"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, May 8, 2017

Educating the "Whole Child"

In 2006, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) issued the following call to educators, policy-makers and parents:
"We call on communities—educators, parents, businesses, health and social service providers, arts professionals, recreation leaders, and policymakers at all levels—to forge a new compact with our young people to ensure their whole and healthy development. We ask communities to redefine learning to focus on the whole person. We ask schools and communities to lay aside perennial battles for resources and instead align those resources in support of the whole child. Policy, practice, and resources must be aligned to support not only academic learning for each child, but also the experiences that encourage development of a whole child—one who is knowledgeable, healthy, motivated, and engaged."
It is indeed ideal and soundly attractive but educating a "whole child" is a tough call. First and foremost, it requires "whole" educators. ASCD knows very well that this call requires a total overhaul of the educational system. More than ten years later, the success of a school is still measured by scores in math and literacy. A chapter in a recent report, The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, focuses for instance on how various curricula in preschool affects a child's performance only in math and literacy:

JADE MARCUS JENKINS AND GREG J. DUNCAN. Do Pre-Kindergarten Curricula Matter?
A Chapter in The Current State of Scientific Knowledgeon Pre-Kindergarten Effects

Jenkins and Duncan wrote, "Despite the widespread use of whole-child curricula, existing evidence appears to indicate that they are no more effective at boosting school readiness than the assortment of activities that early childhood education centers develop on their own." They even added, "Taken by themselves, whole-child curricula have not been shown to boost children’s skills in either socioemotional or academic domains." The verdict from evidence-based research is indeed crushing.

The problem, in my opinion, is not "whole education". The problem lies in how freely we call a curriculum a "whole-child curriculum". Even the Department of Education in the Philippines touts its new K-12 curriculum as holistic:
Multispecialist- K to 12 education gears for the holistic development of learners. In developing the whole child, various learnings and experiences must be integrated. For this, teachers must be multispecialist, that is, they must be knowledgeable not only in the subject area they are teaching but in other areas as well so that they can help the learner build up what they gain in classrooms and outside the school and make sense of what was learned.
At least, what is required from teachers to deliver such a curriculum is well spelled out above. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the above is simply wishful thinking. The curriculum matters. DepEd K to 12 curriculum is not of high quality. Curricular implementation matters. With this, learning resources can make a difference. And lastly, teachers do matter.  Educating the "whole child" means that teachers "must be knowledgeable not only in the subject area they are teaching but in other areas as well..." Unfortunately, as the staff of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank says in a report on Basic Education in the Philippines
"With the exception of English at the elementary level, the average elementary or high school teacher could answer fewer than half of the questions on the subject content tests correctly. Since these tests are closely aligned with the curriculum, the results suggest that teachers face significant challenges in teaching a considerable portion of the current curriculum."



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