pandemic happened and since travel was a big part of our un-schooling experiment, it was put on hold. Once school reopened, Kiara was happy to get back but I was keen on the un-schooling programme we envisioned. After five months she bid goodbye to her JCBN International School. Oshiwara.

Thirteen months later Kiaras’ blog reads, “While my friends were learning about the classification of species, I’ve had the amazing opportunity of observing and learning about several of them in their natural habitats. Between Africa, Alaska and several places in between, I’ve learnt about mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, seen bears desperately hunting salmon and observed countless whales of different species. Sea Turtles are my favourite and I’ve had lots of amazing learnings by snorkelling and diving with them. I’ve also visited beaches where they nest and hospitals that rehabilitate these highly endangered key-stone species. I’ve white-water rafted on the Nile, swam with manatees in Florida, snorkelled with incredible marine life in the Great Barrier Reef and tried my hand at free-diving, kayaking, surfing, stand-up-paddle boarding and so much more. To top that all off, in January 2023, on a beautiful island in the Indonesian archipelago, I became a PADI-certified Jr. Open-Water Scuba Diver, participating in a volunteer project in Uganda, visited phenomenal museums, was dazzled by the Northern Lights and got a taste of British boarding-school-life in Oxford.”

Does disengaging from the mainstream school system require economic privilege and a stay-at-home-parent who can afford to focus full time on education? Not true, says Bangalore based Prachi and Tejus Pendurkar, both Chartered Accountants. Their twins, 8, Viaan and Vibha have been unschooling since they were 5. “They love robotics, skating, swimming, yoga, reading, cycling, cooking, . They budget for family vacations, map out the most interesting routes and find the best pit stops special. Our trip from Bangalore to Rajasthan. was a series of history, geography, natural science, anthropology and finance learning capsules integrated organically into one.”

Ratnesh and Aditi Mathur started Aarohi, an open learning community in 2008.

“We have nothing against formal education, but an accessible and stimulating eco system nurtures learning. Technology and AI, has already made most of the current syllabus redundant and learning is now a self- limiting exercise.”

The Mathur’s have two children. Asawari, 24, a self- directed learner, who chose to go degreeless. She runs Dhanak – a brand for Natural, Handcrafted personal care products. Dhrupad, 18, is an aspiring football pro.

Ratnesh often fields a question most open-learners face— how do you know that your kids will learn everything they need to know?

“A key part is considering the ‘everything they need to know’ phrase. Degree holders still learn new things on the job. My daughter was accepted into a Masters level programme on sustainability offered by Azim Premji University despite not having a graduate degree which was the minimum requirement. They were impressed by her body of actual work which included workshops, projects and her product designing skills. We have a co-university program for older kids 16+, which includes a lot of portfolio management and mentoring by external professionals. You begin by committing to working on one subject for six months, treating it professionally, and then either going in deeper or changing lanes. It helps them get to the heart of their chosen field quickly.”

What does life learning look like at Aarohi?

“We work, play, participate in gaming or sports, read, write, sleep, cook, eat, experiment, explore, surf the web, ride a bike, watch a movie, listen to music, day dream, problem solve, paint, create, go to a zoo or museum, visit friends, work out, talk, try new things, compose or play songs, go grocery shopping, garden, and anything else we want to do. It’s all about living life and learning all the time,” says Ratnesh.

Akhil and Priya Jain have all the trappings of modern success. “I studied at Doon School. Did my MBA at INSEAD, my wife and I studied and worked in Singapore, relocating to India a year ago. We ticked all the boxes that defined ‘success’ in the corporate world, but we wanted more for our son Vivaan, 6. He is highly self-motivated and a tad-introverted. We are passionate board-gamers with over 400 board games at home. We also engage in a lot of sports and physical activity. As part of a wider community of world-schoolers we have enough support and confidence to believe that learning can indeed be a joyful journey. ”

On the contrary, Sangeetha Mahadevan, Deputy Principal,(Retd) ,The International School Bangalore feels that while un-schooling is an alluring philosophy, one that allow kids to follow their own interests—with gentle facilitation from committed adults, it can sometimes create a zone that is too removed from the world outside. “Parents need to know what to offer, when to support, when to back off, how busy they want to be, how much solitude they need, when to nudge them a bit with encouragement, when to get more involved, and so on. It’s a tough, challenging call. As an educator, we teach kids that failure is learning, discipline and structure are important and most children actually thrive on it.”

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