The social, cultural, and financial success of any nation is inextricably tied to the quality of its formal system of education. Governments in the western world have recognized this for a long time, and through many changes, adjustments, and improvements, they have established systems unique to their own national needs and objectives. It is inevitable, however, that local and individual needs will sometimes be at variance with national objectives. Special interest groups of all ages and levels, may have good reason to seek alternative approaches to teaching and learning, and they may require curriculum content that is not usually offered in a traditional education setting. Approved programs designed to address specific needs come under the general umbrella of Alternate Education.
The desire for alternate education can arise from several sources. Dissatisfaction with main stream education, usually arising from a perception of inadequacy, is frequently cited by parents who seek alternate systems for their children. Some may feel that traditional teaching methods and philosophies or main-stream curricula do not always lead to self-assured, well rounded graduates. Others feel that insufficient attention is given to the development of social skills and moral and aesthetic sensitivities. Such parents often take steps to organize their own school setting to ensure that certain objectives are adequately met.
The desire to establish alternative education schools is not necessarily a criticism of the goals and objectives of the main-stream education system. It is recognized that educators in the main stream, though well qualified and experienced, are often hampered by large classes, lack of materials, and rigid course requirements. Alternate schools, funded by student fees, are often characterized by a holistic, progressive approach in small classes where a close teacher-student relationship and a sense of community can be more easily developed. Most private, alternative schools are established to address a specific concern, and clear methods and objectives are usually identified.
Very often, the concern relates to student under-achievement in a main-stream setting, and organizers try to implement more flexible teaching methods and special curriculum that will enable students to succeed. Mini schools, remedial schools, and even home education arrangements are often established with the sole purpose of assisting students in difficulty. When these are approved and supervised by the state they can be a great benefit for some students.
Other alternate schools are established so that more effective teaching methods can be established. Organizers are committed to a different educational philosophy, and they believe that state education objectives can be better achieved through improved teaching methods and alternate curriculum content. Montessori schools and Waldorf schools are good examples of these. They are popular with many American parents, and, although they tend to be too flexible on staff training and qualification, they usually achieve impressive results.
Finally, a large number of alternative education schools are based solely on the desire of some parents to have their children exposed to religious education under a specific religious denomination. Both Christian and non-Christian religions are well represented, and in such schools, though the required state curriculum must still be implemented, the focus is on ensuring that children are well schooled in religious beliefs, experiences, and values.
Education seeks to produce knowledgeable, self-assured, and capable citizens who can become useful members of society. Regardless of the type of school, these objectives should be clear, and whether students are educated under a main-stream system or alternative education system, their schooling must be judged in terms of its ability to achieve the desired national objectives.