A new report from the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), calls personalised education a human right under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report, “Reimagining education”, also asks policymakers to be guided by science, and to recognise that learning is about both cognition and emotion. Annie Brookman-Byrne finds out more about the opportunities of personalised learning identified in the report and why it’s important how we talk about a child’s “potential”.
Based on a two-year International Science and Evidence Based Education (ISEE) Assessment which brought together more than 300 experts from over 10 different disciplines, in over 45 countries, Anantha Duraiappah, Director of MGIEP and Co-Chair of the ISEE Assessment Panel, explains that the ISEE Assessment evaluated the state of education in a broad sense, rather than using typical methods of assessment which look at student learning outcomes.
“The ISEE Assessment evaluated the state of education in a broad sense, rather than using typical methods of assessment which look at student learning outcomes.”
Embedding science into policymaking
Following disruptions due to COVID, “many education systems are now considering the question of return”, says Kevan Collins, Chair of the Youth Endowment Fund and ISEE Assessment Advisory Board Member. Collins says that this is the moment to take stock and improve education systems that are locked in what he calls a “slightly old-fashioned historical approach”.
The report calls for a more holistic approach to education that nurtures social-emotional as well as cognitive development. Nienke van Atteveldt, Professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Co-Chair of the ISEE Assessment panel, says that neuroimaging research over the last 10-20 years has shown that there is no clear distinction between cognition and emotion. She says that each child “goes through a unique developmental trajectory, during which cognitive and non-cognitive functions constantly interact”. Policy needs to keep up with this new scientific knowledge, van Atteveldt argues.
“The report calls for a more holistic approach to education that nurtures social-emotional as well as cognitive development.”
According to Peje Emilsson, Founder of Kunskapsskolan Education Sweden AB and ISEE Assessment Advisory Board Member, the report constitutes a fairly dramatic change in looking at what education can provide individual human beings, rather than seeing education as providing enough doctors, dentists, and economists for society. Starting with the focus on individuals will let each person reach their potential, Emilsson says.
Meeting the challenge of personalised education
Given the number of students per teacher, personalised education may be possible thanks to technology, which Duraiappah calls “the great enabler”. He differentiates between transmissive platforms, like the ICT put in place during COVID – think YouTube videos and Zoom – and transformative platforms that are interactive and rely on artificial intelligence (AI). Through AI, a wealth of student behaviour can be captured during learning to provide instantaneous feedback to suggest different ways of learning. Duraiappah says that we are currently in the early stages, and the privacy of students must be protected, but there is promise. He envisions a “mixed reality world” of moving between virtual and physical spaces.
“It’s about being curious, continuing to learn, and developing new skills.”
Teachers are crucial in personalising education, van Atteveldt says, especially around promoting social and emotional flourishing. Investment in teacher training is needed, so that teachers can embed social and emotional learning throughout the curriculum. Teachers also need to learn these social and emotional skills for themselves, as they are important models for their students, van Atteveldt says.
Continuing to learn
Ultimately, personalised education should allow children to maximise their potential to lead a flourishing life. There are multiple ways to flourish, van Atteveldt says – potential is not just about how good somebody can be in mathematics, it’s also about their motivations and interests. Collins explains that the term “potential” can be problematic as it suggests an end that can be reached. Instead, it’s about being curious, continuing to learn, and developing new skills.