BehaviorSpecial Education

Alternative Education – An Overview

Alternative education pertains to approaches to teaching and learning aside from traditional public or private schools. Also called non-traditional education or educational alternative, this approach can be applied to students of all ages.


Alternative education evolved as a response to the establishment of compulsory education during the 18th up to the 21st century. The following personalities are considered as the pillars of alternative education:

  • Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Amos Bronson Alcott
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • John Dewey
  • Francis Parker
  • Rudolf Steiner
  • Friedrich Frobel
  • Maria Montessori

They believed that education should nurture a child not just intellectually but morally, spiritually, psychologically, physically, and emotionally. The following elements are common to alternative education:

  1. Respect for the person
  2. Balance
  3. A holistic worldview
  4. Decentralization of authority
  5. Non-interference among the political, cultural, and economic spheres of society


Alternative education is the result of educational reform; it is rooted in philosophies which are fundamentally different from traditional or mainstream education. Although this approach can have a scholarly orientation, it can also be informal in nature. Alternative education can have different teaching methods, structures, student-teacher relationships, and curriculum.

Non-traditional education puts emphasis on close relationships between students and teachers, small class size, and sense of community. It is available through independent schools, charter schools, alternative schools, and home-based learning environments.

The following are the qualities that distinguish alternative education from traditional education:

  1. Alternative education is based on philosophies about life and learning. It focuses more on human development and includes not only the intellectual, but the physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of life as well.
  2. It has a long history within well-rooted philosophical foundations. Notable pioneers include Rudolph Steiner and Maria Montessori.
  3. Alternative education is highly diversified. It features different approaches to teaching and learning.


The center or “heart” of alternative education is the teacher. A supportive atmosphere has a powerful influence on a student. Therefore, it is important that the teacher cares for the welfare of the student. With this in mind, every student can find a comfortable path to expedite learning and progress.

One quality that distinguishes alternative education from mainstream education is its diversity. Not like traditional schools which are similar in many aspects, alternative education doesn’t adhere to a “one model fits all” approach.

It is based on the following beliefs:

  • There are many kinds of structures and environments for learning to occur.
  • Learning requires the cooperation of teachers, students, parents, and the community.
  • All students can learn in various ways.
  • Alternative education fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Each day is a new possibility to succeed.
  • Success is dependent on the attitude of the student.
  • Alternative education can develop a sense of accomplishment.
  • Positive thinking will go a long way to achieve success.


In the US, the purpose of alternative education is to satisfy the needs of students who are not thriving in a traditional classroom. The learning program is designed based on the student’s expectations and learning style.

The goal of alternative education is to provide students with knowledge and skills to prepare them academically, emotionally, and socially to be productive members of society.

Traditional subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics can be integrated into the overall learning program. In addition, non-conventional subjects like spirituality or environmental education can be taken up in an open-ended learning environment.

Educators Who Care – INcompassing Education

INcompassing Education offers educational consultancy and high-quality professional development training for teachers and educators. Our mission is to promote educational growth so that students can achieve their maximum potential.

Our experienced facilitators conduct on-site PD, off-site PD, and online PD. We offer professional development training in Indiana and other states in the US. At INcompassing Education, we work closely with administrators and teachers to attain better outcomes for students. To find out how to work with one of our consultants to set up or revamp your Alternative Education system, contact us.

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