What is a holistic education?

Having fully embraced the British independent school life, in all its holistic glory, over the past 20 years I have often found myself ‘grilled’ on this very topic by prospective parents, friends, and on social media. I do believe it to be an important question, as the extent to which the true definition of the term ‘holistic education’ is engrained within the culture of a school will, to some extent, provide something of a crystal ball illustrating the young adult that may emerge from their educational journey.

The American financier, Bernard Baruch, famously said: “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why”. Before we make decisions in life, we must first consider the ‘why?’. And ‘why?’ is the all-important question that parents should ask when considering the school with which they should entrust their most precious creation.

Why does that school do what it does?

It was during the Victorian era that many of the most prestigious independent schools in Britain were established. Indeed, our sister school, Kings College UK, was founded in 1880. The Victorians saw the creation of independent schools in England as an opportunity to produce the next captains of industry, military leaders, governors, politicians and statesmen.

Such schools were to become a vehicle for creating a governing class with the morals and attitudes of the aristocratic upper class. As we wind the clock forward to today, the focus has quite rightly shifted with the times, but there are some uncanny similarities in the aspirations of the Victorians.

At Kings College Doha, our vision reflects that of King’s College UK in the modern age: we want to develop creative, curious, caring, confident and committed young people.

As I move into my new role overseeing co-curricular provision at King’s, achieving this will require the very careful development of a holistic education that is built on the ‘why’.

I wrote a thesis a few years ago on the back of an academic research project I conducted involving the entire parent body of three very prestigious independent schools in the UK. It revealed that the most important factors in how and why parent chose the schools came down to the character development of their child.

A concern I have heard from some parents before relates to the children engaging too much with activities outside the classroom to the detriment of their academic life. I would agree that, if not carefully managed, this can sometimes be the case. However, to create young adults armed with academic ability, cultural capital, advanced social skills, emotional intelligence, and endless self-belief, young people are helped enormously by becoming highly organised in effectively juggling their abundant commitments within and beyond the classroom.

Competition, whether you agree with the concept or not, is a part of life. We compete for university places, for jobs, for promotions, for investment, to win races, to buy a popular item from a shop before it sells out, sometimes even for a life-long partner.

I believe that every competition you enter has two possible outcomes: you either win or you learn, but you never really lose. If you do end up as the ‘learner’, you will hopefully have figured out how to avoid that situation next time you enter, but entering again is an important part of the process.

My vision for the development of our elective and co-curricular offer at Kings College Doha in the years ahead is built around creating opportunities for the ongoing development of every pupil where ‘learning’ is as important as winning because without the learning the winning is unlikely to happen.

When a pupil develops this growth mindset in the swimming pool, running track, debating society, or theatre, we will all get to see this approach manifesting itself in the classroom, in pupil-led assemblies, academic societies, university interviews, and exam halls.

And then, looking further ahead, in the courtrooms, operating theatres, government debates, company launches, charity projects and great sporting feats of the future.

Mr Andrew Day
Deputy Head (Co-Curriculum and Sixth Form)