Voice and Choice

 

Two key concepts that unify personalisation and demand sensitivity are voice and choice. The first of these categories requires providing platforms for parents and pupils to raise their concerns and present their ideas on how schools and schooling can be improved. The second category involves increasing the range of schooling options available, whether by widening access to different types of school, or creating new models of learning which may not necessarily lie within the traditional school model (see the OECD/CERI Alternative Models of Learning project.)

 

Ultimately, the real aim of demand-sensitivity and personalisation lies in a marriage of voice with choice. Rather than presenting parents and pupils with a choice among options that have been predetermined independently of their preferences, or allowing them to suggest minor modifications to an existing and relatively inflexible school structure, the goal is to involve parents and pupils in the process of developing the different options among which are to choose.

 

Clearly, such a departure from traditional patterns requires changes to be made at many levels of the schooling system. Some recent work has been devoted to identifying the areas that need to change now in order to make increased personalisation and sensitivity to demand possible.

 

Personalised education promises to consider every child’s strengths and weaknesses in order to better serve their educational needs. Personalisation therefore necessitates a system that assesses those needs. Beyond recognising the differences among various students’ needs, school and teachers must be equipped to meet them. Tackling this challenge would likely require both resources, as technology may prove instrumental in working around the limitation of a single teacher being responsible for a class of students with diverse needs, and training, not only regarding new technology but also revolving around teaching strategies designed to accommodate their various students’ needs.

 

Personalisation relies on parents and students taking an active role in schooling. Increased parent engagement in their children’s educational experience does not come without challenges, however. Current parent participation -- where mechanisms, such as parent councils, allow -- varies by country, but there are some consistent themes. One is the over-representation of certain populations, namely white, middle-class, well-educated women. Such a discrepancy in representation threatens to undermine the plurality of voice that personalisation attempts to achieve. Another theme is the decline in parental involvement as children grow older. This decrease is evident even in countries in which the relationship between parents and schools is particularly strong. While such a trend may reflect a lack of agency felt by parents to effect change in the current system, it does raise the question of accountability in a decentralised educational system. Determining the reasons for these conditions is therefore vital for implementing meaningful change.

 

Demand-sensitivity in the form of choice gives power to voice. An increased freedom to choose among increasing numbers of different programmes and schools grants parents the power to approach education as consumers. In doing so, they drive demand in the previously supply-driven institutions of education. Demand shapes the educational environment to better fit the individual needs of students and parents. Greater control over one’s educational experience generally correlates with increased motivation in school and greater overall satisfaction.

 

There are concerns about increased choice in schools, namely inequity. Middle-class, well-educated parents are more likely to utilise their choice to send their children to better schools, perpetuating a talent gap between high-achieving and low-achieving schools. Additionally, choice can be limited by geography -- there are fewer schooling options in rural areas than there are in urban ones.

 

Choice of curriculum may challenge the concept of education as a means of social cohesion. As the traditional schooling system progresses to a more modern one, the goals of the system are changing. Once a means for imparting facts and cultural knowledge from one generation to the next, school is evolving into a place where each student’s unique talents are discerned and developed. This change is evident in, and perhaps necessitated by, the labour market. As we move from an industrialised society to a knowledge society, business structures are becoming less rigid and hierarchical and more network-based and lateral in organisation, requiring a more independent and creative worker. Education can reflect these general societal changes, or it can act as a counterweight to such changes. Increased choice, it would seem, encourages the former and challenges the latter.

 

Voice, without the power of choice, lacks a motivational force for schools to address the concerns of parents and students. Grievances, left unaddressed, can fuel discontentment with one’s educational experience. Choice, without the focus of voice, runs the risk of abandoning schools rather than trying to improve them. A marriage of voice and choice strengthens both concepts, minimising the risks involved with the independent implementation of either and encouraging the benefits of the utilisation of both.

 

Articles:

Exploring the Concept of Demand

Parental Choice and Diversity of Provision

Parent and Community “Voice” in Schools

Choice and Voice in Personalised Learning

The Future of Public Services: Personalised Learning