Educational diversity: everything begins at school
Our children no longer go to nurseries. Maybe we continue using the term, but now the correct thing is to say infant schools. It is not a matter of terminology. We have understood that this is a fundamental stage in the child’s education which will shape their personality and allow them to acquire the basic tools to develop in the future. The classrooms are increasingly diverse in cultures, but also in interests and learning rhythms. Being able to adapt our schools to the demands of the 21st century society is the challenge that is presented to us all as part of the educational system.
Between 0 and 6 years old, the child acquires many of the most crucial bases for their physical, affective, social and intellectual development; learning about their own bodies and those of others and respecting differences. They explore their surroundings and begin to act with autonomy, while demonstrating the first communicative and logical-mathematical skills. At such an early age, being born at the beginning or end of the year makes a big difference in learning abilities. Organising the groups based on maturational development and date of birth is one of the trends in early childhood education increasingly applied in schools.
It is based on the Montessori method which, though not new, has recently gained great popularity. It was created at the beginning of the 20th century by the Italian pedagogue María Montessori. It proposed an education focused on the child and what is known as active learning, through sensory materials that help stimulate their senses, as a prior step to writing and reading. One of the keys to this method is the principle of learning by playing, so it is essential to foster a safe learning environment based on respect for the particularities of each child.
In addition to the Montessori method, we are returning other pedagogical approaches related to the New School of the 19th century. Dewey, Freinet and Decroly outlined the principles on which today the most innovative educational experiences of our educational system are based. Having overcome the demands of the Industrial Revolution on which our school is still mainly founded today, it makes sense to recover the proposals of these pedagogues: an education based on the interests and needs of the student, generating practices based on research, the resolution of real problems and interrelation with one’s closest surroundings.
It supposes a criticism of rote, of sticking to old textbooks like encyclopaedias as the only learning materials; to the classes far removed from the students’ daily life. “We have gone from a society based on the production of consumer goods to another where the fundamental thing is the creation of new ideas and the development of new professions. The expectations are totally different today,” says Professor Bianca Thoilliez Ruano, one of the authors of the study 'Fundamentals of research and educational innovation' (UNIR, 2017).
Other ways to educate
We start with an infant education based on more flexible and enriched schools with more conscious attention to the child and his/her abilities. In the next stage of primary education, the latest trends in the field of educational innovation are problem-based learning, flipped classroom and gamification.
Problem-based learning is a teaching methodology in which students acquire knowledge and skills through a work in which they are expected to investigate and answer a sufficiently motivating and complex question, problem or challenge. The flipped classroom model reverses the traditional teaching method; it transfers the work normally done in the classroom to outside, so that the valuable time of interaction between student and teacher can be devoted to aspects such as answering doubts.
“The idea is that, thanks to the possibilities of ICT, teachers stop doing things that machines can do. For example, recording an explanation on video and sharing it with students to study at home,” says Professor Thoilliez. Gamification refers to the use of the mechanical characteristics of the games: points, levels, leader boards, challenges, rewards ... It is clear that the students have changed, just as society has. If they are to catch their attention, educational methods have to adapt to their interests and start to treat the contents from here.
We must change our way of facing education. It is no longer a matter of accumulating theoretical knowledge, but skills; from learning to doing. “The students thus advance through the learning objectives, as they show their mastery of the content, at their own pace,” says the vice-rector of innovation and educational development of the UNIR Javier Tourón. In this stage too, we find classrooms with flexible groups of students working in different areas, who understand, because they put the knowledge into practice. They get actively involved; they participate and cooperate with each other in a dynamic exercise of their potential. Classrooms with room for the diversity of students and their different concerns, motivations and learning abilities.
A school capable of fostering complex thinking, which contributes to the development of different intelligences and helps students achieve their vocational goals. The Multiple Intelligence model outlined by Howard Gardner in his book ‘Creative Minds’ (1995) can be a useful reference framework for developing innovative experiences in school. Its purpose is to enhance the intellectual abilities of children in the infant stage and the first years of primary school in particular by introducing the arts, which have been shown to have a vital influence on the development of cognitive skills. It is a question of understanding and integrating aspects such as personality, emotions and cultural differences: the differences that add up.
By Sara Puerto