Education without frontiers

Imagine a world where education fits the pupils, rather than the pupils learning to fit into the system. Sounds simple, doesn’t it.

Well, that’s ‘personalisation’ in a nutshell.

The Plowden Report of 1967 says that:

“The school sets out….to devise the right environment for children to allow them to be themselves and to develop in the way and at a pace appropriate to them…”

Yet the practicalities of a teacher led classroom based education has not been able to deliver on ideals.

It has seemed like an impossible dream, but digital technology and the ability of schools to become more flexible has brought it within reach, in theory.

Changes have been driven partly by government ideals (New Labour introduced the term personalisation in relation to education in 2004), partly by necessity (the dropping of Year 9 SATS has also eased the difficulties of the marking of SATS papers), and partly by the many dedicated visionaries in the field.

For the delivery of personalised learning choice is crucial, but it can be difficult to bring about in a large school, which has to meet varying targets and educate, in some cases, more than a thousand children.

However, it can be delivered by gathering information about each child, and allowing them to learn by providing varied and interesting learning environments.

Allowing young people to follow their own interests and inclinations is important. Making maths accessible to the child who loves football could be a matter of using clubs’ progress as a basis for lessons on statistics, percentages or addition.

Or a child might have good listening skills and want to learn different languages. He or she could spend the lesson using an interactive DVD for teaching Mandarin; other pupils might do better in small groups practising conversation.

Looking at strengths and weaknesses through assessment can identify areas where the pupil could benefit from more personalised learning, which could give him or her more insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

Technology can be tailored to the pupil: be it internet research, assignments sent by text, emailing the teacher to ask additional questions, or even reading books in the library.

Video conferencing can help pupils with a specialised interest to get in touch with experts or other pupils, if a limited number are studying GCSE Japanese, for example.

They can also use discussion boards out of school to comment on each other’s work or exchange resources.

Teachers might feel concerned this will mean extra work for them, if learning is becoming more individually focused, but the aim is for children to “pick up the ball and run with it”, if they are motivated, they will be more proactive about learning.

This is crucial. There is evidence, says the Dfes, that if you help children improve their ability to learn, they will achieve.

Or to put it another way, if you allow them to learn, they will learn.

In the end it is about removing barriers, and with the resources available in and out of the classroom, there is a greater chance of achieving personalised learning than there ever has been.

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