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Human-Centred Education: A practical handbook and guide

  • Global Humanity for Peace Institue


Human-Centred Education (HCE) radically rethinks the aims of education, the nature of learning, and the relationships between individuals in schools. This accessible guide presents a HCE approach to schooling and includes a variety of rich pedagogical examples. It provides practical suggestions as to how the approach might be adopted as a whole-school initiative, or else woven into particular aspects of existing school life, including the curriculum, classroom culture and feedback for learning. This handbook also illustrates how holistic educational practices, found in some alternative schools, can be introduced fruitfully into the state educational system with step-by-step guidance on how to integrate HCE into teacher training and school governance. HCE is more than a set of inflexible pedagogical prescriptions or a recipe of lesson plans. It originates from the fundamental values of care, relationship and well-being. Because they focus on measured academic performance, national policies tend to ignore deeper educational processes, such as the cultivation of qualities that are central to living meaningfully and well. HCE is an effective antidote to this, and brings to the fore a more human-centred approach without sacrificing academic standards. Current secondary teachers, members of school management and leadership team, as well as those currently undertaking teacher training will all benefit from reading this important book.
Scherto Gill & Garrett Thomson
Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace
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Box 2.1 Bishop Park College’s purposefully designed community p.28
Box 2.2 Building trusting learning community at the Bina Cita Utama School p.29
Box 2.3 Colegio Amor nurturing a culture of caring in the school community p.31
Box 3.1 An illustration of using Learning Agreement p.39
Box 3.2 An example of experiential component of Group Emotional Time p.42
Box 3.2 An example of group discussion p.46
Box 3.3 An example of cognitive development checklist p.51
Box 3.4 Facilitating and supervising project work p.55
Box 3.5 Exploration Time at Bishop Park College p.59
Box 5.1 Teach-Hub suggestions of alternative evaluative tasks p.90
Box 5.2 Madeley Court School’s Personal Record of School Experience p.92
Box 6.1 Appreciative inquiry seeking the teachers’ strengths p.101
Box 8.1 Building human relationships through teachers’ life-story sharing p.124
Box 8.2 Developing relational way of learning p.127
Table 3.1 Sample weekly timetable p.61
Table 3.2 Sample weekly timetable for an individual student with subjects p.61
Table 5.1 Four levels of feedback for the student p.84
Table 5.2 Different forms of feedback for teachers p.87
Table 8.1 (Re)Visioning processes p.120
In this handbook, we present an approach to schooling that radically rethinks the
aims of education, the nature of learning, and the relationships between individuals
in schools. We call this approach ‘human-centred education’, a vision that places the
human being at the centre of all educative processes.
Human-centred education (HCE) respects the person as a whole, and values the
holistic growth of the individual. It focuses on empowering young people to live rich,
meaningful, flourishing lives both whilst at school and throughout their adult lives. It
nurtures their personal qualities and dispositions, such as their inner integrity and
Human-centred learners are emotionally literate, independent, knowledgeable,
resourceful, insightful, creative, inquisitive, open-minded, caring young people,
committed to and prepared for shaping a flourishing future for themselves and for the
world around them.
Throughout this handbook, we offer you, as a teacher or school leader, the
opportunity to see what a human-centred approach to education might mean in
practice. It can be adopted as a whole-school initiative, or alternatively, the approach
may be integrated into particular aspects of a school’s life, for example informing
curriculum, pedagogy, classroom culture, and learning feedback and review.
Taking a human-centred approach does not require that a school abandons public
exams, nor that teachers work longer hours. It is a systemic change that comes
about when individuals reconceptualise education from a more human perspective,
caring for the development of the person as a whole. Once this fundamental shift in
our conception has taken place, the rest will follow naturally.
The Human-Centred Education team at the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace
are here to provide ongoing support and consultation for schools and learning
centres, and offer in-school training and residential training in different countries.
The idea of human-centred education arose from nearly two decades of work by the
Guerrand-Hermès Foundation (GHFP). During this time, the GHFP supported
educational projects and schools worldwide, organised international conferences and
symposia, and conducted research in education. From these various experiences,
the GHFP team asked itself: ‘How can good holistic educational practices found in
some alternative schools be introduced fruitfully into the state educational system?’
