What should an holistic approach to learning look like and how do we shift the focus from the accountability measures in existence now to ones that are relevant for all students in a changing world? Please share specific case studies/examples from your classrooms, schools and communities that can inspire the rest of the world.
A contribution to the Global Teacher Blog Series
In Sierra Leone, Sports Day is a must. There may be some schools with a literary and debating society and the occasional football league but a clear focus on holistic development is far from being prioritised by most educators. It is true that when literacy and numeracy skills are so rarely fully developed, it is hard to look beyond these essentials to those things that can be considered luxuries such as the creative and practical arts and other authentic learning opportunities.
In EducAid, we are working to ensure that students encounter a real range of thought-provoking, developmental experiences and opportunities. Yes, in our independent learning materials we endeavour to provide opportunities for the development of higher level thinking and the EducAid values, but we also have a ‘Holistic Education Coordinator’ who ensures that on each site there is a range of club activities that take pride of place in the day’s timetable first thing in the morning. It is important these club activities do not get side-lined. The clubs take place during the school day and provide opportunities for engagement on a range of creative, political and ethical issues.
Some examples include:
Watch a TED talk. Discuss it – who agrees? who disagrees? who has thought about it before? is there anything we can do differently straight away to try and take up this new idea? With time, we want to start to explain our own ideas in the same sort of format and create our own EducAid Ted Talks
White Ribbon Campaign
Ensure that boys too are learning to be active in the fight for equality. Building on the ‘Men Against Violence Against Women’ agenda of the original White Ribbon Campaign (White Ribbon Campaign, 2018), we also engage our young men in challenging their thinking about unnecessarily gendered tasks, low expectations of women, biased ideas and more. Many of our boys are now proud to be counted as feminists.
Find out about different African countries, their map, their flag, their geography, their cultures, their trade, their languages, their heroes and more. Make presentations: posters, PowerPoint presentations, assembly talks about the countries that have been explored. EducAidians are encouraged to value their Sierra Leonean and African culture. In the African Society, the children learn about different African countries and the cultural wealth of the continent.
Here students enjoy the discovery side of science rather than just learning ‘facts’ that the exam syllabus prescribes by undertaking simple science experiments and practicals.
Girl Power Group (GPG)
It is important for us that our girls develop their confidence and consciousness of their value and contribution to society. In the GPG the girls learn Girl Power songs, discuss being strong women, think about how to be good sisters to each other and more.
They also learn about ‘Good Touch and Bad Touch’ so they can help each other and themselves stay safe.
Current Affairs Club
In the Current Affairs Club, the children find out about what is happening in the world and in the country. They debate the ethical aspects of different events. They use newspapers and the radio to keep up to date. From the information they glean from the media, the children prepare presentations for the whole school assembly and learn to develop and defend their views.
Music & Drama Club
In the Music and Drama Club the children learn to perform: dance, drama, music and singing. The performing arts are a wonderful way of developing creativity, confidence and a team spirit.
EducAidians also enjoy participating in global exchange projects where we can expand our thinking and understanding of the world e.g. Koen Timmers’, Human Differences Project (2017) , Climate Action Project (2017b), Innovation Project (2018) and our own ‘Democracy Project’ (Mason, 2018) where students explore cross-curricular / extra-curricular topics and learn from each other across the globe.
This is all good, valuable stuff and we know how important it is. However, we are aware that in children’s minds, in many teachers’ minds and especially in the parents’ minds, we still have an uphill battle to make sure this side of our education programmes are valued as much as the more easily-measured elements such as literacy, numeracy and subject knowledge.
In societies where education reform has taken root and been transformational, there are still some challenges with regards to being holistic when it comes to assessments. In a traditional society, where few have had the opportunity of a real thinking education, parental expectations of what being educated will look like can be traditional and one-dimensional, measured only in exam passes, certificates and traditional markers of success such as money, houses and big cars. In order to really value holistic education, we have to ensure parents are on board and participating in the development of the whole school policies and priorities but this is not easy.
EducAid have recently been training the School Management Committees and Community, Teacher Associations in the communities of the partner schools (both government and community schools) which we support.It is quite a task to create and strengthen engagement with basic responsibilities for ensuring donations, funds and food for school feeding actually reach the children, that school furniture and resources are kept in good order and that the head and teachers arrive to school on time. Getting their sustained commitment to understanding the needs of an ever-changing world and an appreciation of the need to instead prepare our children for the future instead of the past is a step beyond us at the moment except in very rare cases.
Some success has been achieved in persuading the parents of the importance of children taking responsibility for their own learning, and of being caring members of the community. We often wonder if we have genuinely achieved a change in attitude or is it just that our fees are excellent attendance, behaviour and effort requiring personal responsibility on the part of the child?
Each child gets academic stars that demonstrate academic effort, but they also earn Ubuntu stars for which their colleagues nominate them when they undertake kind acts towards each other. Maybe these are valued because a failure to value them does have negative consequences but at least these tactics have resulted in some change in the rhetoric. With continued efforts in this direction, we can achieve a shared vision of what excellent education for the future looks like while finding ways to support assessment reform that will allow for a more holistic and thus, realistic approach than the standardised testing-driven way of working that we are currently trying to navigate.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk
If you are interested in supporting EducAid’s work, please go to https://www.educaid.org.uk/get-involved/
Mason, M. (2018). MyRightMyResponsibility. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://myrightmyresponsibility.weebly.com/
Timmers, K. (2017a). Human Differences_ Global Collaboration between students over 6 continents. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://www.humandifferences.com/
Timmers, K. (2017b). Welcome to Climate Action project _ Climate Action project. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://www.climate-action.info/
Timmers, K. (2018). Welcome to Innovation project _ Innovation project. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from http://www.innovation-project.info/
White Ribbon Campaign. (2018). White Ribbon Campaign UK. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/