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Why we should leave behind the cookie-cutter education

This post has been updated on April 30, 2020.

Whenever my mom made cookies when I was a little kid, I could barely wait for them to come out of the oven. My mom’s cookies were simply delicious. She had a magic ingredient she kept in a small bottle, and its location between two cookie-baking sessions was top secret. She always added that magic ingredient, and the cookies were always delicious because of it.

Their shapes were never — I mean never — perfect, like the ones we would buy from time to time from the store; but their taste was unforgettably perfect.

On schools and cookies

Keeping the baking smell in your nose, don’t you think schools today put more emphasis on the shape of each cookie (student), than on its taste (learning)? Schools are like mass producers of perfectly shaped cookies, instead of being loving mothers who bake the most delicious cookies ever.

You may argue that schools need to cater to the learning needs of hundreds of students every day, while mothers only have one or a few kids to worry about. So my comparison is somewhat invalid.

But I wouldn’t be convinced.

Schools are supposed to offer all their students the best education. In other words, they should produce tasty cookies. The delicious taste of cookies should be their ultimate goal. This is learning.

But if you look around in schools, it seems that the perfect shape of the cookies is what matters most. This is the measurement of learning.

The measurement of learning has somehow become more important than learning itself!

Leaving behind the cookie-cutter education

Learning is an organic process. Therefore, it will never be fully measurable!

Kids are individual human beings who learn differently. Some are visual learners, others prefer to read. Some need to touch things and move around more than others. Some are natural with numbers, others “feel” languages. Some need to watch others doing a new thing before deciding to try it for themselves. Others need to explain a new concept in order to better understand it themselves.

Kids are also naturally curious. "But why is that?" is probably their favorite question. Whenever they find something that sparks their interest, they’ll ask this question as many times as necessary until they learn everything about it. And when something does not spark their interest, you could try as you might, but you’ll never make them learn it.

This mixture of individuality and curiosity is the secret ingredient that makes students delicious cookies.

But the grading system and standardized tests don’t care about that. They need perfectly-sized cookies. They allow students to be different and curious as long as they fit the mold. Once they want to explore more — or less, for that matter — the cookie cutter will make sure to keep their perfect (?) shape.

It’s high time we should be leaving behind this cookie-cutter education and...

Going towards personalized learning

Let’s stop treating kids like robots. They don’t have the same input data when they first go to school, and they certainly won’t go out of school all knowing the same things.

But students have to be in the classroom for most of their day, participate in all classes and learning activities without having much choice, and prepare for standardized tests. Rote learning is inevitable for some. And the retention rates after the results of the tests are usually low and rarely noticed.

Everyone — students, teachers, parents, principals — get sucked up in the tests tornado, and they often fail to notice what really matters: if the student actually learned something at the end of the day, of the semester, of the year.

Putting students’ needs in the middle of the education system will only help them find those things they are good at, and pursue them. The world needs lawyers, bankers, doctors, or entrepreneurs, the same as it needs plumbers, technicians, or teachers. Kids can become all these — and more — only if we let them learn their way.

Offering personalized learning experiences to all students in all schools is not an idea that belongs to a far-fetched future. Some classes already live in this future. And technology plays a huge part in it.

Online learning platforms are not supposed to make teachers obsolete. On the contrary.

Technology is supposed to help teachers support the learning process of each student. A lot of data can be gathered from every learning activity, and that data is only useful if it’s immediately available. That’s the only way for teachers to know the impact of their teaching strategy on a student’s performance, and adapt accordingly.

Closing thoughts

When students’ learning is what matters most in schools, the measurement of learning will stop being under the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against standardized tests; I just think the measurement part of education should not be the most important one.

If students are encouraged to learn through bringing up their individuality and curiosity instead of threatening them with standardized tests and bad grades, schools create delicious cookies. And we would live in a better-educated world.

PS: Next time you make cookies, add a mixture of a few drops of water and a little bit of love. That was my mom’s special ingredient. Your cookies will be delicious, I promise.