Why a Student-Centered Approach Is an Effective Way of Teaching

By Ing Sopheap

ca.PNGStudents were practicing their math skills by playing game in Laos.

Blue Plover / 2013 / licensed under CC by SA 3.0

An evaluation by the social enterprise BOOKBRIDGE found that one of the key factors that restricts education quality in Cambodia is that we use the teacher-centered approach more commonly than the student-centered approach.

In a teacher-centered class, students only have to listen, copy, repeat and memorize the content for the sake of examinations. It discourages students from developing higher-order thinking skills (critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, etc.) and social skills, which later will be essential for their future education and careers.

According to  the book ‘The Student-Centered Classroom’, published by the Cambridge University Press, in a student-centered teaching model, students can be independent learners. Students are assigned to work as partners, groups or an entire class under the facilitation and supervision of the teacher. Students will learn to solve problems, communicate, work cooperatively and help one another through various activities. At the end of the activities, the teacher will provide feedback, advice, corrections and answer questions. This approach is more effective than the traditional one because it focuses more on the understanding of learning materials than rote memorization.

Based on case studies from seven countries published in 2015 by UNESCO, four Asian countries Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam have included the student-centered approach in their primary and high school education reforms. There have been some positive changes in those countries.

avel-chuklanov-686867-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Japanese students have mainly improved their communication, creative thinking and analytical skills after the reform. Students in South Korea have shown positive attitudes towards studying and participated more in school activities, while Indonesian students were able to grasp different concepts and learn in a more meaningful way. In Vietnam, the approach helped a teacher to keep students engaged throughout the learning process. Also, students could form and explore concepts independently.

Recognizing the importance of a student-centered approach, Cambodia has also started to add this approach to its education reforms.

Cambodia has carried out a Child Friendly School (CFS) policy in some provinces since 2002 to provide good quality education for children. A key area of this policy focuses on child-centered approaches to learning.

In 2016, Cambodia expanded the program to the high school level by establishing New Generation Schools (NGS). The new program motivates students to practice self-study by using a project-based learning method. Students have to complete a lot of group projects, so they can learn and help one another.

Dr. Hang Chuon Naron, the Minister of Education, Youth and Sport, said in a Phnom Penh Post article that he could see some changes in students’ attitudes towards studying in this program. Those students become curious and keen to learn more.

Nevertheless, an article on the educational organization British Council argued that this western-oriented approach is not suitable for countries with different cultures. But as I mentioned above, both developed and developing Asian countries noticed positive results after their educational reforms, even though their culture differs from the West.

indonesia-students-practice-testing-and-treating-water-to-make-it-safe-to-drink-725x544.jpgPhoto by Yessi Maryam on PIXNIO

The article cited sources that say student-centered approach is not an efficient way of teaching. Because when students try to solve problems on their own, their brain will process too much information that it cannot store the knowledge for a long time. But this is not true.

Influential research on how students learn has found that by asking questions, connecting their previous knowledge with new information and working out solutions, students can understand and remember information better.

However, countries that implement the student-centered approach face common challenges, such as the lack of professional trainings and teaching materials for teachers.

The Cambodian Ministry of Education plans to implement the NGS program in more schools in the future to give more students access to high-quality education. The Ministry and NGO Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE) hope to see that two schools per province will apply this program into their system.   

I think this would be a good opportunity for students to develop active learning habits and to increase the efficiency of the learning process.

So, what do you think of the student-centered approach? Please share some of your thoughts with us!

Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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