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Education: visit to a Koran school in Senegal, january 2012

One of my fortunes in life is that I have two healthy daughters, aged 13 and 15. Both of them are very different in terms of talents, interests, preferences. So how do you deal with that diversity within one family? You differentiate. This differentiation started very early, when they were babies. It continued when they were toddlers and it continues know that they are teenagers in  their puberty. I cannot imagine treating them the same way, pushing them through one and the same mill of life.
So they visit different schools. They have different hobbies. They do different things. They follow a different orientation in school. They have different results in school and they study and play in a different way. And yet, we do not compare, or better, we do not judge the difference. I think many parents are doing this.
So why should a child be treated in an industrial way once at school?  Why should there only be one approach? If a school needs to make you stronger, should it not focus on a child’s strengths rather than on its weaknesses?
Today there is already more differentiation within schools. Regular schools have discovered ways to deal with dyslexia, mild forms of autism, differences in intelligence, … Some schools experiment with differentiated tuition for maths and languages. And yet, children are still put in classes where the teacher has to talk to groups. Teachers do not have or do not take the time to focus on the differences between children.
Are we doing better in organizations? Are we looking for individual approaches for individual issues. How about the one-size-fits-all? How about training (the continuation of formal learning). Is there a shift from classical training, towards individualised coaching. Do we offer individualised careers and individualised development plans.
Imagine that a child would have a coach that helps to find a path that enables to leverage its inherent strengths? What would this be like? Imagine the energy that would be released? But this is very expensive. So schools continue to offer mass education with some customization. My message, customize when possible, standardize when necessary. But maybe, this is an illusion.
I believe that if we are able to individualise our education more, we will offer more possibilities to people to make the most of their lives. Our economy and society will benefit. Is this the end of the diploma? No it’s not. But maybe getting a diploma will mean something else for every student. Getting a diploma will mean that you’ve achieved something, not that you have complied with some norm. Getting a diploma will be a testimonial of progress, not of adaptation. Getting a diploma will be like getting a medal for something extra-ordinary. So there’s a lot to do.
Should education only be pleasant for a child? No definitely not. A child will learn a lot by doing something it does not like. And some things you need in life, so you have to motivate a child to acquire that to avoid some kind of social skill handicap.
In the meantime, it’s the parents that should be the coach and help the child to make choices, to take responsibility and to do something with their lives. That’s what parents are for. And if this requires even protecting the child from the downgrading effects of current educational systems, so be it.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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