Progressive Schools: A Good Alternate?

by SchoolWiser Last Updated 20-Sep-19
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There has always been a focus on education in the country and there has been a rise in the branded schools mushrooming all over the towns and cities of India, esp. Gurgaon. However, there are some schools which have existed for quite some time and now are being recognized as “top schools in Gurgaon”, like Shikshantar School. Well, these schools are pursuing a non-traditional pattern of education. This doesn’t mean that the queues for the regular mainstream schools with a good academic track record are getting any shorter, but instead the demand of such ‘Alternative School’ is on the rise alongside.

Progressive Schools

Alternative education, which is also called ‘progressive education’, refers to the education practice that does not comply with a conventional standard. The standard for comparison is usually the incumbent education system.

Alternative education usually involves:

  • Emphasis on the theory of ‘Do and Learn’ – learning by experience, expeditionary learning and hands-on projects.
  • Combined curriculum focusing on separate units.
  • Teaching about entrepreneurship as a part of the education and syllabus.
  • Attention on problem analysis and analytical thinking.
  • Developing social skills by giving group projects.
  • Understanding and action as the goal of learning as opposed to repetitive knowledge.
  • Collective and cohesive learning activities.
  • Schooling for social answerability and equality.
  • Personal attentions to individuals for helping them reach their educational goals.
  • Amalgamation of community services and service learning projects into the daily curriculum.
  • Selection of subjects on the basis of future requirements in the society.
  • Playing down on textbooks in aid of diverse learning skills.
  • Accentuation on lifelong learning and social skills.
  • Appraisal by estimation of child’s projects and creations.

How are Alternative Schools/ Progressive schools different?

Traditional education system is generally only based on grades and prizes. That becomes the defining parameter for education and intellect. Progressive education on the other hand does not keep academic performance as the only yardstick for a child’s growth. It bases its activities and curriculum on the basis of the child’s personal interest.

A method which is followed widely in alternative schools today is the Multiple Intelligence Theory. It is a model that talks about 8 different components of intelligence. Out of these the most appreciated by the traditional learning structure are Numbers, Language and Reasoning. The less emphasized areas in traditional schooling are the subjects like, art, interpersonal relationships, understanding of body and its language, i.e., sports and dance. These gifts are grievously undervalued, labeled as ‘extra-curricular’ and shunted off to the side, denying these children a chance to realize their potential.

Alternative education system gets children to learn and does not emphasize on forcefully teaching them. It makes the children competent rather than continuously being in competition with others. It would not be a wrong statement to make that competition actually dwells on the success at the cost of others. You become successful not because you’ve given your best, or done you best, but because, you’ve done better than the others. It may not be at par with your own potential.

Since there is usually a small class size in the Alternate schooling, it helps develop close relationship among students and teachers which in turn helps in the overall development of the child.

Increasing interest in alternative schools is not always for the appropriate reason. When some parents are devoted in the ideology of dynamic systems, there are others who access them just for the sake that it may rank exceptionally on some “Top schools in Gurgaon” ranking.

Some reasons parents choose alternative or progressive schools are:

  • Alternative learning is a cultural difference, where the culture promotes learning and not just ‘marks’. Grading system may still be followed in such schools.
  • It helps to develop interest of learning everything in children. They don’t fear the curriculum pressure. They become competent on their own. One can see the impact in the students of The Heritage School and Shikshantar School.
  • Children become more expressive and confident because of the fearless environment that they are groomed in.
  • Dissatisfaction from traditional schools due to the pressure on children even in the primary classes.

It has not been an easy journey for the alternative schools to make their position among these traditional schools.

Criticism received by alternative or progressive schools:

  • Parents fear that students coming from these schools will performance poorly in competitive exams as they are not used to rote learning. Most of these schools, in 10th and 12th standard, administer entrance into conventional examination scheme through the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or Indian Council of Secondary Education (ICSE). But still the institutions like The Heritage School (CBSE) and Shikshantar School (ICSE) have given out good results in such examinations.
  • Since the school environment does not encourage competition within the group, students may be incapable of facing up to fierce competition at the graduate level. However, students of Shikshantar School and The Heritage School have managed to gain admissions to top universities in India and abroad.
  • Because of a radically different philosophy, the schools find it relatively difficult to find the right teachers who can imbibe the ethos. All teachers coming in with experience in regular curriculum teaching, may not be able to imbibe the shift in mindset. However, such schools with a strong focus on teacher training have performed well - case in point - Heritage Xperiential Learning School.
  • Most of the times, parents lose their patience as they see lack of conformity, mostly because they themselves have grown up in a highly regulated school environment.
  • Some parents fail to take notice of the effect in their children of the stated advantages in schools such as like Shikshantar School and The Heritage School. One such example is that children may not particularly be required to always interact in the English language in a school such as Shikshantar when in formal classroom discussions, at least in the initial years (even in an English medium alternative school). Some may see this as lack of discipline and encouragement to promote fluency in the language.

Perhaps trying to combat some of the criticism listed above, some schools in this category stay away from referring themselves as alternative schools but prefer to be referred to as progressive schools. Some of these schools are seeing a lot more applications pouring in year on year and other schools deciding to follow their footsteps with Project-based and Enquiry-based Learning instead of going the regular school route must mean something. I have come across parents across the entire gamut from being loyal subscribers to these schools to the ones who want to pull their children out from these at the first instance. Interestingly most are on either end of the spectrum. It is for parents to examine the needs of their child and understand how true schools such as Shikshantar School are to their underlying progressive or alternative education theme. Some children thrive in this environment while the progress of a few others that respond well to a regimented routine may be stunted. My one cent – if delivered correctly it’s a great schooling system but perhaps not suited for every child!

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