Give pupils more choice in the course of their education

A pattern of choices made early can equip young people for jobs of the future – many of which don't yet exist

Children who fled the war in Ukraine take part in a primary school class together with Polish pupils on March 18, 2022 in Krakow, Poland. Getty

To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful tool that you can use to change the world. Not only does education play a key role in eliminating gender inequality, reducing poverty and creating a sustainable planet within a knowledge economy, it is the currency used by nations to gauge competitiveness and advance prosperity.

Having said that, the current education system is based on the Industrial Revolution model. Back then, the idea was that everybody’s mind functions in a similar manner to retain information. However, after the Covid-19 pandemic, which gave rise to more complex social realities and new market dynamics, and in order to meet 21st century demands, more is needed out of an education.

A survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that only 55 per cent of students attending school feel prepared to enter the real world. According to the World Economic Forum’s report titled The Future of Jobs Report 2020, almost 60 per cent of future jobs haven’t yet been developed. On top of this, 40 per cent of nursery-age children in schools today will need to be self-employed to have any form of income. Hence, we need to prepare our children for jobs that may not exist at present but will shape the economy in the future. Building entrepreneurship skills today will make them successful tomorrow. Rather than being a genuine part of the process of education, students are often subject to the standard process of education.

One way to reimagine education is through the power of choice. Several studies have shown that empowering children in their own education journey leads to more engaged learning. Parents and educators can start giving children choices as early as they can. Be it the choice between an orange and an apple, or a blue shirt and a red one – choice gives children a chance to decide for themselves, independently.

However, parents and teachers also have to be mindful of how much is too much? Therefore, it is essential to understand the need for consistent and realistic choices. While choice is good, knowing how many options to offer is key, rather than not offering young people any choice at all.

The kind of choices you give need to be tailored to suit their age and level of understanding. It is also worth noting that one child might enjoy having the power of choice, while another may feel lost without support. This is where the education system needs to be customised based on each student’s learning ability and response mechanism.

40% of nursery-age children in schools today will need to be self-employed to have any form of income

Choice provides personalisation to different learning styles and accountability. To be effective, choice has to be embedded in the curriculum from the beginning. When cultivated from an early age, decisions made by the children themselves can foster a sense of belonging, independence and ownership in learning. As a result, the classroom becomes a space defined by the pupils. Much like adults, pupils feel valued when an experience interests and challenges them, and gives them a voice.

Notably, a 2014 study by Hanover Research titled ‘Impact of Student Choice and Personalised Learning’ showed that giving students choices made them active participants in their learning, which in turn boosted engagement levels. It noted that “practices that facilitate and emphasise student choice – both in terms of the student’s educational path and the curriculum that the student follows – are widely considered to have positive impacts on student motivation and participation, and, as a result, academic performance.” Thus, including choice as a crucial component and reimagining education to suit the way forward can help develop citizens of the future.

The Early Childhood Learning Centre at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

In a similar vein, education standardisation can also mean that teachers aren’t reaching their potential and their ideas aren’t being shared or heeded. Since they have the immense responsibility of shaping minds, extending to teachers this power of choice is equally important, if not more. This could include personalised professional development, valuing their expertise over set lessons and giving them free reign in classrooms. Deemed a learner-centric approach, increased teacher autonomy has a knock-on effect. It leads to positive academic outcomes including higher resourcefulness, enthusiasm and focus.

Governments around the world are exploring new education systems to future-proof the students of today for tomorrow. The UAE has already laid out plans to address this need through the UAE Centennial Plan 2071. The long-term plan extends to five decades after 2021 and will see investment in future generations, by preparing pupils with the skills and knowledge needed to face rapid global changes.

Given the forward-looking nature of the UAE's visionary leadership, the nation is on its way to bridge the gap between jobs of today and those that will be created tomorrow. Now is the time to seek new ways of thinking and encourage young citizens to cultivate the skills they will need for the future.

Published: March 25, 2022, 9:04 AM
Adil Alzarooni

Adil Alzarooni

Dr Adil Alzarooni is the founder of Citizens School in Dubai