I recently read an article over at Teachermagazine.com.au called ‘Reform and the Senior Secondary School‘. The first section of the article got me into a discussion with my husband about aged-based schooling.
I personally believe that education should be competency-based, and not aged based. I see it every day in school – some of the younger students are well ahead of their peers, some of the older students are lagging behind, and apart from the individual teachers differentiating a little bit within their lessons, the curriculum is set so that is that. You are in grade 8, therefore you will be learning xyz, regardless of whether you are ready for it or not. And you will proceed at roughly this pace, whether you are struggling a bit to keep up or are zooming on ahead.
Wouldn’t it be a lovely thing if society was more accepting, and we could engineer the education of our students to be solely based on their own individual capabilities?
Say a student is struggling with maths, that’s fine – you just keep plodding along until you are competent at basic trigonometry, and if it takes you 2 months instead of 2 weeks, no worries at all! When you’re competent and can pass a test comfortably, you can move on to more advanced trig. No stressing about falling behind, no giving up because you’re not understanding it and we’ll all be moving on in a few weeks anyway so it really doesn’t matter if you pass or not.
If that same student was fantastic at science, they could be on an advanced course, taking things a bit faster, more complex, more involved in the content. You passed the basic DNA test in only two lessons and are comfortable with that content, so we’re straight on to more complex genetics.
Oh how wonderful that would be.
But of course there are many issues with such a system.
Completely ignoring the incredible amount of reform for the school system, it would require an even larger societal reform. One where we are understanding of learning as a long-term, ongoing process rather than one of ‘understand it (maybe) in this time frame because you’re 12 now and you’re supposed to be able to’.
Then there are issues, as my husband pointed out, with mixed-age classrooms. Many parents would be very unhappy for their 12 year old to be in the same class as some 16 year olds, likely because of societal pressures that say that their maturity levels are too different for them to get along well. I counter this by suggesting that perhaps it would be a good thing for students to be interacting on a daily basis with people of other ages. It would ideally create a community where students are more understanding of each other as people, regardless of age. Many students don’t know how to interact with people of different ages, and a controlled classroom scenario could be a good way to combat this.
This article looks at a range of different models of competency-based education systems in the US. I think they all have merits, some being s minor adjustment to current systems and some being the complete extreme of my ideas. I love the idea of having a detailed, competency-based matrix that the students, teachers and parents can be continually referring to in order to see where the students are sitting with each aspect of their education. As they progress through the coursework, they progress through the matrix, and can see exactly where they are headed and how quickly they are heading there.
I believe I have found an area for my own further research. I wonder if it’s active anywhere in Australia, and if so, if I could get a good look at it? Maybe it’s time to hit the books again!