With all its upheavals, the pandemic untethered many people from the geographical constraints of work and school, spawning, among other things, a unique and experimental mobile learning method called "road schooling."
Here, kids do not attend a conventional four-wall classroom but choose to spend time exploring destinations. While the concept of homeschooling has picked up in India in the last few years, roadschooling too has found takers, for it provides the perfect opportunity for parents and kids to learn from real-world experiences.
Opting Out Of The Rat Race
"I read about homeschooling when my kids were in 1st grade. There was a lot of homework, and the education wasn't holistic individual passions are not encouraged in most schools," says Ramya Lakshminath, who, along with her husband Gangadhar Krishnan, has been roadschooling their 12-year-old twin daughters since 2019.
"I wanted my children to enjoy the learning process and have the option of going deep into a subject if they wanted to. So we shared the idea of roadschooling with our kids, but they weren't keen. In fourth grade, they came to us asking to be homeschooled."
A 13,000-kilometre road trip across 15 states and three international borders in the same year only cemented their decision.
While the decision to opt for roadschooling is still considered extreme, Ramya and her family got on the bandwagon before the pandemic and believe "travel is a great way of letting children discover themselves. It is organic and offers the freedom to escape the rat race of education towards a more fulfilling lifestyle."
A Life Of Adventure
What started as a year-long experiment in 2021 became a long-term commitment for Aneekah Ssonawane and her son Pransh, 6, who are now on a cross-country mission to discover India.
In 2020, perturbed by the online classes and the immense pressure they put on Pransh, Aneeka intended to pull him out of school and take his learning to the road. With resolution and hope, the duo embarked on their first trip together in April 2021 from Pune to Spiti Valley and has since explored Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and many more states.
The key, she says, is to improvise.
"In 2021, we went to Spiti and planned to stay at Thanedar village near Narkanda for a night. The weather turned, and we had to stay put for four days before continuing our trek," says Ssonawane. "This small hurdle turned out to be bigger than we had imagined when the second lockdown happened, and we were stuck there for a whole month." However, the lockdown gave her a glimpse into her son's personality, which shone brightly away from city lights. "He enjoyed his time at the homestay, making local friends and picking fruits from the orchards. He truly found himself in nature."
A Nomadic Life
A holistic learning experience was also the motivation for the Iyers&mdashparents Santosh and Aanchal and their kids&mdashwho took roadschooling a step further by truly embracing the nomadic life.
While the children attended a traditional school, Santosh was an IT professional, and Aanchal worked as a marketing freelancer. The realisation that schooling was contributing little to their kids' growth prompted Aanchal and her husband to start homeschooling them in 2017. "To take homeschooling seriously, giving them a different outlook towards life is important this is where travelling came into the picture," says Aanchal.
Learning and travelling might seem ideal bedfellows, but roadschooling requires serious commitment.
"We took a year to experiment with a nomadic lifestyle and understand its nitty-gritty. We did not want to regret our decision. My husband decided to quit his job while I ramped up my work to sustain our endeavour." The couple moved towards a minimalistic lifestyle to make their journey sustainable. The couple vacated their rented home, got rid of their belongings and set off on an adventure in 2019. They were in it for the long haul.
To truly experience a place, the Iyers stay at one destination for six months before moving on to the next. With Jaipur as their base, they explored Rajasthan and spent the better part of the pandemic at a village called Kheti near Ooty. And they do this with only four bags.
"One suitcase has my children's books, colouring boxes and notebooks. Another bag has all our clothing we don't carry more than seven sets for each person, barring a few extra for my 8-year-old daughter Khwahish. One bag has the basic kitchen utensils, and the last one is for miscellaneous items," Aanchal explains. The idea is to focus on invaluable experiences and not material possessions. To look at educational travel beyond the prism of tourism.
Learning On The Go
While travelling is educational and immersive, can kids truly learn on the go Many people are sceptical about children thriving intellectually away from the confines of a classroom. Not to mention the limited resources for appearing for exams. But roadschoolers find travelling to be a great route to education.
