One critique of the standard model of secondary education is the inflexibility of lesson plans and course requirements for students. The moniker “factory education” is telling about the common perception of the pedagogical model. However, some are trying to change this view, aiming to personalize the education experience for students in the hopes of making them more engaged in the learning process.

The rise of democratic education is one example of such aspirations. Sometimes called student-directed education, democratic education is an approach generally used in higher education, but some believe that it has potentially good applications in secondary education as well. The main goal of democratic education is to get students actively involved in the learning process, resulting in a more effective educational experience. This can be achieved in any number of ways, including:

  • Allowing students to choose what they will study, while collaborating with a teacher or other faculty member for support and to ensure they stay on-track.
  • Involving students in the hiring and firing process for teachers and other faculty students.
  • Providing flexibility in the types of courses students can take. For example, allowing movement to a wider variety of topics and skills levels that a student normally wouldn’t have access to, either above or below what would normally be expected.
  • Several options for class start times, instead of one fixed and standardized time for all students.
  • Nonprofit programs and extracurricular after school activities to allow students to explore their interests outside of school.

Templestowe College in Australia is a great example of democratic education being implemented in a secondary education setting. Similar to the way graduate students select a committee to guide their learning goals, students at Templestowe choose staff mentors who provide them with guidance in regards to their studies.

Studies at Templestowe College have shown that students have increased their achievement and ability to learn. Additionally, their staggered start times are backed-up by research showing that in the age of many of their students, getting the right amount of sleep is very important.

There is justified concern that this pedagogical model will not work for all students. Not all students will thrive in this system, or likely in any system for that matter. However, proponents believe that democratic education will benefit enough students to make it worth the effort.

To learn more about the idea of democratic education, click here.

What do you think about the idea of democratic, student-led learning?