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Global perspectives on primary education
Global perspectives on primary education

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3.5 Frameworks for learner-centred education

There are two frameworks that provide practical starting points to observe and evaluate the educational experiences of children and the practices of teachers. These frameworks have been developed from research in classrooms around the world.

Michelle Schweisfurth (2013, p. 146) has proposed a set of minimum standards for learner-centered education:

  1. Lessons are engaging to pupils, motivating them to learn (bearing in mind that different approaches might work in different contexts).
  2. Atmosphere and conduct reflect mutual respect between teachers and pupils. Conduct such as punishment and the nature of relationships do not violate rights (bearing in mind that relationships might still be relatively formal and distant).
  3. Learning challenges build on learners’ existing knowledge (bearing in mind that this existing knowledge might be seen collectively rather than individualistically).
  4. Dialogue (not only transmission) is used in teaching and learning (bearing in mind that the tone of dialogue and who it is between may vary).
  5. Curriculum is relevant to learners’ lives and perceived future needs, in a language accessible to them (mother tongue except where practically impossible) (bearing in mind that there will be tensions between global, national, and local understandings of relevance).
  6. Curriculum is based on skills and attitude outcomes as well as content. These should include critical and creative thinking skills (bearing in mind that culture-based communication conventions are likely to make the ‘flavour’ of this very different in different places).
  7. Assessment follows up these principles by testing skills and by allowing for individual differences. It is not purely content-driven or based only on rote learning (bearing in mind that the demand for common examinations is unlikely to be overcome).

Drawing on Schweisfurth (2013), Wagner et al. (2012), Alexander (2009) and Wiggins and McTighe (2005), Mary Mendenhall and colleagues (2015) used a framework of ‘core elements’ of learner-centered education to observe teaching and learning in refugee schools in Kenya:

  • meaningful and active pupil engagement
  • inclusive and respectful learning environment
  • differentiated instruction
  • constructive classroom discourse
  • varied comprehension checks and assessments
  • conceptual learning and critical thinking
  • relevant curriculum and language(s) of instruction.

No classroom will evidence all these descriptors all the time. Also, what constitutes ‘meaningful and active’ engagement and ‘constructive’ discourse will differ from classroom to classroom. Nevertheless, frameworks such as these begin to make the abstract concept of learner-centered education more concrete and real. The development and application of such frameworks that focus on the day-to-day interactions of teachers and children will offer practical indicators of quality education for all.

In the rest of this course, keep in mind the core elements of learner-centered education. See if you can identify the elements in the examples that you see and compare.