Introducing holistic education to a new generation of international students
As Ziwei Luo herself is the first to explain, there is nothing new about ‘educating the whole child’. What is new, however, is the growing appeal of this approach for Chinese families. Here she suggests that with the right support, students from families unused to a holistic approach are able to develop skills that allow them to thrive beyond the classroom.
In Chinese circles, it’s easy to think of holistic education as a buzz word. For those who experience it and are prepared in the right way, however, it’s much more. In my opinion, as educators, we have a responsibility to integrate a broader framework into the education experience and equip children with the necessary skills to flourish in life. Afterall, learning isn’t confined to the walls of the classroom – learning opportunities abound in all manner of contexts and the development of softer skills like confident problem solving, and teamwork are often key to future success.
Introducing the approach
The implications of this approach need careful explanation to parents, who may express a preference for holistic education, but who are more used to a teacher-centred, instructional and didactic approach. They still expect a child’s knowledge base in the core subjects of science, language, maths, and social studies to expand. What has to be carefully explained, however, is that ‘traditional’ knowledge can be acquired by individuals as and when required. The skills, however, that employers really value, and those that are present in well-rounded people, are the skills that inform the ability to deploy this knowledge with the application of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Mix in interpersonal skills like communication and an awareness of others and you have a recipe for future success.
Embarking on a mission to develop the whole child, I explain how this broader approach addresses the interconnectedness and interdependence of students’ development with life outside the classroom. This has been particularly important for our international students at our centres in the UK as they prepare to enter the British education system. The careful development of ‘softer’ skills, while widening the scope of education, has allowed students to adapt to a new environment and prepare them for entry into a UK school, where a holistic approach to education is the norm, not the exception.
We explain how our framework is underpinned by three key values: holism, nurture, and globality, each of which have been chosen to encompass the personal development of skills like empathy, confidence, and self-reflection among our students. Our approach needs getting used to – but, as we argue, it will ultimately lead to longer term success . . . and happiness. Once students and parents understand what’s going on, in my view, good things follow.
Focusing on developing the whole child, I believe it is essential to guide the growth of students not only in terms of traditional academic success but also in developing their confidence, logical and lateral thinking, cultural awareness, and empathy. Subsequently, in addition to academic study, it’s important to provide a range of opportunities and activities for students to engage with and foster these skills.
Flexing a broad range of skills, activities could include public speaking programmes, current affairs education, and outdoor education opportunities. Regularly delivering these types of programmes ourselves, we have witnessed our students emerge from their shells and make great strides in self-confidence and self-advocacy.
Encouraging students to try new activities together has also proven to be a good way of improving social interactions and resolving interpersonal conflict – skills that are vital for their success both academically and otherwise.
In addition to providing a wide range of non-academic activities, ‘nurture’ is another important aspect of developing the whole child. What is entirely new for many families, is a recognition that each student develops the attributes we value in different ways and through different manifestations. They need nurturing. It is, therefore, important to keep these differences in mind when designing extra-curricular activities to ensure that each student’s unique qualities and aptitudes are properly developed.
The extensive methods available to discover the most effective learning methods can prove overwhelming, but after seeing our students thrive, discovering their passion for learning, and beginning to push their own boundaries, it is an investment I strongly recommend to families without hesitation. Children can find fulfilment in sport, poetry or drama and this diversity has allowed us to expose our students to unfamiliar situations that test their comfort levels and improve their resilience while also helping us, as educators, understand what best nurtures their curiosity and lifelong learning.
The third pillar of the whole child approach which I advocate to parents and students is developing an understanding among pupils that they are not alone in this world – that beyond the classroom and their echo chamber is an incredibly diverse set of opinions and experiences. Growing up in an increasingly interconnected world, I believe that a central tenet of our students’ education is cultural empathy and sensitivity.
For our students, this has most successfully been achieved through social action programmes with local charities, and an expedition programme we call the ‘Grand Tour’ to experience, and understand, other cultures, and gain a greater understanding of social issues through a series of mini-salons, for example on the subject of climate change. Volunteering in local communities helps pupils not only gain a greater awareness of their new community but also develop a sense of empathy for those in more challenging circumstances – for example, recognising their duty to extend kindness and understanding the concept of social responsibility.
Entering the world of holistic education can be something of a shock for some young people and their families when they don’t really know what to expect or are unprepared. Get them off to the right start, however, while explaining what’s going on, and there’s no holding them!
Ziwei Luo is the founder and CEO of Belmore Education, a transition school for international Chinese students entering the British education system.
Feature Image: ernestoeslava – Pixabay
Other Images: By kind courtesy of Belmore Education and Alexas_Fotos, Gellinger & sosinda – Pixabay