The schooling option with no homework and no testing

As countries grow more diverse, "one size-fits-all educational models have become profoundly unfair to the majority of children," says the Hon. Peter Groff from The Progressive Policy Institute. As opposed to traditional education, "progressive education" offers a child-centred, project and community-based approach to teaching, where its "teachers serve as guides rather than experts… and children are empowered to take charge of their learning." (Aaron Cohen, The Advantages of Progressive Education).

Kay Matthews, Nominated Supervisor and Pre-School Teacher at Kinma School in Terrey Hills says, "Every day, teachers in progressive schools are encouraging and supporting children of all ages to actively participate in and engage with the learning process. The starting point for learning often reflects the interests and passions of the children themselves. A progressive approach to learning is supported by close, authentic relationships within the school community. Problem-solving, critical thinking, emotional resilience, and working as a member of a team, have all been identified as skills and dispositions needed in a changing world. Progressive education offers children the opportunity to develop these important life skills from an early age."

This approach to education includes all of the NSW Board of Studies Key Learning Areas and the requirements of the NQS, while loosening the traditional, rigid framework for learning. Indeed, it produces (and in some cases surpasses) the academic results of traditional education, whilst allowing its children to develop at their own pace in a more relaxed, multi-disciplinary learning environment.

"No homework or testing"
There is no homework or testing, and the development of the children's social and emotional skills are seen as endemic to their growth as their academic skills. In the words of John Dewey, psychologist, educational reformer and American founder of progressive education, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."

An increasingly popular choice for preschool and primary education, progressive education has been viewed in the past as the choice of well-off and alternative parents, or the parents of children with special needs. And yet, in the US, pilot programs have been successfully implemented to improve educational opportunity for the city's most vulnerable students, producing outstanding results. With its strong focus on life skills, community, inclusivity, and learning through experience and play, the children in progressive schools are active participants in their own education and seem genuinely happier to learn in an environment in which they are respected and motivated by their personal passions, rather than pitted against each other. Such an environment provides them with the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of "self".

Amanda Fitzgerald, a parent at Kinma, says, "I was looking for something pretty simple - a place where my three-year-old could climb trees, dig in the dirt, play and learn under the guidance of really caring and engaged teachers… My eldest was a very advanced reader, which was handled beautifully by the teachers in a way that really extended her love of reading and challenged her, but didn't involve a single merit certificate or gold star. I love the way the kids learn through discovering their passions, not because they're going to get a high mark or an award."

So what are the main differences between traditional and progressive education? Below are just seven (of the many) that may influence parents to consider "progressive" as an alternative option for their child's education:

1. The focus on problem-solving and critical-thinking skills
While none of us know what the future holds in terms of employment for our children, there can be no doubt that they will require sound problem-solving skills. Child-centred, active learning encourages these skills, which are highly sought after in every industry.

2. The encouragement of curiosity
"Collaboration" is a key principle of progressive education, as is "curiosity" - something of a buzzword right now a propos of its link to longevity. As Einstein said, "The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." Children contribute to the planning of their education, which allows their curiosity to stoke the fire in their bellies and the passion in their hearts, helping them make sense of their existence.

3. The benefits to the children's mental health
In an age where many young adults and children are struggling with mental health issues, the focus of progressive education on exploration and kinaesthetic learning - much of which is done in the outside world and nature rather than through technology and competition - brings benefits in terms of clear thinking, positivity and resilience.

4. The physical benefits
In some schools, children are encouraged to run around in bare feet, to wear what they want, (even pyjamas), and much of their learning is based outside of the classroom. Fewer boundaries and greater autonomy for their decisions pushes students of progressive education out of their comfort zone and into an exhilarating new learning zone. Safety is paramount, but rather than being held back by anxious parents, the word no is discouraged. Climbing trees, learning to use traditional tools, experimenting and getting dirty are an integral part of their education, as key learning areas are integrated into their exploration.

5. Small and composite classes
Learning in small, mixed-age groups encourages the sharing of knowledge and the development of patience, empathy and teamwork skills.

6. Community values
Emphasis is placed on the relationship between the school and its community. Parents are active members who are fully engaged in their child's school and education. Some are Directors on the board and play an important role in the decision-making process of all aspects of the school's governance.

7. Practical learning
Children learn from "real life" experiences rather than from textbooks or rote learning. "Learning environments are created to fit the unique needs of their students." (Hon. Peter Groff, PPI). With less reliance on technology at primary level - a learning tool that is still hotly debated, monitored, and even being phased out in some traditional schools - and the singular approach that traditional education approaches the different disciplines, "the progressive method integrates them all together, allowing students to draw connections between them." (Reedley International School website, Philippines).

Looking from the outside in, progressive education resembles a journey back to the past, to a time of innocence when kids absorbed as much, (if not more), learning through play and exploration outside as they did within the confines of the classroom. With its emphasis on learning from simple living and its values - an abundance of fresh air, the importance of community, kindness and enduring friendships, as well as inclusivity and the wondrous free education gifted by nature - the success of progressive education proves there is not only one way to learn. It is an alternative method of teaching that may help produce happier, secure children with more to contribute in our ever-changing world.

This originally appeared on Kidspot and has been republished with permission.

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