Open schooling system
Many students are opting to go off the beaten track for various reasons. Open schooling offers the flexibility and freedom to learn at one’s own pace.
Homeschooled children who wish to take milestone examinations to gain admission into graduate or diploma programmes, children who are pursuing professional sports or other careers, children with special needs, children who are unable to grapple with a second language and those who opt out of the rigours of the regular academic curricula – all of them can avail of the open school system.
Open schooling is based on choice and highly customised needs. A high degree of involvement and guidance from parents is required without overstepping the boundaries of autonomy. Parents opting for this type of schooling for their child should be aware of the child’s strengths, abilities and interests.
In India, if a child wishes to follow the open school system, there are currently two viable options to clear the regular school equivalent of the standard 10th and the 12th class exams. These are the NIOS and EDEXCEL channels.
The National Institute of Open Schooling (often abbreviated as NIOS, NOS or National Open School) is the Board of Education for open schools in India. This autonomous body was established by the Government of India in 1989. NIOS administers the secondary and senior secondary examinations of the open school system, which are equivalent to the CBSE and the CISCE exams.
Currently, about 19 lakh students from across the country are pursuing secondary (class 10), senior secondary (class 12) and vocational education programmes under NIOS. It is one of the three national boards, and the only board looking after school education through open and distance education. It is on par with other national/state level boards of school education.
Curriculum pattern for Board exams
NIOS follows learner-centric approach of teaching, through the open school and distance education mode. The learners are free to choose subject combinations as per their needs and goals. They can study at their own pace from specially designed self-instructional materials. They have the freedom to take the subject exams one by one as per their preparation.
Learning is supplemented by audio-video and face-to-face contact classes which are held at the study centres on holidays and weekends. The registration of the learners is valid for a period of five years. Students can change subjects or take up additional subjects during the admission period of five years, provided the total number of subjects does not exceed seven.
NIOS offers as many as 27 subjects (including English and 16 other languages) at the secondary and 23 subjects (including English and five other languages) at the senior secondary levels. A cafeteria approach in the choice of subjects is offered. No subject is compulsory except one language, which can be English. Learners can also opt for vocational subjects along with academic subjects. NIOS conducts two public examinations in an academic year – in April-May and in October-November. It recently introduced the On Demand Examination System (ODES) under which learners can appear for examination in any subject as and when they feel ready for it.
Open Basic Education for all ages
While NIOS is increasingly finding many takers at secondary and senior secondary levels, not many know that it offers an Open Basic Education (OBE) programme, up to the equivalent of Class 8 in a regular school. This is done through the distance education mode.
This programme is largely targeted at children and adults in rural areas who do not have formal access to schools. NGOs and other bodies help out with some contact classes.
Open Basic Education (OBE) programme is available for:
- Children below 14 years of age
- Adults above 14 years of age
The OBE Programme is offered at three levels:
- OBE level A : equivalent to class I-III
- OBE level B : equivalent to class IV-V
- OBE level C : equivalent to class VI-VIII
In urban areas, homeschooling is gaining popularity. Under homeschooling, children have the freedom to learn in any way, whatever they wish to learn. They do not have to appear for regular exams at the end of which they move on to the next grade or class.
For parents desirous of a more structured option under homeschooling, something that offers specific, streamlined lessons, the OBE programme under NIOS is available.
Homeschooled under NIOS syllabus or not, the board offers all children the opportunity to appear for milestone examinations at the secondary and senior secondary levels, so that they have the necessary credentials to apply for undergraduate courses in India.
Eligibility for public exams
- Secondary: At least 14 years old
- Senior secondary: There should be at least a two-year gap after clearing the secondary examinations
Students appearing for these exams can self-learn or attend study centres. Here are the steps to follow for both choices:
Self-learners: apply online at www.nios.ac.in – download study material and tutor marked assignments (TMAs) – self study – text books and study centre for contact classes will be intimidated – attend contact classes – complete lab work & records and TMAs – write exams.
Students attending learning centres (LC): apply online at www.nios.ac.in – scheduled classes at LC – remedial/special coaching and practical work – mock exams – submission of records and TMAs – write exams.
