Do you think the rigid curriculum offered in schools do not unlock the hidden potential of children? Traditional schools “with their lectures, homework, and report cards” aren’t for everyone.

Normal Schooling is a concept where parents are extremely demanding in scholastic and academic achievements of their children and use strict, authoritarian methods of education. In fact, highly competitive mainstream education combined with ‘tiger parenting’ can make children excessively self-critical about themselves and undermine their confidence and self-belief.

On the other hand, countries like Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and the US have successfully implemented and embraced alternative education like Waldorf-Steiner’s methods, Montessori methods and even home-schooling.

What is alternative education?

Typically, alternative education focusses on a different approach to child development and education by employing varied teaching methodologies. Some schools specifically focus on specialised skills of children to further their career interests and development. According to a research article written by Kirkham and Kidd, published in the Journal of Creative Behavior in March 2015, alternative educational methods like Waldorf-Steiner’s and Montessori methods fostered better capability, creativity, imagination and resilience than traditional education.



Following are the different types of alternative education:

Montessori: This is a method developed by Dr Maria Montessori, which is based on self-directed activity, where children learn hands-on through collaboration and play. Children in Montessori schools have the freedom to make creative choices in learning, while the teachers offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. This method is already a popular choice for preschool and kindergarten children. Montessori believed that children enjoyed and needed periods of long concentration and that the traditional education model, with its structured lessons and teacher-driven curriculum, inhibited a child’s natural development.

Montessori students are free to spend large blocks of the day however they choose, while the teacher, or director, observes. Dr. Montessori was a major proponent of tactile learning. Classic materials, such as the Pink Tower, Brown Stairs, and the Alphabet Box “a set of wooden letters that children are encouraged to hold and feel before learning to write” remain staples of Montessori classrooms. Today, several Montessori schools have mushroomed offering alternative pathways to education at elementary and high school levels.

A 2006 study comparing outcomes of children at a public inner-city Montessori school with children who attended traditional schools provided evidence that Montessori education leads to children with better social and academic skills. Among the many celebrities who can attest to the value of a Montessori education are Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.

Waldorf-Steiner’s method: This method of education founded by Dr Rudolf Steiner, places emphasis on the imaginative and creative spirit of the child. Influenced by the likes of Goethe and Jean Piaget, Steiner believed there were three 7-year periods of child development, and his educational approach reflected what he thought should and should not be taught during each of these stages.

Teaching methods are designed to match the phases of psychological and spiritual development of children. Children in these schools learn with the help of their hands, heart and head during the various stages of development. The education system primarily uses colour, form and music to teach and embrace the use of natural materials such as wood, wool and cotton in place of artificial or plastic toys and materials. The curriculum is deep-seated in music, arts and drama. Lessons in mathematics and science are taught through a process known as ‘Eurhythmy.’ Children are taught to be self-sufficient by facilitating skills such as weaving, knitting, sewing, baking, cooking, carpentry or even growing crops and farm animals.

Harkness method: This is a teaching method pioneered by philanthropist Edward Harkness. It follows a specific method of teaching, where a teacher gathers a small group of students around a table and discusses topics ranging from history to calculus. A teacher using the Harkness method is seldom found lecturing the students with the use of a blackboard. The teacher moderates the classroom and keeps the students as an active participant. Individual opinions are formed, raised, rejected and revised at the Harkness table. No conversation is ever the same, which helps the teachers avoid ‘burnout’ resulting from teaching the same lessons year after year. The Harkness method boosts confidence, encourages intrinsic learning and fosters leadership qualities in students. The Harkness method is successfully employed in International Schools with a small classroom size.

Krishnamurti method: These schools, based on the teachings of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, focus on the attitudes and qualities of the teacher and child and how they relate to one another. Although some Krishnamurthy schools place importance on academic excellence, the school believes that teacher and students need to explore the world beyond knowledge and become introspective of their thoughts and behaviour. Structurally, each Krishnamurthy School is quite unique. While some schools focus on academics, others lay emphasis on the spiritual and psychological development of the student.

For Jiddu Krishnamurti, education is a religious activity. Education was seen as towards the fullest development of the full human being. Krishnamurti, education is,  educating the whole person (all parts of the person), educating the person as a whole (not as an assemblage of parts), and educating the person within a whole (as part of society, humanity, nature, etc.) from which it is not meaningful to extract that person.

Education is not about preparation for only a part of life (like work) but is about preparation for the whole of life and the deepest aspects of living.

Reggio Emilia: Reggio Emilia is an educational approach used primarily for teaching children aged 3 to 6. The method is named after the city in northern Italy where teacher Loris Malaguzzi founded a new approach to early childhood education after World War II. Malaguzzi’s philosophy was based on the belief that children are competent, curious and confident individuals who can thrive in a self-guided learning environment where mutual respect between teacher and student is paramount.

