The Key to a Holistic Approach to Education: Mental Health

Education, since long, has been a tool to bring about change, but traditional methods of teaching have proven to be less than effective; often failing to create independent thinkers and healthy learners that can contribute to society. Therefore, to bridge the gap between purpose and result, more schools and educators are looking to reshape the way students learn. And the answer that the world agrees on is holistic education.

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In our hearts, we all know that education is much more than memorising information. To that end, holistic education better aligns with what we imagine education to be, i.e., a tool to enable better practical outcomes. In formal terms, holistic education is a personalized and well-rounded method of student development that is rooted in experiential learning and revolves around the relationship between learners and their environment. Education needs to have a holistic approach because it helps children do something useful with their information base while catering to their well-being.

Holistic education has become the need of the hour as it helps children develop academically, socially, emotionally and physically. It aids the creation of a safe space for children to grow and learn. The children are given the attention they need in an environment that is inclusive and open. However, considering the various obstacles that students face on their paths to success (expectations, depression, stress, to name a few), there is a certain aspect of holistic education that deserves greater emphasis – mental health and the priority given to it.

As an educator and parent, my entire philosophy of education has developed from my observations and personal experiences. Kamal, my younger brother, loved football and had the gift of the gab. I watched him score bottom-of-the-barrel grades and even fail in his higher secondary exam twice. Today, he runs a successful company. In those days, when we were growing up in Australia, we could not afford to buy the bubble gum that offered free football cards. These cards would have information about a footballer and Kamal desperately wanted to get his hands on them. But my mom could afford to give him only one. This lack of money triggered what could have remained a dormant and unexercised skill of negotiating and trading. Starting with one player, Kamal would trade for two less valued players, eventually owning a hundred, including the original one he started his ‘business’ with. Now, my younger brother leads a company due to his street-smart negotiating capabilities and the gift of the gab he developed while doing football commentaries. In mentioning this, I don’t mean to state that one does not need to apply oneself academically. Instead what I would have liked was a schooling system, similar to a holistic approach to education, that would have helped my brother develop socially and emotionally, and used his interests to teach him and further his talents.

I believe that an education that only educates the brain and not the mind, soul, heart and spirit of children is a system that fails students. Providing children with the right environment as early as possible is important for their physical and mental health. Additionally, the development of one’s emotional quotient is directly responsible for inculcating habits of success.

Mental health plays a critical role in the development of students. Schools need to work towards enabling children to feel completely secure, mentally and emotionally, besides physically. Priority should be given to emotional and mental safety in schools. Every child should be allowed to question and express himself or herself in a non-threatening environment. Additionally, education should help children become confident individuals, and to do that, it should improve their self-esteem and self-belief. By promoting mental health, schools can enable a state of well-being where students can meet their learning potential, cope with stress, and openly connect with their friends and community. Doing so facilitates social and emotional competence and helps in building resilience.

These days, mental health has become a major concern with regards to a student’s well-being; this focus is primarily due to the evident increase in stress and depression amongst students. However, mental health can play a much larger role in student success as well. The improvement in a student’s frame of mind and self-belief can directly result in better communication, increased focus in class and better performances in tests. Mental well-being helps students understand themselves and subsequently helps them improve themselves. That being said, a lack of it can result in diminishing energy levels, concentration and learning capabilities in students, which is why mental health has become a hallmark of holistic education. It is the platform on which holistic education rests and that which supports a student’s drive for success.

Mental health plays a critical role in the development of students. Schools need to work towards enabling children to feel completely secure, mentally and emotionally, besides physically. Priority should be given to emotional and mental safety in schools. Every child should be allowed to question and express himself or herself in a non-threatening environment.

Lina Ashar is an author, entrepreneur and educationist. She grew up in Australia but came to India in 1987 and became a teacher in Mumbai. However, she was appalled by the straight-jacketed approach of the education system, which ‘robbed’ children of their childhood. Her experiences as a teacher are what set her on the journey to transform the face of education in India.

Today, she is the founder of two successful school chains; the Kangaroo Kids Education Limited (KKEL) and Billabong High International Schools (BHIS) and has authored two books on parenting; ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ and ‘Drama Teen.’