What is Alternative Education?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2019
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Alternative education is an approach to education with a philosophy and style which differs from that of mainstream education. There are a number of alternative forms of education, geared at a wide variety of students, and many nations have some option available for people who want it, especially in urban areas. Some people refer to this type of education as “nontraditional education,” to emphasize the fact that it does not use traditional practices, and to avoid bringing up the stigma which some people associate with “alternative.”

The focal point of alternative education is school choice. In communities without alternative options for education, students generally only have one school which they can attend, in contrast with communities in which students can explore multiple schools and educational paths. This type of education also does not have to occur in the classroom. Home-based learning, apprenticeships, and independent study are all forms of alternative learning.

In many cases, alternative educational principles are aimed at particular types of students. Some focus on at-risk youth, while others provide college-track programs, or schools with a heavy focus on environmental ethics, social responsibility, or other philosophical approaches. Many religious schools are also alternative forms of education, especially in secular countries. The practice of alternative education is certainly not a new thing, and some very venerable academic institutions were actually originally founded as education resources for people who disliked the conventional school system.


Critics of traditional education argue that it can be a disservice to many students, since it tends to have a one size fits all approach which may leave some students behind. Advocates for youth rights feel that conventional education also encourages conformity and discourages freedom of thought, personal expression, and social development, while alternative education allows students to become independent thinkers. Mainstream education can also be problematic for people with developmental disabilities or economic and social disadvantages.

In school districts where alternative education options are available, parents and students can get information at open houses and other events hosted by alternative schools. School counselors may also make specific recommendations to particular students who might benefit from going to an alternative school. It may be necessary for students to submit special application materials in order to attend an alternative school, and in the case of private schools, tuition payments will also be required. Some schools have scholarship programs in place so that low-income students can still take advantage of their programs.


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Post 2

Sunny27- You are so right. Children need a tailored education and parents need to provide it so their children succeed. Many overcrowded schools do not have the time or resources to offer varying levels of education within a classroom.

Some even suggest that the curriculum is “dumbed down” so that the average student succeeds. But what about the needs of the advanced students that might even be gifted? If these students are not challenged, they tend to lose interest in school and associate future learning with being boring. This just can’t happen.

Post 1

Great article, I agree that traditional education settings don’t work for all children. The homeschooling movement continues to grow for that reason.

Many parents feel that their school system does not address the needs of their children, thus offering a sub-par education. By homeschooling, a parent is empowered to teach the curriculum in a format that best suits his or her child. For example, a gifted child with ADHD needs a rigorous curriculum, but will need to take additional breaks as a result of the ADHD.

Most schools do not have the ability to provide the optimal education environment for this child because his needs fall outside the norm.

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