What global education systems can teach us about transforming education for holistic student development

The transformation of education systems is a hot topic, as pressing concerns about the equity, quality and purpose of education – amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic – have spurred interest. These concerns will take center stage this week in the United Nations report Transforming Education Summitwhich will further develop a growing global agenda to transform education since the founding of UNESCO.

One problem, however, is that the policy appears to be more focused on the effects of the pandemic on students’ academic development than on their holistic development. For example, in June 2022, a coalition of elite global political actors released a report detailing the dramatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global ‘school poverty’, which measures the proportion of children who cannot understand simple text by the age of 10. While the report discussed the need to address the psychosocial health and well-being of students in response, it was primarily aimed at accelerating the development of students’ literacy and numeracy skills. In the United States, the September 2022 release of the results of the National Education Progress Assessment also fueled political discourse on the dramatic decline in students’ academic development in reading and math, particularly among students historically underserved. Yet much of this discourse again lacked commensurate attention to the dramatic consequences of the pandemic on students’ holistic development, including their socio-emotional well-being.

While it is clear and urgent to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ academic development, the need to address its effects on students’ holistic development is equally clear and urgent.

Over the past year, we have had the opportunity to discover what education systems around the world can teach us about transforming education for holistic student development. Our exploration began by asking ourselves what it would take to build education systems that develop each child as their own parents would. We focus on the journeys of seven education systems, located in high-, middle-, and low-middle-income countries with democratic traditions, as they center their work on the whole child. This includes national initiatives in Singapore, Ireland and Chile; provincial, territorial and local initiatives in Canada, India and the United States; and a transnational initiative within the framework of the International Baccalaureate. All seven systems operate within policy contexts demanding measurable gains in student academic learning, and none seeks to compromise academic rigor. Yet all seven aim further by supporting the intellectual, physical, emotional, social, cultural and moral development of students. These systems are also committed to ensuring that all students, regardless of their circumstances and backgrounds, learn and develop in schools in ways that affirm their personal and cultural identity. Although different in many ways, the seven systems show remarkable similarities in their efforts to (re)build education systems to support holistic student development.

Consider the (re)construction of the education system for holistic development as a process and not as an event

A key lesson from our cross-national comparison is that the (re)construction of the education system is a process, not an event. Specifically, system transformation involves three interrelated and overlapping key areas of system (re)construction work for holistic student development: manage environments, build infrastructure, and integrate infrastructure into practice (Figure 1). These three areas of system building unfolded cohesively across the initiatives of the seven systems which otherwise varied in terms of the level at which they operated, their unique historical, societal and political contexts; and their different visions to support the holistic development of students. Below we summarize these three areas of work and the lessons learned from our comparative study. We encourage readers to refer to our full report for a more detailed discussion and case studies.

Manage environments

Building the education system requires system leaders to carefully nurture and manage their institutional and technical environments to build support for holistic student development among diverse stakeholders and create the partnerships essential to support such transformation. Building the education system requires attention to potential differing and contested beliefs about equity, academic rigor, and holistic development. Sometimes policy makers, educators and community members need to recognize and deliberate on differing views on the purpose of education. A central element of managing environments involves systems that explicitly link the values ​​of educational quality and equity to the holistic development of students.

Build infrastructure

Fostering teaching and learning for the holistic development of students involves not only ambitious vision and goals, but also efforts to build and rebuild education systems to support daily practice. If the objectives are ambitious, the efforts to (re)build infrastructure must be too. It is essential to build social infrastructures, in particular shared beliefs among stakeholders about holistic student development and its implications for teaching. Holistic student development requires embracing teaching as a situated practice that teachers and students co-produce and creating the infrastructure to support it. This places new demands on educators who must design and coordinate designs for pedagogical practice; educational resources, including curricula and assessments; and social resources such as norms and values.

Integrate infrastructure into practice

The use of the infrastructure in the daily practice of the school and the classroom is never acquired. It must be deliberately cultivated and promulgated to support the holistic development of students. Building system-wide consistency while promoting local adaptation requires systems to balance common conventions and local discretion. Systems will need to identify and build on the strengths of their current educational infrastructure while identifying areas in need of improvement. Education systems may need to dismantle old conventions that no longer meet the needs of students and break new ground by designing new relationships between curriculum, instruction and assessment, guided by values ​​for voice. students and teacher empowerment. This may require new ways to support system-wide professional learning and create systems of accountability that serve holistic student development.

Looking forward

The seven systems offer key lessons that fill the middle space between educational policy and educational practice by providing a practical framework that details key areas of work that are integral to building and rebuilding systems for holistic child development. students. To learn together about the work of building and rebuilding systems to maintain academic rigor and support holistic student development, we need new types of cross-national and collegial learning opportunities among system leaders and stakeholders at all levels. Expand the scope of the inquiry to include a wider range of systems (re)building efforts within and across countries engaged in such work, particularly in systems that are under pressure to support holistic student development while working to increase access to schooling and support foundational learning, is essential.

While it is clear and urgent to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ academic development, the need to address its effects on students’ holistic development is equally clear and urgent. The seven global systems we have focused on provide evidence that education systems large and small can transform in ways that are equally attentive to the academic and holistic development of students, as they balance technical and moral imperatives in managing environments, the construction of infrastructures and the integration of this infrastructure. in practice.