Towards a Holistic Curriculum

Global Academic Forum

15 Oct Towards a Holistic Curriculum

Significance of Learners’ Participation in Co-curricular Activities




Holistic education has become a familiar topic within current education literature but there are conflicting opinions about what holistic education represents and a single definition remains elusive.


What is holistic education?


Holistic education does not exist in a single, consistent form. It is best described as a group of beliefs, feelings, principles and general ideas that share a family resemblance (Forbes 2003:2). It is more than the education of the whole student and addresses the very broadest development of the whole person at the cognitive and affective levels. It emphasizes the education of the student beyond the confines of the classroom and moves the concept of a child-centred educational approach to a much more radical programme of education. Holistic education is the recognition and respect for the individual’s potential responsibility for health of body, mind and spirit, their own well-being, their own striving for wholeness, self-realisation and self-actualisation (Kaipanaduka 2012:121). It focuses on the fullest possible development of the person, encouraging individuals to become the very best or finest that they can be and enabling them to experience all they can from life and reach their goals (Forbes 2003:17). These experiences or achievements can be rare, special and deeply meaningful experiences for the individual or could represent a position, role or vocation that they perceive as unique or special and is an important goal in their life.


This could be described as the “vision” of holistic education. Raja Kunhan (1950:38) pointed out that, “the holistic education of ancient India involved a harmonious blending of the knowledge of the outer world (avidya) and that of the inner-world (vidya). The former, as it were, enabled a man to keep his body and soul together and the latter, i.e., vidya, the wisdom led him to immortality, freedom from all sufferings of the world of change”. The ancient Indian thinkers felt that a healthy society was not possible without educated individuals (Rao 1992:68-72). They framed the educational system carefully and wisely aiming for the harmonious development of the multiple dimensions of the human personality. This is essentially a universally applicable educational framework highlighting the purpose of human life and interconnectedness at all levels of existence as a basis of human values. In this system understanding oneself (self-knowledge) is as important as understanding the world. According to them without a deep understanding of one’s relationship with nature, with ideas, with fellow human beings, with society and a deep respect for all life, one is not really educated (Rao 1992:68-72). It also aims at developing a mind, which is rational, flexible and not dogmatic, open to change and not irrationally attached to an opinion or belief (Kaipanaduka 2012:133). The aim of holistic education must be to prepare students for a fulfilling and productive life in which their skills and attributes are constantly challenged, developed and applied as part of their lifelong learning. It is an educational journey of personal discovery starting within formal education and then continuing throughout life. The learning and life experiences are continuous with individuals gaining in different ways from the various situations and demands that they are presented with. It could be argued that this is the aim of any good educational system. This is not disputed but while there remains a predominant focus on the value of a knowledge-based educational system the advantages of holistic education will not be realized.


What are the features of holistic education?


A programme of holistic education aims to encompass all aspects of personal learning and growth and emphasizes the development of active relationships at all levels, whether these are between the subject domains, between individuals and their peer groups and communities or between the individual and the world around them. Miller (1991:3) has proposed that education may be described as holistic when it exemplifies the following characteristics.


1. Holistic education nurtures the broad development of the students and focuses on their intellectual, emotional, social, physical, creative or intuitive, aesthetic and spiritual potentials.
2. It promotes the importance of relationships at all levels within a learning community in which the educator and student work together in an open and collaborative relationship (Fritz K. Oser and Wiel Veugelers (2008:2-3).
3. There is an emphasis on life experience and learning beyond the confines of the classroom and the formal educational environment towards education as growth, discovery and a broadening of horizons. It encourages a desire to elicit meaning and understanding and to engage with the world.
4. The approach empowers learners to examine critically the cultural, moral and political contexts of their lives. It leads learners towards actively challenging and changing cultural values to meet human needs.


Holistic education has the capacity to lead the students into new areas of thinking, to broaden their personal and critical thinking and develop an appreciation of the world around them and to realize the importance that relationships have within all these considerations. Importantly, holistic education has the capacity to empower students to think differently, to think creatively and reflect on their own values. Undoubtedly, teachers would encourage their students to develop into well-educated, informed and participating members of society. This aim is accommodated within holistic education and offers teachers a framework within which to work. It also seeks to develop students actively beyond academic excellence alone. Holistic education can be associated with a number of recurring themes and values: the family resemblances that were referred to earlier (Forbes 2003:2). These values are “guidelines for personal behaviour” (Thompson 1993) and it is these personal behaviours that characterize the outcomes of the holistic approach. The behaviours reflect a range of capabilities, skills and competencies that the students will begin to develop as they emerge from a formal programme of holistic education (Hare 2006).


