The Importance of Choice in Education

Sara Cowden-Roe, B.A., M.A., B.Ed., OCT

As a teacher of international students, I have been privileged in helping students grow into the Ontario education system, which sometimes can be very different from the ones they have come from. One of the main differences is the idea of choice. Watch the video or continue reading below to learn more about why choice is so important in building successful students. 
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When it comes to education, there is nothing more valuable than having the opportunity to choose what you want to learn.  This is why students in Ontario are able to choose their course selections according to their personal interests and academic pathways; indeed, choice in learning is stressed and encouraged as the best way to find a successful life path. From a teacher’s perspective, forcing students to learn all subjects, no matter if they have aptitude or passion for them or not, is counterintuitive to creating life-long learners.
Watch the video or continue reading below to learn more about the benefits of learning life skills, beyond academics, while still in high school. 


A common question from parents of high school students is: How can I motivate my student to study? It can be a difficult hurdle to face, and one that may stop a student from ever progressing to their full potential. However, giving the student some flexibility in what they study is a way to combat lacking motivation. Choice can be a powerful motivator because it gives some control and agency to the student in their academic journey. Once they are no longer forced to study subjects they are not interested in, or do not have the aptitude for, students are able to find intrinsic motivation to focus on the subjects they actually like and are interested in. Suddenly, studying and learning in general is no longer a chore but rather a purposeful exercise. Choice does this.

Lowered Stress

Naturally, this lowers stress for many students. No longer are they fighting against themselves, and often their parents or teachers, to complete courses that they are not interested in or have the aptitude for. Instead, they have the space to show their full potential as students in subjects that they enjoy, or are curious about, or for which they have a strong aptitude. They transform from the struggling student to the flourishing one. With the stress of trying and often failing to achieve better grades reduced, students have the mental energy to reach further than they have before in their academic progress; they hopefully even have room for extracurricular activities or personal hobbies that otherwise would have fallen to the wayside because of the need to study difficult subjects.

A Focus on the Future

There is a misconception that students need to be skilled in all subject areas in order to have a secure and successful career. Many educators would argue this mindset does the opposite. Students who have to devote their energy to all core subjects, and try to achieve high grades in those subjects, do not have the time to focus on what they actually want to study; they might not even know how to make that choice. Without that, dedicating themself to a fulfilling and well-matched career is challenging. By having the choice of what subjects to study while in high school, students can find their interests, delve deeper into those subjects, and become experts in them during post-secondary. Alternatively, they may discover the subject is not for them and have the freedom to change their study path. All of this is for their future, teaching them to think about what they want, what they can do, and who they want to become. It is empowering the student.

Necessity of Guidance

There is, however, an important point to consider when you have choice in education: the need for helpful and knowledgeable guidance. Students may know what they want to study, but that does not mean they know how to transform their interests into a successful pathway. Ontario education puts a lot of emphasis on career education and guidance counselling throughout high school to help guide Canadians on their pathway. Unfortunately, international students are disadvantaged in this because they are often working their way through ESL courses and focusing on language acquisition instead of truly understanding the content of these career or guidance classes. Here is where the necessity for appropriate, targeted guidance comes in. If you are an international student studying in a country where they do not speak your language, you need a guide in that country that A) does speak your language, and B) understands that country’s education system to help guide you through your choices.

From a teacher’s perspective, choice in education is invaluable to helping students grow their learning, critical thinking, and personal intelligence. Enhanced motivation, lowered stress, and clarity for the future are all benefits having this choice brings. With the proper guidance through their choices from experts in pathways, international students can experience the same empowerment of choice that Canadians feel. The future is up to you!