'Logged out' of school at 10, boy turns IITian at 19
Teen who loved 'learning at home' before father's alma mater beckoned; sister charts different path
New Town: A 19-year-old Calcutta boy who had been pulled out of school by his father when in Class V has made it to IIT Kharagpur without a conventional education in between.
Nirmaan J. Sarkar, a second-year student of agriculture and food engineering, believes that being homeschooled since the age of 10 suited his later goal of cracking IIT-JEE to study in his father's alma mater. He revelled in the freedom of learning at home and focusing on what he liked even as his sister Sohana pined for the structure and company that school provided.
The siblings' father, Sourabh J. Sarkar, had had a normal schooling and taken the usual long, hard route to IIT. But he was disillusioned with the education his children were getting and wanted to free them from what Nirmaan now calls "the cage". The decision to "log out of the system" came after much disagreement at home.
Sohana, for one, did not take kindly to being told she would not go to school again. For some time, she was even ashamed of it.
Nirmaan showed no such withdrawal symptoms. "After I quit school, I started learning programming in my father's office from his technology team...I also learnt things from the Internet," he recounted.
It wasn't always homeschooling and no play. Nirmaan would visit the Sports Authority of India complex every day for basketball, was part of the orchestra at the Calcutta School of Music and also learnt to play the tabla.
Realising his son's proficiency in mathematics, Sourabh hired a tutor in the subject who would come home to teach Nirmaan for 10 hours on some days. At the age of 15, Nirmaan was sent to a coaching institute started by three IITians.
"By then, I wasn't interested in going to any other college. I was fascinated by IIT Kharagpur, having heard from my father and tutors about the campus culture there. I wanted to experience that," he said.
While Nirmaan's progress through homeschooling and private coaching was an affirmation that the method was working, his parents grappled with the thought that he and his sister still needed a group environment.
According to Sourabh, who lives in New Town, the challenge was to provide his children with peers representing a certain diversity "because life is not made up of a group of people of your age only".
He and his wife Reena conducted a talent hunt to identify children from remote villages with different talents so that they could come and stay with them. The group was required to follow a routine, which included making breakfast and wearing uniform.
"We selected 30 underprivileged children with different talents like theatre, music, yoga and dance. We told their parents that their children could stay with us and we would help them get better at what they do," Reena said.
Sohana, who will appear for the Class X examination through the National Institute of Open Schooling next year, appeared to miss school less after that. She started learning dance and is now also pursuing art.
After Nirmaan went to IIT Kharagpur, the thought of putting Sohana in a formal school did cross Reena's mind but she ultimately decided against it. "Schooling would take away a lot of the things my daughter is doing," she said.
Like her brother, Sohana has a clear goal. She wants to study fashion, albeit without going to college. "I don't need to go to college to do what I want to do. I can do internships.... They teach circles and squares and I don't want to do that. Now, I don't lie to anyone that I go to school," she said.
Sourabh refuses to label the education his children has had as homeschooling. "I think the term homeschooling is misleading for this set of children. The decision was to log out of the system. And when we decided that, I had no clue what the alternate system would be," he said.
For Nirmaan, graduating from IIT won't be the end of the road in terms of learning. "I don't think just getting into IIT labels me as a success story. A real measure of the success will be what I learnt in the seven years I was out of school and studying at home. IIT isn't the one big success in my life," he said.
Father Sourabh gives himself "only 20 out of 100" for doing what he has for his children. "Till this day, I don't think we have been successful in giving them the ideal option that I would have wanted," he said.