Educating the whole child in the 21st century: where or when does learning end?

Educating the ‘whole child’ has long been an area of keen interest for teachers and parents around the world 12. However the rise of the GERM model across the world, led by the systems of the USA and UK, but increasingly affecting Australia, New Zealand and parts of Canada, has caused global educators to search again for an alternative to the high stakes test strategy . One such leader is Pasi Sahlberg, who travels the world extolling the virtues of the Finnish education system, with its whole-child approach, in contrast to those promoted in other parts of the western education world.

However, beyond this debate over the merits of learning experiences versus test-measured processes, lies the reality of the student’s experience within and beyond the school day. Whatever the pedagogical construction of the school or the values displayed in the school’s balance of curriculum and assessment, the child’s innate learning continues. Yet, if we do not attend to the child’s whole learning experience, beyond 3pm, we leave unattended some of their most valuable learning moments.

Of course, some provinces and states have already allowed for this oversight. Shanghai’s results in the PISA tests have been questioned by some and it is certainly true that of the children that were included in the tests, considerable out of school hours tuition was undertaken to the extent that one wonders whether the test indicates quality of schooling or simply cultural/parental/socio-economic work ethic? Whatever the case, this sort of tutor based attention to out of hours learning experience is not what I am concerned with in this post.

Instead, I am interested in the incidental effects of online activity that many children engage in at some point in the day. In the video clip below, Nicholas Carr talks about the importance of having some reflective time away from technology to allow the crucial memory consolidation that is required to deepen understanding and embed learning (see more here). Those of you who follow my blog regularly will know what a passionate advocate I am of digital learning, however, I suggest that in this technologically infused world, there is a new spin on what it means to educate the whole child. Whilst technology is undeniably a powerful learning tool, the opportunity to stop, reflect, think and mull over aspects of our learning can be compromised by the proliferation of beeps, tones, vibrations and pokes that emanate from our technology. In this sense, educating the whole child means considering the patterns of behaviour that they should nurture across the whole of their conscious time, both in and out of school. Learning to intersperse intense short bursts of activity with time for reflection and assimilation applies to mental, physical and digital activities.

Without doubt, a 21st century learning environment should place at arm’s length a wide range of technology, and the skills to use them appropriately, so that students can use technology to maximise their global impact and also to interact with the global community. In that sense of ‘arm’s length’ I mean that technology should be within easy and ubiquitous reach.

However, technology must also be at arm’s length in a very different sense, in so far as the learning experience of children should not always be open to intrusion by technology. Sometimes as learners we just need to be able to dwell on a difficult or intransigent problem, and that is very difficult to achieve if our electronic companions are constantly distracting us.

Only if we get the balance right between close and distant proximity will we effectively support learning in its technologically enhanced and reflective wholeness.


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