Plateau is for the crowd

Supriya and Raj from Mumbai are both engineers and they are unschooling their daughters Malvika (14) and Radha (12). Their story is particularly interesting because the duo come from a family of professionals in various fields. While the couple decided to unschool their daughters; the family members raised a concern of potential risk in choosing a path that was not proven. This big ‘NO’ from other family members was because Malvika and Radha where already recognized as brilliant students in the school they were then attending. At the Swashikshan launch Supriya shared her journey of what it took them to un-school the two girls. Presented below is the transcript of her talk.

On this sweet morning, I take pleasure in sharing a few challenges and successes along our unschooling journey.

We enrolled our children in school just like other children. We could not think of any other option; though we really did not want to burden them. While our daughter was interviewed for admission to the nursery class, unlike the other children of her age she did not know the colours, animals or nursery rhymes. In fact she was not even able to tell her name when asked. It was because we never really insisted on teaching her that!

Those days I used to sing poems to her. Radha would enjoy repeating the lines after me. That was her style of learning I guess. So when the principal asked her lovingly, “What is your name?” she looked at the school principal and plainly imitated, “What is your name?”

Both the daughters, though they attended the schools, were free from any compulsion on homework or studies. And the results were predictable. Each year their progress book stated the similar remarks – ‘The child is intelligent but needs parent’s involvement for a better performance’. I was even called and fired by the teacher for I could not ensure that the girls do their homework daily. And the height of all bombarding was when I was called to the school to learn that my child was dyslexic!

We knew what we were doing. In the year 2008 we performed their maujibandhan – a ritual for beginning a formal study. Malvika was in fourth standard and Radha was in third standard. We explained the girls that they must then start learning from books.

Hard to believe that the year Malvika started learning numbers and language with discipline she earned a rank and a state scholarship. In the middle school years girls earned a number of laurels for the school and for the family. Last year when Radha left the school to opt for unschooling she was felicitated as the outstanding student in the school.

Now coming to the challenges in unschooling.

I come from a family where all are very highly qualified. My husband Raj strongly opposed to take an uncalculated risk over an already chosen safe and smooth path. Though the girls had tasted competitive success and knew what special recognition meant, they also seem to think that the path had no more challenges left and hence it was not an interesting option anymore.

My elder daughter shared, “Once I become a great mathematician where will we have time to pursue our hobbies? But if every day we do just what we enjoy we can still work part time and earn some money for it!”

The younger daughter added, “If I have to do boring things to buy things like cars or big houses it is better that I try to live without those things.”

But the best philosophy I learnt from them is worth sharing – They never wanted to sit in a special AC cabin. They thought that it was a bad idea as you work alone there. Whether it is a success or a failure they wanted to work with common people – a team! ‘Like a band’ they said. Just as some college friends come together and make a music band. Together they do everything – they either succeed or they fail but they work together on it forever.

So our second phase of unschooling began – Girls left the school and we donated all their textbooks.

I think children learn English as they read. Children learn math while shopping, budgeting and banking. All concepts in science, history, math or geography are part of our daily life if you look at it carefully.

Malvika and Radha love what they learn, and learn what they love. So they learn like hungry and greedy persons. Naturally they learn quite early and easily as compared to other children.

Malvika is now 14. She likes computer programming. There was nobody to teach her that subject. She struggled a lot but did not give up. Today Malvika uses object oriented Java and c++ for programming. She also learnt a bit about hardware and networking and can easily troubleshoot our day to day system problems.

Radha likes photography. We bought her a camera and her unschooling journey started. She already worked as an official photographer of a gymnastics camp. She also casually participated in a contest and earned the first prize for her photograph. At the age of 12 the girl earned a 2 nights 3 days stay at seven star Hotel Trident in Agra!

We made it compulsory for them to choose any one sport just for the physical fitness. So Malvika selected windsurfing. Though we did not have proper facilities to coach we did not force her to select another sport. Learning is where passion is. Malvika earned second position in National Championship this year. While she left her school did anybody imagine that the scholar in the school can also be a sports genius one day?

Radha chose rock-climbing as a sport. Who knows Radha might ascend Mt Everest one day! And while everyone will be eager to hear what she has to says, no one will bother to know whether Radha has completed her graduation or not!