Prospects for college admission
Students aspiring admission to the Arts and Sciences colleges should have taken the necessary subjects. Language exemption is allowed for deserving candidates. Dr Susan John, professor of Psychology, WCC College, says, “We assess NIOS students on a case-to-case basis. If we feel that the student has had a genuine need for open schooling, we admit her.”
Admission to professional courses like Medicine, Engineering and Law are also possible, provided the student has taken the necessary subjects and opted for a study centre with lab facilities. Parents can visit the NIOS website for details. Preparation for the necessary entrance exams can be done through private academies. NIOS marks will be considered on par with CBSE class 12 exams.
The Open School system under NIOS is not the only option. Students can also choose to get schooled under EDEXCEL which allows the flexibility ofopen schooling.
One of the seven boards in the British Education system, EDEXCEL allows students from outside the United Kingdom to complete their ‘A’ levels (equivalent to class 12) school examination. Several study centres and schools in India allow students to prepare for the exams that are taken in April and September. There is no age bar to complete the ‘O’ levels (equivalent to class 10) and ‘A’ levels. This curriculum is perfect for students who want an accelerated study programme and higher challenges in specific subjects.
Nearly 40 diverse subjects are offered for credit at ‘A’ levels ranging from Accounting to Swahili besides the regular Language, Science, Math and Social Sciences. A student may choose any combination of these subjects for credit. For instance, a student can choose Global Development and Physics if he wishes to. However, EDEXCEL centres in your neighbourhood may have the tutoring facilities for only some of these subjects. The curriculum is quite intense and advanced with an application-oriented approach. Students clearing these exams are better prepared for the global higher education environment.
Prospects for college admission in the US and India
The completion of ‘A’ levels through EDEXCEL curriculum is recognised by the Indian university system.
Every unit and qualification in the curriculum framework will have a credit value (indicating the size of the units or qualification), and a level (which ranges from Entry level to Level 8), indicating the difficulty. A credit is a recognition that a course has been successfully completed. EDEXCEL centres offer to counsel on the credits that need to be achieved towards specific goals. Under EDEXCEL, one credit represents 10 hours of learning time.
One major requirement for acceptance into US colleges (irrespective of being a professional or non-professional course) is the completion of a prescribed number of credits in Science, Math, English, Language and Social Studies in high school. This is an absolute pre-requisite for entry into US colleges.
In India, an aspirant to Engineering or Medical courses should have accumulated 4 credits in ‘A’ levels. For entry into Engineering, the student must have completed one credit each in Math, Chemistry, and Physics. For Medical courses, an additional credit in Biology is required. In case of entry into non-professional undergraduate courses in India, at least 3 ‘A’ level credits are required in the subjects specified under the admission eligibility criteria.
It is important to remember that the cut-off date for turning in the mark sheet for evaluation for entrance into the professional courses in India is May and June. However, the final exams for the ‘A’ levels ends only in June and the marks are available as late as September. Technically, the student will then be eligible for entry to professional courses only the following summer.
Says Gowri Tirumurti, parent of an open-schooled student, “Some colleges do take a projected mark for the final score, but most colleges require the final ‘A’ levels mark sheet. A 9-month wait, is thus inevitable, before getting into a college in India.“
Open school promotes the cause of learning and education
Open school is gaining popularity even among regular students. Regular schools continue to offer only limited, conventional combinations at the Plus 2 level that are generally preferred by the majority. Schools offer these subjects on the grounds of viability. But today, undergrad options and career options are expanding beyond the purview of these limiting school subjects.
Often there is a mismatch between the student’s interests and the subjects the regular schools offer at the board level exams. It may also happen that the child is unable to ‘pre-determine’ his career early on. Under regular school for instance, he does not have the luxury of taking Psychology, Math and Economics at Plus 2. Under open school, he can take up such a combination. He can then decide upon an apt career option relating to any of these subjects after the 12th Standard when he is more mature, and then suitably select his undergraduate course. Colleges are also mandated to give admissions to children who are open-schooled, and biases are fast disappearing.
To conclude, open schooling has its advantages. Children become independent and good decision-makers. They are self-regulated and focus on the necessary learning, and are less stressed out. Yet, parents have to ensure that indiscipline does not creep in at any stage. Learning should not feel like an aimless exercise. While children can opt out of taking Math under open schooling, research says that ignoring Math can have adverse effects on brain development, while it definitely limits career options.