This question seemed particularly pertinent regarding state secondary schools. The
current worldwide mainstream secondary systems can be oriented towards exams,
grades and measurable results, sometimes at the cost of deeper educational
processes. Young people are often unhappy at secondary or middle schools, where
childhood ends rather abruptly. At the same time, they are going through huge
personal changes, which could be an opportunity for genuine transformation. For
these reasons, we felt that it would be more beneficial and challenging to direct our
question specifically towards secondary schooling of children between the ages of
14 and 18. In answer to the question above, we launched a research into young
people’s experiences in English secondary schools and summarised the insights in
Rethinking Secondary Education: A Human-Centred Approach, which was published
by Pearson Education in 2012 (Gill & Thomson 2012).
Whilst working on the ideas, values and concerns that ideally ought to motivate a
secondary educational system, we found that the phrase ‘human-centred education’
captured the essential meanings central to our thought and the innovative practices
that we had observed.
Structure of this handbook
We wrote this handbook to help individuals and institutions put into practice the kind
of educational vision advanced in Rethinking Secondary Education, which derives
from the fundamental values of care, connection and well-being. We believe that
state-run education at secondary level can become more human-centred without
sacrificing academic standards, and this handbook suggests practical ideas for how
this can be achieved.
Unlike some school-based innovations, HCE is more than a set of inflexible
pedagogical prescriptions or a recipe of lesson plans. As we will illustrate later, the
handbook represents some rich pedagogical insights, including practical suggestions
for institutional pathways.
Since, in some regards, the human-centred vision of education that we have
developed is relatively new, we will present a brief outline of the theoretical
grounding which underpins our approach in the first chapter. In the rest of the
handbook, we attempt to show how the new theory impinges on and transforms
The handbook is divided into eight chapters:
Chapter 1: Introduction to human-centred education
Chapter 2: Nurturing learning communities
Chapter 3: A framework for a human-centred curriculum
Chapter 4: Human-centred pedagogy
Chapter 5: Human-centred approach to learning feedback, review and educational
Chapter 6: Becoming a human-centred educator
Chapter 7: Educational Governance
Chapter 8: Integrating human-centred education
Appendices: Further Resources
Although our focus has been primarily on the English secondary education system,
we believe that the practices described in this handbook are applicable to other
contexts. This is because they concern the principles upon which education should
be founded.
It is important for the reader to understand that HCE is a vision for a state secondary
system as a whole. We are well aware that a school may find it difficult to put into
practice fully the human-centred approach when the national or regional policy
environment is hostile to any attempt to divert the focus away from exams and
grades. Therefore, the handbook shows how to adapt HCE ideas to this kind of
institutional context as far as possible given that the system isn’t human-centred.
At the same time, we hope that those who support HCE values and approaches will
engage in national politics by advocating for policies that are more equitable and
centred on the needs of young people. Without sufficient budget allocation, it is
impossible to make HCE accessible to the wider society. Indeed, the more
disadvantaged the children and young people, the more pressing the need for HCE.
As we discuss in Chapter 5 of this handbook and in greater depth in Rethinking
Secondary Education, narrowly focusing on preparing for and passing exams is an
impoverished educational model that does not serve our young people’s needs nor
support their development. By focusing almost exclusively on measured academic
excellence, national policies usually ignore deeper educational processes, such as
the cultivation of qualities that are central to living meaningfully and well.
Chapter 1: Introduction to human-centred education
In this chapter, we will explain briefly the core principles of human-centred education.
We will preview:
The main ideas of Human-Centred Education (Section 1.1)
The nature of human-centred learning community (Section 1.2)
The human-centred approach to curriculum (Section 1.3)
Human-centred pedagogy (Section 1.4)
Learning feedback and review (instead of assessment) (Section 1.5)
Implementing human-centred education in schools (Section 1.6)
These headings are used to organise the handbook so that school leaders, teachers,
parents and students can understand the vision and ethos of human-centred
education and know how to apply such principles in their day-to-day practices within
a school. Each of these distinct elements is elaborated in more practical detail in its
own part of the handbook. For the moment in this first chapter, the aim is simply to
present the ideas. Finally, towards the end of this part, we will discuss in general
terms how schools might put these ideas into practice and give an overview of the
implementation processes.
Some teachers will be familiar with the ideas advocated in this chapter and will be
already putting into practice some of the practical proposals advanced later in the
book. The idea that schools should serve the development of young persons is not
new, and teachers have been helping students bloom for many years. This book,
however, lays out a compelling new vision for the secondary schooling system based
on principles that we argue for. In other words, we aim to articulate a well-reasoned,
systematic alternative to the standard system which will weave together some old
ideas into new patterns. For readers who are interested in the argumentation for the
claims made in this introductory chapter, please see part I of Rethinking Secondary
Education. In this chapter, we simply explain the main conclusions concerning a
human centred approach. We won’t discuss them academically. This work is a
manual and not a tract.
