What is Holistic Education?

As the parent of a young child, you probably hear the phrase ‘holistic education’ fairly often. But what is holistic education, how is it different, and why are we, at MEplace, using it?

What is ‘holistic education’?
While the term ‘holistic education’ was coined by Jan Christian Smuts, the origin of its methods and teachings are much harder to pinpoint. Some credit Rudolf Steiner, some Maria Montessori, while others claim it was, really, the ancient Greeks who began it all. Whoever first established the concept, many of the techniques and ideals are now used in holistic education settings around the world.
The aim of holistic education is to educate the whole child, beyond standard academic skills. This means that, while skills such as literacy and numeracy hold a high level of importance, they are taught in equal measure with emotional, social, ethical and creative skills.
Through this, holistic educators hope to bring out the best in every child. Teachers in these environments will provide children with opportunities to encounter a wide range of experiences and will tailor lessons to individual needs and interests.
So why isn’t all education like this?
Holistic education sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But surely skills such as literacy and numeracy are more important - that’s why they’re the focus of education, right?
Well, not really!
The education system used today in the UK (and many other countries around the world) was developed during the industrial revolution. At the time, the country was in a state of rapid development, and in need of more educated individuals to work on factory assembly lines.
Thus, schools were created in the factories’ image. Children were batched by the manufacture date and worked in drills to the time of the bell. They learned the skills they would need to work the assembly lines - such as the ability to read, write and count. Those who were particularly gifted in these areas could go on to become managers or directors. The top few per cent - the winners of the education system - could become the politicians and academics overseeing the work of the entire country.
While, of course, schools have changed, the key focuses of the original education system remain in place. For the majority, working life is no longer set on the assembly line, but our schooling does not reflect this change.
Is holistic education the answer?
Cultures thrive off diversity. If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that we need the doctors and nurses to heal us, the farmers, lorry drivers and shopkeepers to provide us with food, the gardeners to cultivate our natural spaces, the personal trainers to motivate us and the artists to create all those Netflix shows and video games you’ve used to fill the long hours of lockdown.
Holistic education, by placing equal importance on all subject matters - from maths to art -  gives children the space and encouragement to explore the things that interest them, rather than telling them what they should be interested in. This, in turn, allows them to fulfil their full potential in whatever field they choose. In holistic education, there are no deficiencies, only differences.
Furthermore, education as we know it utilises only one key learning style: the passive accumulation of knowledge. But, as we all know, everyone learns differently. Holistic education allows children to become the agents of their own learning, actively solving problems, bringing together knowledge from different disciplines, proposing ideas, creating, interacting, cooperating… Essentially children are taught how to learn actively, as opposed to being asked to take in and retain information in order to regurgitate it onto an exam paper.
And this ability to proactively learn is incredibly important. In a world where we can google anything, dry knowledge becomes obsolete, while skills are paramount. For example, as Dr. Stuart Brown notes in Play (Penguin Publishing, 2010), when NASA, JPL and Boeing interview for new researchers and problem solvers, they ask candidates about how they played as a child. This practice began after they discovered that, no matter their qualifications, candidates who, as children, had not used their hands to explore - pulling things apart and putting them back together again - were unable to solve complex technical problems.
Here at MEplace, we want to give every child the opportunity to become their best self, expressing their individuality and learning to respect and appreciate the people and world around them. This is why we have opted for a holistic approach, focusing on social and emotional health, and encouraging every child to love their ME.

If you’re looking for more information on this subject, or if you just fancy a good laugh, I highly recommend this TED talk by the wonderful Ken Robinson.
Content Creator @MEplace

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