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A Game-Changer for Future Education

Early study sometimes sounds too good to be true. So there are pupils who want to learn something of their own accord, who attend lectures at a university in their free time, and who voluntarily even take written examinations. Where can you find pupils like that?! The picture that most teachers in Germany have of their school class on Monday mornings definitely looks different.

Who would have thought that pupils, besides all the workload for school, would be able to coordinate the attendance of a lecture on their own? Who would have thought that they could manage to follow a lecture when they still lack so many basics from the lessons of the upper grades? And who would have thought that some pupils do university exams even better than normal students?

Hardly anyone would have imagined before early study became reality. And yet, early students always surprise us in the way they use early study to pursue their interests and get further than we ever thought possible. Early study shows how much potential pupils bear, which often does not show up at school, but which can be developed in early study if the right support is provided.

In the context of this book, the question was raised as to what it would be like if more pupils were participating in early study and benefit from its advantages such as promotion of interests, study orientation, or even personal development. But this question can be turned around just as well: How would it be if we made education at school a little more like early study? A little more free, a little more individual, a little more diverse. What would it be like if more pupils had similar learning conditions as those currently reserved for early students?

A large part of the enthusiasm for early study comes precisely from the fact that early students are free to choose their lectures. To finally learn what they had always wanted to learn. To learn something on your own and not because you have to write an exam. So how would it be if there were more freedom at school to decide for yourself what you want to learn, what interests and inspires you?

Many teachers feel (rightly so!) overburdened with the task of supporting pupils individually; a Herculean task, given the current educational structures, which are based on fixed schedules, segregated classes, and rigid curricula. How can lessons be designed individually for classes with more than 20 pupils? How about instead creating offers, for example, lectures, seminars, and courses, or even self-study offers such as at the university library, with books, online courses, or in learning groups, and then letting pupils choose from these offers themselves?

Early students sometimes pass exams better than normal students, not only because they attend lectures out of their own interest, but also because they decide to take the exam themselves and voluntarily, and because they know that they can retake the exam at any time when they study later. This eliminates a lot of pressure and exam anxiety, and they can concentrate more on the actual learning material and what is interesting about it. So how useful is the concept of the “final failure of an examination” at German universities? Are we talking about lifelong learning and about helping people advance in their education? Or are we concerned with saving the time and money needed to correct an additional exam?

How meaningful is it, in fact, that exams assign a grade to a topic, unchangeably, fixed forever and ever, with no room for improvement or additional learning? How do we want to motivate people that way to deal with a topic again and improve their own performance if there is only one chance?

Last but not least, early students profit immensely from contact with older fellow students, to ask them questions, learn about their environment and thus develop personally. They come into contact with very different life stories: Some of their fellow students started their studies right after school and are only a few years older. Others have already completed an apprenticeship, work alongside their studies or have already started a family. And from all of them, they can learn different things and take experiences with them. So how sensible is it to have a strict age division in school classes that primarily include people of the same age? Is it not possible to learn something from and with people of different ages? Can’t younger people develop further through contact with older people than by always comparing themselves with their age group? And can’t older people also learn something from younger people, for example about trends that have not yet arrived in their “old” age group? Why not form learning groups according to interest, regardless of age and school class?

Early study creates different structures and freedoms than we are used to at school or even at university. You are free to choose the lectures you want to attend, you can take exams as often as you like and you come into contact with students of different age, all of whom have a certain basic interest in their course of study. Of course, early students first have to learn to deal with these freedoms. But then early study also has an enormously positive influence, not only helping to orientate pupils towards their studies, but also motivating them to learn new things on their own, encouraging them to give their best and helping them to develop themselves.

At present, early study — like many measures to promote gifted students — reaches the country’s educational elite, to put it boldly, privileged children from academic families. How would it be if even more pupils could benefit from the advantages of early study, not only by participating but above all by transforming educational structures in such a way that more pupils can develop their potential and learn what they have always wanted to learn?

So far, we have concentrated primarily on labeling committed students as gifted (giftedness recognition) and providing targeted support for these chosen students (giftedness promotion). Bravo! What about creating an environment in which pupils can develop their talents as the next step? We should not wait until highly gifted students just pop up, but rather create a framework for gifted students to develop.

Early study is a first step towards a more liberal education system that values lifelong learning as a continuous process that never comes to stop by exams and degrees, but on the contrary, is encouraged by constant genuine feedback. It shows how much potential there is in pupils, and suggests that there is much more potential hidden in countless other pupils who cannot participate in early study. How about giving this potential a chance? What if school were a little more like early study?