1.1 Human-centred education: the main ideas
The idea of human-centred education has four main strands. The first concerns the
aims of education; the second, the character of educational processes; the third, the
nature of learning and the fourth, the needs of students.
1.1.1 Aims
Educational activities have three general kinds of aim. Education is a means
1) To various kinds of social ends (such as economic growth)
2) To academic ends (such as understanding how cells multiply)
3) To the development of the individual.
The fundamental aim of education should be primarily the development of the
person as a human being understood in terms of her well-being and flourishing. This
fundamental aim is paramount over other two general educational aims, the
academic and social ends such as economic growth and social transformation.
Human flourishing takes priority over the needs of socio-economic institutions and of
academic standards, ultimately because such institutions and standards exist to
serve human life. People have primary value among all other things of value, such
as novels, factories, companies, cars and toys. This means that the living of life has
primary intrinsic value. Other values are derivative. However, this doesn’t mean that
the development of the individual always precedes other educational aims in all
circumstances. Nevertheless, it does mean that, whenever conflicts exist between
the aims, the development of the person will take the lead in shaping the standards
defined by other objectives.
Secondary education ought to be directed towards the development of the individual
as a whole. Such holistic development typically points in two directions at once:
outwardly towards caring for people, causes and things of value beyond oneself, and
reflexively towards greater self-awareness and self-direction. Thus, it involves both
greater engagement with the world, and greater care and responsibility for oneself.
‘Holistic development’ includes a person’s emotions and motivation, and not simply
as a way to perform better academically. It also means that the person’s cognitive
development will be contextualized as being integral to their overall growth rather
than simply as a way to attain academic goals, which may make little sense to a
young person.
1.1.2 Processes
The second strand to human-centred education is based on the principle that human
life has primary intrinsic value, and shouldn’t be instrumentalised. We
instrumentalise something when we treat it as it were merely instrumentally valuable
when it has intrinsic value.
This is a profound mistake inherent in everyday conceptions of rationality. Normally,
we think that only the goals of our activities have intrinsic value, and that the means
to those goals are merely instrumentally valuable. This way of thinking identifies
intrinsic value with goals, and means with instrumental value. We can call this way
of thinking ‘instrumental rationality’ or ‘means-ends thinking’ according to which we
should always be efficient in achieving our goals by minimising the means.
This conception has a disastrous implication. It implies that we should treat all our
goal-directed actions as merely instrumentally valuable in relation to our goals.
Essentially, it means that all our activities are costs. Because efficiency requires that
we should always reduce those costs, this implies disastrously that we should
minimize our activities. Think about what this signifies for learning. According to
instrumental rationality, the activity of learning is a cost that we bear for the sake of
certain goals, and which as such should be reduced to a minimum. Clearly such a
way of thinking cannot acknowledge that learning is an activity valuable for its own
sake even though it has goals. It cannot recognize the value of learning for its own
Through such reflections, we reach the important conclusion that this instrumental
way of thinking cannot recognise the intrinsic value of learning as an activity. This
conclusion can be generalized to all activities: instrumental rationality cannot
recognise the intrinsic value of any goal-directed activity. This is because it
mistakenly treats the goal as the sole source of value. It misunderstands the value
relationship between lived processes and goals.
Unfortunately, instrumental rationality is rife in contemporary society. In education, it
implies that the activity of learning only has value because of its goals. In sharp
contrast, human centred education rejects the claim that all values should be
conceived in terms of instrumental rationality. Such a claim would instrumentalise all
lived activities and processes. HCE rejects the instrumentalising of human life. This
has several implications.
First, it means that time at school is a lived human experience, and is an important
part of a young person’s current life. As such, it is valuable as an end in itself.
Adolescence is not merely a preparation for adult life. Therefore, respecting the
young person as a human being implies not treating adolescence mainly as a time to
prepare for joining a nation’s workforce and contributing to the economy. It involves
taking the lived experience of adolescents more seriously, and designing institutions
that provide a culture and spaces for young people to enjoy this special time of life.
Second, it means avoiding seeing young people simply as empty vessels to be filled
with knowledge in order to attain grades. Furthermore, the culture of a human
centred school will transcend interactions that are defined solely by roles. Roles are
goal-defined functions. We are more than such functions and the culture of a human
centred school would recognize this. In this way, such a school would constitute a
learning community, which we will explain in Chapter 2. In short, a human-centred
educational culture would not be dominated by roles and ratings.
