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Five Foundations of a Holistic Curriculum in the 21st Century

A holistic school education is designed to prepare students for the challenges of a vibrant future.

By Kavita Sahay Kerawalla

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

As today’s students graduate into 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 conflicts spurred by geopolitical influences and persistent global issues such as terrorism and climate change, all of which will impact their personal and professional lives. The psychological, social and emotional challenges presented by the pandemic and an accelerated pace of change caused by changing technologies will further aggravate their situation.

Fighting all of this while leading a successful and satisfying life will require great resilience from our students. This highlights an indispensable need to teach them mechanisms focused on the development of social, emotional, technological and innovative capacities and ethical sensitivities, which will prepare them to face the future life. Since traditional school systems may not be equipped to meet this need, it behooves us as educators to develop a holistic education system for our children.

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

A holistic curriculum reduces each subject to its core concepts as mentioned in NEP 2020 section 4.5. This leaves room for critical thinking and more learning based on inquiry, discovery, discussion and analysis. Such a program is generally characterized by 5 fundamental qualities:

Interdisciplinary integrated learning approach

An interdisciplinary and integrated approach promotes the integration of concepts and ideas from several fields. It helps dissolve the boundaries between conventionally separated disciplines and addresses real-life situations in classroom learning. This gives students insight into how to apply consolidated knowledge of various subjects to solve real-world problems.

Over the long term, an interdisciplinary approach ensures the balanced development of a child’s skills in key areas – sensory, perceptual, cognitive, linguistic, social-emotional, creative and physical.

Stimulate creativity

The idea that creativity is only about paint and crayons has long been debunked. This way of thinking is, in fact, as essential for those working in science, technology, engineering, and math (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 the extent to which it has been exposed to creative styles of learning and thinking. The classroom is the perfect place to start.

Enrichment programs, visual stimulation and activities focused on developing creativity in students contribute to long-term success in the areas of expression, innovation and problem solving, as well as to faster and more effective learning.

Focus on developing 21st century skills

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

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

Although some students may take time to adjust to the program and this new way of learning, they will eventually feel able to ask questions, seek answers, and think more critically.

Integration of regional languages ​​for better learning

A child’s learning begins at home in his mother tongue and he is often not introduced to other languages ​​until he arrives at school. This can slow down the learning process. A holistic learning program recognizes that continuing education in one’s native/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 language of instruction.

The curriculum of a holistic education system is designed to ensure more effective educational outcomes by teaching effectively in any given learning environment. Teaching in the child’s native language will improve learning outcomes.

Stimulating the development of cognitive skills through multimedia

A young child’s brain undergoes many changes depending on its environment and the experiences it goes through. During the early years, a child develops functions such as language and cognition, which create the basis 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 the classroom rewarding and justified. Games, photos, videos and interactive technologies support effective learning in formal education settings.

The use of media in the classroom also allows children to experience vicariously places and events far beyond their normal setting.

Besides these key foundations, the importance of a qualified teacher and excellent teaching techniques employed by the school cannot be overlooked when designing a holistic educational program.

A holistic school education is designed to prepare students for the challenges of a vibrant future. This is done not only through a school curriculum, but also through the engaging and nurturing classroom environment that a qualified teacher can create. A qualified teacher can lead innovation in pedagogy as well as course content, ensure effective delivery, and ensure students are introduced to age-appropriate multimedia, exercises, and activities. This makes teacher training and development an essential part of a holistic teaching program to keep them abreast of changing student needs and changing industries.

All of this will contribute greatly to the benefit of the citizens of tomorrow.

(The author is Vice President, Ampersand Group. Opinions expressed are personal.)

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