Reggio Emilia schools emphasize the importance of parents taking an active role in their child’s early education. Classrooms are designed to look and feel like home and the curriculum is flexible, as there are no set lesson plans. Reggio Emilia stresses growth on the students’ terms. Art supplies are an important component of any Reggio Emilia classroom and traditional schools have an atelierista, or art teacher, who works closely with the children on a variety of creative projects. Reggio Emilia teachers often keep extensive documentation of a child’s development, including folders of artwork and notes about the stories behind each piece of art.

“It’s about exploring the world together and supporting children’s thinking rather than just giving them ready-made answers,” said Louise Boyd Cadwell, who was an intern at two Reggio Emilia schools in Italy in the early ’90s and then wrote a book about the teaching method. “Reggio Emilia is about full-blown human potential and how you support that in both intellectual and creative terms.”

Homeschooling, un-schooling and de-schooling: Homeschooling is a type of education chosen by parents who think outside mainstream approaches. Their approaches often exist in affiliation with Montessori, Waldorf and many other educational philosophies. Parents and students, who are fed up of high-pressure classrooms and textbooks, often choose homeschooling, where they learn in a home environment supported by community experiences and apprenticeships. Un-schooling and de-schooling are complementary trends that focus on free-range learning.

Sudbury: Sudbury schools take their name from the Sudbury Valley School, which was founded in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts. Sudbury schools operate under the basic tenets of individuality and democracy and take both principles to extremes that are unrivaled in the education arena. In Sudbury schools, students have complete control over what and how they learn, as well as how they are evaluated, if at all. At the weekly School Meeting, students vote on everything from school rules and how to spend the budget to whether staff members should be rehired. Every student and staff member has a vote and all votes count equally.

The Sudbury philosophy is that students are capable of assuming a certain level of responsibility and of making sound decisions; in the event that they make poor decisions, learning comes in the form of dealing with the consequences. While many public and private schools are constantly looking for new ways to motivate students to learn, Sudbury schools don’t bother. According to the Sudbury approach, students are inherently motivated to learn. One Sudbury educator uses the example of an infant who learns to walk despite the fact that lying in a crib is a viable “and easier” alternative as support of this belief.

Sudbury schools, which have some similarities with the “free schools” that gained popularity in the U.S. during the 1970s, do not divide students into different classes by age. Students regularly engage in collaborative learning, with the older students often mentoring the younger students.

Special focus schools: Some schools offer specialised training in areas like arts, dance, music and sports, where students can develop their skills and get professional training for their future careers. Besides sports, music or arts, children from religious backgrounds are enrolled in veda pathashalas and madrasas, where they receive training in scriptures and religious rituals.

Schools for special educational needs: These schools are specifically designed for children with physical, psychological or developmental challenges. The instruction and curriculum is centered on rehabilitative therapies such as speech therapy or occupational therapy.

FOLLOWING ARE THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MAINSTREAM EDUCATION AND ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

Mainstream Education

Alternative Education

Adheres to a rigid board prescribed curriculum Follows a fluid and child-centric curriculum
Employs lecture as a primary method of teaching Adopts a method where children engage themselves in various activities
The curriculum doesn’t focus much on the emotional development of the child Teacher designs the curriculum based on the child’s stage of development
Schools are designed to prepare children specifically for higher educational institutes This method of schooling is mostly offered at preschool, kindergarten and primary school levels; a very limited number of alternate schools provide a platform for higher education
Mainstream schools are regulated by boards hence education is structured and standardized Possible risk of falling into the clutches of imposters claiming to provide alternative education



How to choose the right method of education for your child

  • Know your child: Understand your child’s potentials and talk about his dreams and aspirations. See which type of schooling can unlock his potentials.
  • Look for signs: If your child is enrolled in a mainstream school, observe how she is coping with the daily demands. If she is happy just let her be, if not, consider alternative schooling.
  • Learn and research: Understand the various methodologies in education. It is good to have a well-formed ideology before you consider alternative education.
  • Critically evaluate: When you have decided on a school offering alternative education, ensure the school has good credentials and doesn’t use educational and philosophical terms loosely to gain business.
  • Involve and engage: Involve yourself in your child’s school and ensure active engagement.

It is important for parents to have an open mind when making a choice between mainstream education and alternative education. We must enable them to develop on their own terms without projecting our hopes and fears on them. Decisions should solely be based on personal preferences and research rather than succumbing to pressure from friends and relatives. Most importantly, ensure your child’s love for learning is nurtured and not imposed upon.