What it means to be a Free-Thinking Parent – An Interview with Monisha Nandy

Gowri Iyer

Monisha Nandy has been brought up by parents who have always been supportive of her interests and passion. The armed forces background meant transfer to a new school every couple of years with a variety of interactions with a wide cross-section of the society. Her creative side was encouraged and honed to accomplish her childhood dream of becoming an architect.
Travel was an integral part of growing up and continues to be a passion shared with her husband. After living and working in various parts of the world and going on many long bike rides across the country they decided to have a child and chose to have a home birth. Based in Bangalore, they have opted for an alternative education system and continue their travels and journey of life along with the little boy of 8, Aadi.  

Gowri: It takes a village to raise a child, goes the proverb. Yes, nurturing a child is a huge and an ongoing process. The environment plays a vital role in this.
Let us say, we have a Learning Square here. On four sides we have – the child, the parents, the school and the world in general. I would like to ask you some questions on each side of the square. 
Firstly, about the school: you chose an open school over a structured one. Why? 
Monisha: An open school embodies open-mindedness with the vastness of knowledge available to all age groups that seek it at their pace and as per their requirement, as opposed to the structured system which thrusts a certain set of limited discourse to groups of pupils categorized by age irrespective of their capacity.   

Gowri: In a democratic learning setup, the teacher and the student are equal citizens, have equal rights and responsibilities in the running of the school and chalking out the learning path, in administration, in budgeting, in making fair rules and in protecting personal liberties. This is definitely empowering. But do the children get support or hand holding in initial stages? How do they see through things otherwise?

Monisha: Children are innate learners is the premise of an open learning forum. Freedom to express and self-directed learning is encouraged by creating an environment to soak up the information from the surrounding and from community interactions.
Free time and freedom to explore one’s thoughts is the key aspect for the child to experience the various aspects of interest, attachment, dislike or especially boredom with any particular activity.
Hand holding makes the child dependent on the guide. It is important to nurture the art of learning rather than the dependency of learning by spoon feeding.

Gowri: An open learning path has complete trust in the child to manage time, to choose his/ her learning objectives and in making decisions. There is a responsibility on the child to take care of his/ her own learning process. With each child being different, how do you make sure that your child isn’t feeling left out? 
Monisha: Every child is free to pursue their field of interest. Freedom to choose and freedom to act and of course the freedom to face the consequences of their choice and action helps them become responsible. Empowerment with responsibility is what makes the child self-confident and gives them the ability to voice their feelings. This helps the adults who are the facilitators to give the required support for their progress and concerns.
The environment is conducive for making every child and parent and facilitator feel included rather than left out. The system tries to fit the child’s needs rather than the child trying to fit into the system.

Gowri: How do you evaluate the child’s progress? Have you found this way of learning effective? What are the areas that need attention here? 
Monisha: No test. No evaluation. No comparison. No expectation. The only evaluation is based on the happiness quotient of the child. As adults, it is very hard to let a child bloom like a flower without interference.
It is a beautiful atmosphere for an all rounded development. Mixed age groups facilitate learning from one another and sharing experiences and bonds just like siblings do together. The main compelling role of the facilitator is to provide the required material for each child’s individual needs. Any deficiency in resources needs to be addressed effectively.

Gowri: Open learning curriculum has conversations, sports, free play, art, reading, with academic studies in low priority. How does the child gain knowledge in professional areas, if he/ she later on wants to make a career out of it? 
Monisha: The learning process may be different but it is a misconception that the children from open schools are not equipped or groomed based on their interests to be part of any main stream avenue. In fact the out look is that anything can be learnt and the right set of subjects can be chosen for a college education in a particular stream to attain a career that the child has identified over the years rather than being pushed to fit into a role the society pressurizes them to fit into.

Gowri: How do you give exposure, apart from school, to the world in general? 
Monisha: This is done through a variety of family activities which includes visiting exhibits, fairs, literature fests, music events, social gatherings etc. Travelling is an integral part of the learning process. Reading together is an enjoyable activity and a valuable resource. Interest in music, dance and sports are cultivated with sessions with specialists in the field.

Gowri: What’s your role as a parent? Do you do projects together? How do you equip yourself to guide your child?
Monisha: Learning begins at home. The parents know their child the best and provide the maximum support and input for their growth and well being. Hence the parents are an integral part of the learning system in the open school. We are part of the community to engage as facilitators for various electives and activities. This provides the parents with an opportunity to share space with their child and with the child’s companions in the school premises while engaging in projects together. This eases the process of engaging in various projects at home too. All for the pure joy rather than parents doing the child’s school project for a submission to meet a deadline and for an evaluation!

Gowri: What are your expectations from yourself, to make this process a beautiful and more effective one?
Monisha: My only expectation from myself is to not have any expectations from my child. Unconditional love and bonding and revisiting the connection with the child is the prerequisite as a parent.
I always try to remind myself of a quote I had read long time ago:
“Children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded.”

Gowri: That’s wonderful. Best wishes to Aadi, in all his endeavors! 

About the Author:
Gowri, is a storyteller at heart, with a passion for entertaining and engaging children. She writes stories for children too.

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