Five underpinnings of a holistic school curriculum in the 21st century

A holistic school education is designed to prepare students to meet the challenges of a dynamic future.

All of this will go a long way to benefit the citizens of tomorrow.

By Kavita Sahay Kerawalla

“Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” This quote by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General reminds us that despite the challenges in the education sector caused by the pandemic, it is imperative that we recognise education as the way to get us through this crisis.

As the students of today graduate school to enter higher education and the real world, they will grapple with increased competitiveness, new technologies and workplaces altered by the Covid-19 pandemic. They will also witness cultural conflict spurred by geopolitical influences and persistent global issues such as terrorism and climate change, all of which will impact their personal as well as professional lives. Psychological, social and emotional challenges presented by the pandemic and an accelerated pace of change caused by evolving technologies will compound their situation further.

Combating all these while leading a successful and satisfying life will require great resilience on our students’ part. This highlights an indispensable need to teach them mechanisms that focus on developing social, emotional, technological and innovative abilities and ethical sensibilities, which will prepare them for dealing with life in the future. Given that traditional school systems may not be equipped to cater to this necessity, the onus lies on us as educators to develop a holistic education system for our children.

A holistic education system comprises a wide range of pedagogical practices and philosophical orientations that aim to include significant aspects of human experience into education. It helps bridge the gap between traditional educational systems and the current needs. While the concept of a holistic education is not new, the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) highlights the need for it once more. The fourth section of the policy states that the aim of education will not only be cognitive development, but also building character and creating holistic and well-rounded individuals equipped with the key 21st-century skills.

A holistic education curriculum reduces each subject to its core concepts, as mentioned in section 4.5 of NEP 2020. This makes space for critical thinking and more enquiry, discovery, discussion and analysis-based learning. Such a curriculum is usually characterised by 5 core qualities:

Interdisciplinary integrated learning approach

An interdisciplinary, integrated approach promotes the integration of concepts and ideas from multiple domains. It helps dissolve the boundaries between conventionally segregated disciplines and addresses real-life situations in classroom learning. This provides students with an insight on how to apply knowledge consolidated from various subjects to solve real-world problems.

In the long run, an interdisciplinary approach ensures the balanced development of a child’s skills in key domains – sensory, perceptual, cognitive, linguistic, socio-emotional, creative and physical.

Fostering creativity

The notion that creativity is just about paints and pencils has been long debunked. This mode of thinking is, in fact, as critical for those working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, as it is for the arts and other disciplines. Creativity is considered one of the essential traits of innovative employees. The success of tomorrow’s workforce depends on how much exposure they have had to creative styles of learning and thinking. The classroom is the perfect place to begin.

Enrichment programmes, visual stimulation and activities focused on developing creativity in students help drive long-term success in areas of expression, innovation and problem-solving, as well as aid faster and more effective learning.

Focus on development of 21st-century skills

21st-century skills are abilities such as collaboration, communication, technology and information literacy and critical thinking. Students will need these skills in order to succeed in a business environment that is highly dynamic.

By using strategies such as allowing students to lead the learning, creating an enquiry-based classroom environment and encouraging collaboration and critical thought, teachers can nurture the development of 21st-century skills in their students.

While some students may take time to adjust to the curriculum and this new way of learning, they will eventually begin to feel empowered to ask questions, seek answers and think more critically.

Integration of regional languages for better learning

A child’s learning begins at home in their mother tongue and they are often introduced to other languages only when they come to school. This may slow down the learning process. A holistic learning curriculum acknowledges that continuing education in one’s mother tongue/ regional language ensures faster learning and retention.

The United Nations also recommends bilingual or multilingual education as a strategy to achieve equitable, inclusive and quality education by 2030. NEP 2020 also highlights the effectiveness of having one’s regional language as the medium of instruction.

The curriculum for a holistic education system is designed to ensure more efficient education outcomes by teaching effectively in any given learning environment. Teaching in the child’s mother tongue will boost learning outcomes.

Boosting the development of cognitive skills using multimedia

A young child’s brain undergoes many changes, depending on his/ her surroundings and experiences he/ she goes through. During the first few years, a child develops functions such as language and cognition, which create the foundation for acquiring higher-order functions, such as reasoning, consciousness, emotions and problem solving.

Exposure to various multimedia during these years strengthens neurological connections, making the strategic use of multimedia in classrooms enriching and warranted. Games, photos and videos and interactive technologies support effective learning in formal education contexts.

The use of media in classrooms also allows children to vicariously experience places and events far beyond their normal ambit.

Apart from these key underpinnings, the importance of a skilled teacher and excellent teaching techniques employed by the school cannot be overlooked, when designing a holistic educational curriculum.

A holistic school education is designed to prepare students to meet the challenges of a dynamic future. It is done not just through an academic curriculum, but also through the engaging and nourishing classroom environment that a skilled teacher can create. A skilled teacher can lead innovation in pedagogy as well as course content, ensure effective delivery and make sure that students are introduced to age-appropriate multimedia, exercises and activities. This makes teacher training and upskilling a critical part of a holistic education curriculum in order to keep them up-to-date with changing student needs and evolving industries.

All of this will go a long way to benefit the citizens of tomorrow.

(The author is Vice Chairperson, Ampersand Group. Views expressed are personal.)

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