Now that’s tailored education

René Peters & Anna M.T. Bosman

This originally appeared in the journal Orthodedagogiek: Onderwijs en Praktijk as Da’s pas passend onderwijs.

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“Your child is our focus.” “In our school, we use personalised learning for all children.” “Here we implement a professional care structure for every support need for every child.” We read these things in almost all school plans. The intention is good, but it’s not very realistic.

What would happen if we no longer saw tailored education as the best possible customisation of teaching and learning for each individual child (to paraphrase Karl Marx: each according to their abilities, each according to their needs), but as very, very good or even excellent education that’s suitable for almost everyone? Clear structures, effective and efficient class schedules without daily changes, clear agreements between school and child, predictable and excellently trained teachers, and not too many choices so that the classes can also become smaller and more manageable.

Dyslexia, originally a specific clinical term, is now a euphemism for someone with “little talent for reading and writing”. We solve that individually, and at great expense, with excellent, evidence-informed instruction and a lot of student practice. But, why don’t we do that with all students from the start? ADHD, also originally a specific clinical term, is now a euphemism for a child that has difficulty concentrating. That child benefits greatly from predictability, a calm and well-ordered school climate, and clear agreements between teacher/school and child. Wouldn’t all students (and teachers) benefit from this?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t special needs. Of course there will always be children for whom such a generic approach, no matter how good, is insufficient. Bring youth care into school for those children. Where the problem is located is also where we need to look for its solution. Make use of truancy officers, not endless meetings with mentors. Set up a clear, well-functioning and adhered to absenteeism policy in the school. By recognising problems early, solutions to them can be sought together with parents or guardians.

A person is not simply an individual, but is rather a person in relation to another. Therefore, tailored education is not the best possible customisation for each individual child. Tailored education is excellent education that’s suitable for almost everyone. Let’s replace the sentence ‘Your child is our focus’ with ‘We love good teaching’!

Peters, R., & Bosman, A.M.T. (2022). Da’s pas passend onderwijs. Orthopedagogiek: Onderzoek en Praktijk, 61(2), 49.