Alternative Education

Alternative education, also known as non-traditional education or educational alternative, describes a number of approaches to teaching and learning other than traditional publicly- or privately-run schools. These approaches can be applied to all students of all ages, from infancy to adulthood, and all levels of education.

Educational alternatives are often the result of education reform and are rooted in various philosophies that are fundamentally different from those of mainstream compulsory education. While some have strong political, scholarly, or philosophical orientations, others are more informal associations of teachers and students dissatisfied with certain aspects of mainstream education.

Educational alternatives, which include charter schools, alternative schools, independent schools, and home-based learning vary widely, but emphasize the value of small class size, close relationships between students and teachers, and a sense of community.

For some, especially in the United States, the term alternative refers to educational settings geared towards students whose needs cannot be met in the traditional school such as underachievers who do not qualify for special education, rather than educational alternatives for all students. Other words used in place of alternative by many educational professionals include non-traditional, non-conventional, or non-standardized, although these terms are used somewhat less frequently and sometimes have negative connotations as well as multiple meanings. Within the field of educational alternatives, words such as authentic, holistic, and progressive are frequently used as well, however, these words each have different meanings which are more specific or more ambiguous than simply alternative.

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Overview

Over the 200-year course of compulsory education, various widely-scattered groups of critics have suggested that the education of young people should involve much more than simply molding them into future workers or citizens. The Swiss humanitarian Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, the American transcendentalists Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, the founders of progressive education John Dewey and Francis Parker, and educational pioneers such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf schools), among others, all insisted that education should be understood as the art of cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the developing child.

More recently, social critics such as John Caldwell Holt, Paul Goodman, Frederick Mayer and Ivan Illich have examined education from more individualist, anarchist, and libertarian perspectives, that is, critiques of the ways that they feel conventional education subverts democracy by molding young people's understandings. Other writers, from the revolutionary Paulo Freire to American educators like Herbert Kohl and Jonathan Kozol, have criticized mainstream Western education from the viewpoint of their varied left-liberal and radical politics.

In the indian context one can see from the early part of the 20th century itself many thinkers have talked and introduced radically different ways of education. For example, Shantiniketan of Rabindranath Tagore, the ideal of basic school by Mahatma Gandhi etc are primary examples. Any one interested in alternative initiatives in India also may read articles in the following link In recent years, some of the major initiatives are schools like sarang, sita school, Kanavu, timbaktoo collective, etc where formal schooling is not the objective. Similarly even at higher levels of education one does find initiatives like multiversity.com that have built upon the ideal of open knowledge. in the last few decades something that has coupled education is environment. In such a situation, education is seen more holistically than just factory schooling system.

Another quality that distinguishes educational alternatives from their traditional counterparts is their diversity. Unlike traditional privately run and publicly run schools which are remarkably similar in many aspects to one another, most alternatives do not subscribe to a "one model fits all" approach. Each educational alternative attempts to create and maintain its own methods and approaches to learning and teaching. Practitioners aspire to realize that there are many ways of conceiving and understanding the needs of the whole child in balance with the needs of the community and society at large. Thus, each alternative approach is founded upon, sometimes drastically, different beliefs about what it means to live, learn, and grow in today's society.

One aspect that distinguishes educational alternatives from each other is the curricula taught within their respective settings. Across these alternatives, we find that traditional subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics are not always taught separately but integrated into the overall learning experience. Other subjects like environmental education, ecology, or spirituality, which are often not found in more traditional school curricula, emerge from the interests of learners and teachers in a more open-ended learning community. For the most part, however, subject matter is only indirectly related to the root philosophies and educational approaches utilized in many alternative education systems. Often alternative approaches to education will vary considerably within a single type of alternative from one cultural or geographic setting to another.

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