Why a person centred education is the best education

There's already lots of coverage of the idea that our education systems are outdated and not preparing children adequately for their adult lives. One of the most well known speakers on the topic is Sir Ken Robinson. For anyone unfamiliar with topic, the film below, from 2010, provides a fun introduction.

The ideas Ken expounds are not new. In fact they are based on a long history of ideas about knowledge and education. This timeline outlines that story and helps to illustrate our conclusion that a person centred education is the best education.

A person centred education is, as much as possible, self defined by the child, project based, and involves the student, teacher, family and community as equal partners. Education that celebrates diverse forms of intelligence, values interdisciplinary ways of doing things, and above all, is intrinsically motivated, giving children the opportunity to trust the direction and knowledge that resides within them.

Person centred education timeline

  • 2020 –  Home schooling (temporarily) takes off globally due to Covid-19

    Hurriedly, unplanned and without precedent we all embark on the largest educational experiment in history. Many more parents are actively involved in their children's education. Most online tools lack focus on creativity of early computer supported education software.

  • 2014 onwards - New types of schools

    Here in The Netherlands we begin to see the emergence of new types of person centred schools. It will be a generation or two before we can look back and see whether this evolution becomes mainstream phenomena.

  • 2014 – A More Beautiful Question

    After studying the worlds leading innovators, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers the author, Warren Berger asks many great questions. A few that stand out - Why aren’t we nurturing kids’ natural ability to question—and what can parents and schools do about that? How can each of us re-ignite that questioning spark—and use inquiry as a powerful means to rethink and reinvent our lives?

    A More Beautiful Question

  • 2009 – The Puzzle of Motivation

    At a TED event, Dan Pink, author and former speechwriter for Al Gore, delivers a great talk on the ‘puzzle of motivation’, articulating that autonomy, mastery and purpose key a drivers of intrinsic motivation. There is an extensive body of social scientific research evidence to back him up.

    The Puzzle of Motivation

  • 2001 – Hole-in-the-Wall Education Launched

    Experiments that begin in New Delhi slums in 1999 and continue for the next thirteen years in impoverished parts of India demonstrate that children can learn almost anything by themselves if provided with the tools needed to self organise. One of the key success factors was peer-to-peer and group dynamics. This pioneering research led by Dr. Sugata Mitra was awarded the first TED.com $1M prize in recognition of its exceptional quality which could have far reaching consequences across the globe.

    Hole-in-the-Wall Education

  • 2000s – Popularisation of the pedagogic argument

    With the possibilities of new media and platforms like TED Talks, we see the person centred argument breakthrough.

  • 2000 – How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School

    Educational psychologists, John Bransford and team explain in this great book that deep conceptual knowledge is needed to understand content. You have to activate prior knowledge for learning to occur. Students must be actively involved in their own learning.

  • 1992-2006 – Ultralab

    Ultralab was an outstanding Learning Technology Research Centre at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, run by Professor Stephen Heppell, which paid great attention to working with children to co-create the design of education. Examples of projects include Notschool, Talking Heads and Ultraversity.

  • Early 1990s – Apple Education Index

    Hundreds of teachers shared the modules they developed and learned from each other using a series of fantastically developed Java-applets. The Apple Education Index was killed when Steve Jobs returned to Apple.

  • 1990 – Motivation: What Teachers Need to Know

    Educational psychologist and University of Michigan professor Carole Ames, examined how to build motivation.

  • 1986 – Pedagogical Content Knowledge

    Educational psychologist and Stanford professor Lee Shulman called for teaching to combine subject and pedagogical knowledge.

  • 1980s – MIT Lego Logo Lab

    A collaboration between The Lego Company and MIT focused on toys, computers and learning. Revisiting Piaget and constructivist ideas. Sought to tap into the creative mindset of young people. Lego’s Mindstorms are a result of this work.

  • 1970s – Computer Supported Education

    First software for use on personal computers came available. Early applications exhibited a great deal of imagination with focus on project-based learning.

  • 1920-50s – Piaget’s Developmental Theory

    Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget researches and hypothesises a theory of cognitive development for children with discrete developmental stages. His work is extremely influential for education policy in the 1960s, came into criticism in the 1970s and influenced educational software developers in the 1980s.

  • Post World War II – Reggio Emelia Approach

    Loris Malaguzzi develops an innovative approach to teaching pre-and primary schools, which becomes known as the Reggio Emelia approach after the region in Italy where she worked. Now recognized globally for the quality of thinking, organization and execution the system relies on a curriculum guided by children, long-term projects as a central learning tool and the active involvement of the community, in particular parents.

  • 1922 – Leonard Nelson

    Leonard Nelson delivers a lecture to the Pedagogic Society of Göttingen, Germany, reintroducing the idea of the Socratic method.

  • 1919 – First Waldorf (Steiner) School

    First anthroposophic Waldorf School opens in Stuttgart, Germany. Criticised for the religious and spiritual dogma underlying the system. However, the approach is strong on giving children creative freedom, on giving children attention without exhausting teachers, and on educating the disabled and people with an autistic spectrum disorder.

  • 1914 – First Dalton School

    Inspired by Montessori and Dewey, Helen Parkhurst developed the Dalton Plan and the first Dalton School, the Children's University School, opened in New York in 10914. Notably students contract themselves to complete assignments and there is a focus on subject-based projects where students learn at their own pace.

  • 1910 – How We Think

    In this book John Dewey, a philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, recognises the science in the curiosity and imagination of children. In this and many of his other writings he makes clear that students’ interest is the main enabler of their learning. Dewey is also an early proponent of project-based learning.

  • 1907 – First Montessori Classroom

    Maria Montessori opens her first classroom, the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in a tenement building in Rome. She begins implementing her constructivist model. Children learn concepts from working with materials, rather than direct instruction. To this day the robust, colourful and simple materials she developed demonstrate the connection between use of material for learning and children's imaginations

  • 1907 – Scouting Movement Founded

    Scouting has sometimes been criticised for insistence on religion and easy use by authoritarian regimes. However, for over a hundred years the movement has helped children gain a sense of nature, teamwork, hierarchy, adventure and much more. In essence giving a children personality training.

  • 1724-1804 – Immanuel Kant

    Immanuel Kant, a central figure in modern philosophy, re-examined Socratic ideas as he sought to shake off the scholasticism of the middle ages, kicking off a philosophical exchange whose impact can still be seen today.

  • 399-347 BC – Plato

    Plato documents Socrates’ dialogues.

  • 469-399 BC – Socrates

    Socrates, one of the founding fathers of western Philosophy develops an analytic method of inquiry, the Socratic method, largely for the examination of key moral concepts such as the Good and Justice. He saw inquiry as a social activity where two or more people ask and refine questions and reflect on their own experiences and views, giving birth to the idea that thinking logically helps us to be more certain about our lives and what matters to us. He invites us to refine and trust our own judgment.

    More on Socrates: Socrates on Self-Confidence – Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness


End - Originally written 2016. Last updated June 2020.