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OP-ED: The ‘Whole Child Approach’

  • Published at 05:23 am October 25th, 2021
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Ensuring children’s growth from the inside

The “Whole Child Approach” aims at recognizing the health and happiness requirements of children with equal priority to academic results. It is an ideal way to cultivate a student’s personal and academic evolution, which is also what the top-tier colleges and universities in the world expect to see in a student’s portfolio.

According to a June 2021 study, over 10% of university students in Bangladesh have been suffering from mental disturbances induced predominantly by the Covid-19 lockdown and closure restrictions. It stated that the root of their anxiety had mostly been the thoughts of failing in their career, especially if they became ineligible for government jobs due to age restrictions.

While this data indicates our students’ stiffened dependency on academic progressions, it also unveils the sad truth that a significant portion of our youth do not consider other skills as important as their academic grades.

What’s more worrisome is that this is, in fact, a process that has been developing for decades due to several loopholes in our education system and the perceptions of those involved in it. Most parents in Bangladesh are yet to surmount the age-old exercise of stigmatization when their children fail to achieve high marks in the school exams. 

As the numbers in the test sheets become more important to them than the integrity of friendship and coexistence, children also begin to show symptoms of developing a selfish and prejudiced personality. And when this continues to happen at an alarming rate, society eventually sees lesser and lesser valuation of humane qualities that are absorbed through the practice of arts, culture, and sports.

Great films like Dead Poets Society (1989), Where is the Friend’s House? (1987), and Taare Zameen Par (2007) portray the significance of an individual’s growth from the inside, especially during the early years of their lives. It has been underlined by classic literary pieces like Chhuti by Rabindranath Tagore, that children, if not given enough opportunity to open up with their passions, soon tend to forget they had one in the first place. 

On the other hand, we see countries like Japan promoting mental health and social skill development of children with more importance than textbook-based evaluation of their fates. The first three years for every Japanese child are dedicated solely to character formation, as they do not have to attend any examination till then. Similar kinds of formats have been gaining increased attention across other countries of the world, where educational institutes take a holistic approach while delineating their youth-development frameworks. Commonly known as the “Whole Child Approach,” this method aims at recognizing the health and happiness requirements of children with equal priority to academic results.

It has been noted that when parents and teachers place their attention on the mental wellbeing of the children, academic and other results mostly tend to show positive outcomes quite naturally. 

A simple explanation behind this could be that children are more vulnerable to the adversities in their surroundings, and so when they feel more understood, engaged, and supported -- it reflects onto their overall performances.

Plus, activities beyond academics are a core part of the whole child approach. Different indoor and outdoor sports enable children to grow their cognitive and motor skills. 

Co-curricular activities enhance their expressional aptitude and propagate concerns regarding community values among the students. These also prepare them to evolve as responsible civilians with refined conscience.

Thousands of students every year try to get admission to top universities in Bangladesh. 

While only a handful of them make it to their dream destinations, others are left to wonder what went wrong with their applications.

A whole child approach is an ideal way to cultivate a student’s personal and academic evolution, which is also what the top-tier colleges and universities in the world expect to see in a student’s portfolio. Reputed foreign universities have a limited number of seats; hence, it is needless to say that only those who show the potential to create an impact in the world with their actions shall receive priority during the selection of foreign admissions and scholarships.

Few institutions in Bangladesh follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, which safeguards the values of a whole child approach, nurturing their students under precisely planned academics and beyond. IB gives equal precedence to activities beyond academics to make students more future-ready and open to competing at the global standards with a vast array of knowledge and a firm understanding of contemporary world trends.

We must create more awareness regarding the Whole Child Approach among future parents because their changes of perception might as well be the key to creating more resilient and multi-talented generations.

Syeda Sultana Razia is the Head of K-12 Bengali Department, International School Dhaka.

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