Holistic education prepares a student for lifelong learning in which the educational focus moves towards the life skills, attitudes and personal awareness that the student will need in an increasingly complex world. Consequently there is an emphasis on a broad educational approach that addresses the intellectual, personal and interpersonal development of the student and puts in place many of the values, attitudes and skills that will serve the student well throughout life. Such a broad development cannot be claimed by the knowledge-laden education systems that have dominated for so many years. It brings closer the realization of “learning to be” and “learning to live together” (UNESCO 1996:14). This broad development of the student must be carefully planned at the individual level and has obvious repercussions on teaching strategy, curriculum design and the assessment of progress. The evaluation of the soft personal skills such as integrity, care, consideration, negotiation and active listening has never been easy, but these are new challenges in educational assessment.


The skills and attributes will constantly be in dynamic development as various situations and scenarios present themselves in which these skills are necessary and appropriate. Holistic education calls for students to take ownership of their own development. This ownership will take different forms at different ages and levels of student maturity. Nevertheless, it is a key element within holistic education and teachers will need to be at the forefront of driving this issue and encouraging this ownership. The supportive role of the parent within holistic education is essential. The behaviours identified in the student profile will also manifest themselves outside the classroom and parents should recognize, encourage and praise such positive behavioural changes. Holistic education is a radical endeavour. The educational journey starts the process of self-actualization and self-realization through relationships and interconnectedness with other individuals, groups and the world around them is an integral part. Formal education is merely the starting point of this lifelong process.


Holistic education represents a new journey for both student and teacher and one in which both parties will grow and critically examine perhaps strongly held values and beliefs. For the educator this could be an unsettling experience; the teacher is moving out of the comfort zone of subject specialization into areas of personal uncertainty. No longer is the teacher depending on subject expertise but is guiding students in developing and examining their own values and prejudices, their critical thinking and behaviours and confronting opinions that are new to them without clear demarcation of right or wrong. Frequently this may be a joint journey of discovery for both student and teacher, with the teacher bringing their greater life experience to the learning process. Holistic education challenges teachers to think differently about student cognitive and affective development and to examine critically how they practice their skill. The working relationship between the student and the teacher changes; it becomes more inclusive, dynamic and egalitarian. The appropriate pedagogical approach will become one of active, planned interventions that are developed for students to meet their development needs. The teacher’s skills of facilitation, guidance and mentoring will feature strongly in promoting learning and understanding at both the academic and social levels. The aim is for students to understand, for example, the importance of relationships, the different ways of regarding knowledge and its evaluation, the importance of life skills and the impact that the students have on others around them.


Teachers must also examine the learning culture within their school so that it is conducive to creating an inclusive learning community that stimulates the growth of a person’s creative and inquisitive engagement with the world. The aim becomes the development of healthy, curious individuals who can learn what they need to know and apply it in any new context in which they find themselves and who are self-motivated and confident learners.


Holistic education broadens and deepens the educational process. It aims at creating a mind that is both scientific and spiritual at the same time one that is enquiring, precise, rational and skeptical but at the same time has sense of beauty, wonder, aesthetic, sensitivity, humility and an awareness of the limitations of the intellect (James Moffett 1994:111-113). It represents a planned approach that encourages personal responsibility, promotes a positive attitude to learning and develops social skills. These are essentials in the modern world in which we live. The identification of the outcomes of holistic education has advantages. These outcomes clarify the purpose of this educational approach for students, teachers and parents. Furthermore, it allows parents and students to make an informed choice when they are confronted with different educational systems.


In view of the above discussions, I would like to make the following recommendations:


1. It should be a Curriculum Policy requirement that schools make it compulsory that learners participate in at least one co-curricular activity.
2. The Curriculum Policy should explicitly make schools be aware that co-curricular activities are important elements of the curriculum and should not be treated as extra activities.
3. Resources should be made available so that learners’ participation in co-curricular activities is made more meaningful.
4. Schools should offer a variety of co-curricular activities so that given the benefits of such activities learners are able to choose activities that they are interested in.
5. Learners who excel in co-curricular activities should be given the same recognition as those who excel in other school activities particularly academics.



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