It's not easy or cheap to put students first 1

December 18, 2008

I found it heartening to learn that student-centred teaching, rooted in the philosophy of Carl Rogers, is alive and well ("A matter of opinions", 11 December). Its value has always been contested because it is, as Rogers pointed out, revolutionary. It turns the traditional didactic teaching practice on its head and places the responsibility for learning firmly in the hands of the student, with the teacher as facilitator.

Frank Furedi and Alan Ryan - although I wonder whether they have explored the philosophical basis of the practice - correctly point out some dangers in a student-centred approach. These include the possibility of using it as an excuse for reducing contact hours and abandoning students to their fate while, at the same time, removing the teacher as a key resource of knowledge and support.

The approach may also be hijacked at an institutional level for political gain - "we're all student-centred now". However, Tara Brabazon's experience is salutary. Student-centred learning is no doddle. Like her, I found myself devoting much more energy in preparation and responding to the real needs of individual students, while expecting and encouraging them to take an increasing share of responsibility for their learning.

Properly conducted, student-centred learning requires teachers of exceptional maturity, using but not hiding behind expertise, unafraid of challenge by students, respectful of individuality, prepared to engage in frequent and time-consuming dialogue and, above all, giving encouragement and support.

Curriculum boundaries are still clearly and tightly drawn. In this context, the lecture needs to be used sparingly to provide opportunities, not as a blunt instrument that encourages passivity and soon-forgotten rote learning. The result is the release and realisation of independence, creativity and originality. We have never more desperately needed these qualities in graduates emerging into the world of work.

John Barkham, Ashburton, Devon.

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