What is autonomy in education?
Student autonomy in the classroom means learners take the initiative and responsibility for their learning. Autonomy is often conflated with freedom by parents educated in more traditional, structured environments, but it actually means self-governance or self-direction, as opposed to being directed or driven by external factors like teachers or curricula. Autonomous learners are competent partners in the process of learning, helping to determine what to learn, how to learn it, and the rate of at which to learn. Educators respond to the unique needs of each learner by varying the content, methodology, and pace of instruction, enabling each child to understand the same concept as their peers, but in ways suited to their own ability and motivation.
This means the classroom experience changes. Teachers might use autonomous learning strategies like the Campfire (a time when a class comes together to share and gain from collective wisdom), the Watering Hole (when students learn from peers in a small group setting), and the Cave (a time for individual reflection and study) to create a supportive group learning environment that still fosters autonomy.
Schools like Aarohi, in Bangalore, or Summerhill, in the UK, embrace autonomy by giving children complete freedom to decide what and how they learn within the school setup. Students make choices based on their likes, dislikes, learn how to justify and debate their choices. While this model of complete autonomy works for some, many parents are not ready to give up complete control over what/how their child learns.
Another model which preserves some of the structure of traditional schooling is followed by the Big Picture Learning schools in India. Here students set personalised goals for themselves based on their passions and interests and are then given the autonomy to figure out how/when to reach these goals. They need to manage their own time and schedule while seeking out resources and people. Independent learning happens alongside within a set curriculum.