The National Institute of Open Schooling allows homeschoolers to appear for class 10th and 12th exams. The pass certificates are valid and equivalent to those issued by CBSE, ICSE, and state boards.
"Most kids memorise lessons for exams and forget them later. I believe there are plenty of ways to impart knowledge to kids, and the best way is the let them learn on their own, from their environment," elaborates Lakshminath. Her daughters, Amulya and Ananya, decide what they want to study on any given day.
"We don't have a set schedule for their lessons both are learning things they are interested in. Amulya learns guitar, and they also take taekwondo and Carnatic music classes. While travelling, we ensure they keep practising. They are both avid readers as well."
"As for subjects, Math and Science are available in nature. Wherever we see something unique, we touch upon these subjects. When we were in Meghalaya, the girls saw the clouds forming right in front of their eyes and had learnt the science behind it. Staying under the stars has also sparked their interest in astronomy, and they are preparing for an astronomy boot camp," she says.
Internet To The Rescue
The Internet is of great help to these traveller parents and their kids.
"When Pransh has a question, we look up videos online for the right answers. Travelling also opens him up to the history of a region, its social structures and even mythology. He also has a keen interest in Geography, and when we were in North India, he wanted to learn Hindi. Now that we are headed south, he wants to learn important words in their languages. There are no barriers to education. My son learns from everyone he meets he also writes a travel journal," shares Aneekah.
Aanchal's children refer to books available online.
"They study like regular kids, except they study on their own. We have given them a disciplinary wireframe where they have a full year to study the subjects of their grade. In the first six months, my son studies 8th-standard CBSE books and the second half is spent revising ICSE books. The only difference is that he doesn't have to give any tests, so he doesn't have to memorise things mindlessly," Aanchal explains.
Idyllic as it sounds, roadschooling has its challenges. For Aneekah, dealing with close-minded people is another part of the roadschooling curriculum.
"On our way to Chandratal, Pransh and I decided to stay in Losar from where we were to take a cab. But when we reached Losar, we realised no transport was available. However, the locals told us about travellers stopping at Losar for breakfast before making their way to Chandratal and recommended hitchhiking. I asked a group of people travelling together for a lift. However, they started telling me off with statements such as 'why are you travelling alone with your son,' 'you are irresponsible,' and 'you haven't prepared for anything.' That angered me," she reminisces.
Then there's the question of money.
Roadschooling is primarily accessible to parents with spare cash or a job that can be pursued while on the go. But for these parents, changes in their lifestyle and professions while acquiring additional (and flexible) sources of revenue have made a lot of difference. Aneekah picked up photography skills and now travels with her son on assignments, often to remote places she gets boarding and lodging in exchange for content and opts for public transport to commute. Another pivotal aspect is to live frugally this means opting for homestays over hotels. Ramya and her family often pitch tents and camp outside. "We follow a no-plastic, no-junk-food philosophy when we travel. It gives the kids a deeper connection with themselves, as well as with nature and the community," she shares.
Aanchal and her family promote living simply. "We had originally given up our car and bike. It is only now that we have bought a car. We gave up cooking on a gas stove, moved to an induction stove, removed our house help, and got rid of the AC. I don't think you need a lot of money to travel it is about being prudent with your expenses," she opines.
Another concern among naysayers is the lack of social interaction between kids and peers. But roadschoolers disagree, and vehemently so. There are more takeaways from roadschooling, including adaptability and maturity.
"Both my kids are more mature than I was at their age. They are also understanding and can adapt to any circumstance and living conditions. Additionally, interacting with people from all walks of life has made them confident my daughter can talk to anyone and has friends aged six to sixty. She does yoga with her friends online. A merchant navy officer we met in Ladakh is my son's mentor and a dear friend. There are so many people we can be friends with, and it is not true that homeschoolers don't have a social circle it is also a personal choice," Aanchal shares.
While homeschooling is a call these parents make, the kids are at the centre of it all. "Regardless of who we are, most of us dread Monday. There is a reason it's called the Monday blues. We wanted to get away from the rat race of education and embark on a journey to ensure my kids don't dread any day. They should look forward to every experience," she adds summing up her experience as a wanderer.