Can one truly promote student-centred learning in a standards-based world? In theory, no, this would not be possible. The individuals that comprise a classroom are diverse beings with different experiences and interests. Accordingly, we wouldn’t expect everyone to have the same aptitude for the different subjects that we evaluate. Nor should we want this—this is the beauty of student-centred learning. If we are serious about this mode of learning, then we need to do away with standards as we know them. Why belabour the budding physicist with having to excel in English class? Or the passionate artist with chemistry lessons? We all have a natural proclivity for certain things over others, so why not focus on honing the craft we enjoy?
In fact, student-centred learning better fits the world that we are heading towards. That is, as occupations become increasingly automated, there will be a shift towards more creative-based work. And the best way to inform work like this is by drawing upon the unique experiences and lessons that each person possesses. Let each student learn of their own volition and discover for themselves the things that intrigue them. This is how we cultivate life-long learners—by showing them how fun and wondrous an endeavour learning can be.
Not to mention, just because a student may initially be put off by a certain subject, it does not mean that they will never explore it for themselves in the future. As we pursue our interests, we soon discover that there are innumerable threads that connect each interest to other, seemingly disparate, things. For example, the artist who initially detests all things mathematical may find themselves enraptured by the ubiquity of the golden ratio within nature. Then, they may choose to learn more about it to further inform their own artistic works.
However, if we force everything down the throats of students and expect them to be good at everything from the get-go, they may learn to simply hate the things they aren’t immediately good at and avoid these things like the plague. We must avoid this at all costs—especially when grades are a metric upon which many students hinge their self-esteem. As the saying goes, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its entire life believing that it’s stupid.”
That being said, there is a tremendous amount of value to be derived from an education where one is exposed to all the different areas of study—especially considering that change is a pervasive part of our lives and we may realize that what we initially thought we wanted to pursue was in fact misguided. In this scenario, having a broad education provides an excellent platform to reassess the direction one wants to follow. Using standards that apply equally to everyone is not the way to go about this.
Ideally, we would work with each student to develop a unique education plan for them that would account for their unique aptitudes for different subjects and would allow them to cultivate the hidden potential within them. This would address the problem of students who have trouble picking up a subject being left behind and students who excel being held back from learning at a higher level than what is being provided.
We need to teach students how to think and learn for themselves; not how to learn for a test. We need to teach them how to think critically about problems and find ways to be more creative. Students are losing motivation because they’re far removed from the education they are getting. They aren’t learning for themselves, and the knowledge they gain seldom persists past the exams they write.
The current standards-based education system that is peddled is archaic; it is an artifact of times long past. The world is changing at a rapid rate while our education system is frozen in time. What use is education as we know it if what we learn is outdated by the time we graduate?