I think that gives answers to all the questions. Children are capable of climbing the Everest in their unique area of interest. We as parents should not make them stand on the plateau because everybody else is doing so. For it is the plateau where you will see the crowd but on the top there is always only one flag.

18 thoughts on “Plateau is for the crowd”

  1. This is a beautiful story. “Children are capable of climbing the Everest in their unique area of interest.”

    Can we see Radha’s photographs? Where?


    1. Dear Aravinda

      I am realizing that I should document Radha, Malvika’s learning journey somewhere. Always busy in creating real life opportunities/ project for both the girls I just postpone the task of ‘creating a blog’ for all documentation. Between, a click by Radha was displaced in an art gallery in Mumbai on the occasion of World photography day along with the other images by professional photographers. Additionally it was sold for Rs.1800. The money goes to SEAL ASHRAM whose children were featured in the photos.

      Radha has just returned from Narmada Bachao Andolan at Ghogalgaon completing her first ever photo essay that depicts the people standing in water for 16 days protesting against the Government’s decision to increase the water level of the Omkareshwar Dam in M.P.

      The journey is truly wonderful and will share with others as soon as possible. Awaiting to see you and Khiyali.

  2. Children are capable of climb the Everest in their unique area of interset…
    I agree wid u. being a lecturer of maths and mother i can corelate to u.myquery can i interview u as a prt of my m.ed. course that i m pursuaing in pune uni.

    i m pune based.

    1. Believing in yourself and wanting to give happiness to your daughters have led you take this very bold decision and am so happy reading today’s newspaper about Malvika’s progress. In the whole rat race to push kids forward, parents forget to be parents and kids lose their precious moments of carefree days, constantly under pressure to perform and score better marks, in the pursuit knowledge takes a back seat and being better human beings remains just a concept. Congratulations to you and your lovely daughters.

  3. Hello Ma’am, I generally follow news related to IOI hence have been familiar with Malavika’s name. I have also read your answer about her journey on Quora. I truly appreciate and respect how you’ve raised your children.I have a query out of curiosity, did Malavika complete her 12th boards from correspondence (being a home schooler) or has she completely given up formal education? I have just read that she made it to MIT (congratulations!) so do US colleges accept students who have given up formal edu? Does one not have to complete 12th boards at least from a distance course? I am trying to learn more about home schooling.. does one totally give up formal edu or do they only quit school but complete the course from correspondence?

    Thank you and a I would like to congratulate again. Wishing for a bright future for both your kids.

    1. no she did not give class 10 / 12 exams of any board nor did she had SAT score to show to the colleges.

  4. Hello Supriya. I’m doing a story on alternative education in India. It would be great if I could speak to you on Malvika’s journey as well as your own. Is there an email or a number I can contact you on? Do let me know. Thank you . 🙂

  5. Dear Supriya,
    You are great Mother.I salute to you.
    Will like to speak to you and get guidance for a son.
    Please give me your number.
    You can email me.

  6. Sharmila Rupesh Jagtap

    Hi mam,
    I heard your speech n i like it very much. My thinking for school is completely like you thats for i can’t understand what can I do with my child education.can you please give me guidance about it. I don’t want to force my child go to school in 3 years old age. Kindly reply

  7. Sharmila Rupesh Jagtap

    Hi mam,
    I heard your speech and I like it very much. My thinking about school is same like you thats the reason I can’t understand what should I do for my child education. Can you please guide me? I don’t want to force my child daily to go to school in 3 just years age. Kindly reply

  8. Meenakshi bommakanti

    Mam need ur help plz from 10 year i am thinking on this no body helping me. I need a help plz

  9. Yes maam ur r8 knowledge should not be just book knowledge and im a teacher and even i want that there should be change in our education system their knowledge and learning should not be limited to books and syllbus so we want to develop such education system which will help kids to learn and grow i know thats not easy task small small change in education system can bring big change. We require your guidance in this plz do help us with ur advice

    1. Miss.supriya Raj Joshi
      I really appreciate your work and after listening about your beautiful earned a lot respect in my heart…i am from Maharashtra and i personally want to meet or talk with you so would you like to help me will be really helpful for me can mail me your contact info plzzz

  10. Partha Pratim Das

    I am Partha Pratim Das. I studied in class 9. Mam I want to more about your journey. How can I contact you. Mam I am Also going to do what your child have did.
    Mam How can I contact you.

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