Third, such educative processes will encourage the young people to take ownership
of the learning or development they undertake. Such processes cannot be forced
because they involve a person’s sense of self, but they do need to be guided. All of
this requires that the curriculum allocate sufficient time and the proper kind of space
to in order that such ownership can develop.
Thus, the HCE vision calls for an explicit shift from schools as controlled spaces for
receiving instruction to schools as humanising learning communities. This vision will
guide the planning, design and nurturing of learning communities, and places quality-
based processes of personal development at the core of curriculum. It transforms the
nature of pedagogy and of learning feedback.
1.1.3 The Nature of Learning
A human-centred approach challenges the standard dictionary definition of learning
as the acquisition of knowledge and skills. This view needs (at least) to be
supplemented with the idea of learning to be, that is to have qualities or non-moral
virtues. These include character traits such as the capacity to care for others and
integrity, as well as qualities related to understanding such as curiosity, persistence
and patience. These virtues or qualities are more than knowledge and skills; they
involve caring about the right things in the right way.
We argue that knowledge and skills are only meaningful for a person’s life insofar as
they pertain to relevant non-moral virtues or qualities. Without the relevant virtues,
knowledge and skills mean little. Consider what it is to be a historian or a biologist, a
carpenter or a systems designer. In each case, the role is defined by caring about
the right things in the right way; the skills and knowledge flow from those.
The same applies to being a human person. Since the main aim of secondary
education is to help young people self-develop, the qualities they need can be
defined primarily in terms of living a flourishing human life. The virtues or qualities
form part of the valuable features of our way of being. So they include the kinds of
caring that are appropriate for the full range of our way of beings. As beings who are
self-aware, capable of rationality, who connect with others, who feel emotions, who
have moral sentiments and aesthetic sensibilities- as beings of this kind and more- to
live well, we need to care in appropriate ways. In short, if education is to be centred
on human flourishing and well-being, then its main aim will be the development of
the person as a whole which requires the acquisition of a host of relevant virtues or
ways of caring.
A human centred approach will be directed explicitly towards the relevant qualities,
through processes of personal development. The idea of learning as a cultivation of
qualities is already inherent in existing educational practices, such as professional
and vocational training. Even academic learning involves implicitly the nurturing of
virtues. A scientist cares about the way experiments are designed, data is interpreted
and theories are constructed. He or she cares deeply about some aspect of the
natural world. Likewise, a historian will care about some period in the past and how it
should be described given the documentary and other evidence. In each academic
discipline, we learn to care.
The kinds of qualities or virtues that we need in academic, vocational, business and
professional endeavours often overlap with those we require for everyday living.
There is here, then, a huge underlying common ground and an immense synergy
that characterizes human-centred education. However, the fostering of qualities is
often only implicit or indirect in mainstream education, and this is in part because
qualities cannot easily be measured or tested. Test-driven instruction drives out
In many educational processes in secondary schools, the nurturing of virtues is often
only implicit and indirect. In the human centred approach, we make it explicit and
direct. In a human centred school, the institution and the curriculum will be designed
around enabling young people to go through processes of personal development
which constitutes the cultivation of relevant virtues or qualities. A human-centred
education will be designed explicitly for learning defined (in part) as the nurturing of
desirable personal qualities that are essential for a person to live a flourishing life.
Such qualities might typically include the following:
Being curious, inquisitive and reflective, and having the motivation for inquiries
and learning, and having the aptitudes and capacities to carry out investigations,
to analyse and to draw meaningful conclusions from evidence. This will also
include having an open mind, being able to listen to others, and to critically
accept those who follow other traditions or have dissimilar lifestyles.
Caring about connecting well with other people, to love and to commit to
friendship and relationships. This involves knowing how to understand other
people, and how to deal with their feelings of anger, fear and sadness. It also
involves being able to apply ethical considerations in one’s decision-making, and
being willing to and knowing how to contribute to the well-being of others, for
instance by being compassionate and forgiving.
Caring for things of value beyond oneself, such as social justice and the
betterment of the world, and having strong commitment to truth, beauty and
Caring about thinking independently, creatively, critically and systematically, and
being motivated to apply sound reasoning in formulating questions and
developing ideas. This will also require being sensitive to the nuances and
implications of language for the sake of both one’s own thinking and
communication with others.
Having strong self-understanding, including of one’s own emotions, dispositions,
talents and interests and being able to be self-respectful. This involves knowing
how to deal with negative feelings such as anger, sadness, anxiety and
uncertainty, having a joyful outlook on life, and being able to find peace in
The relevant qualities and virtues may differ between individuals because people
have varied temperaments and characters. Furthermore, they may vary between
cultures and societies. Also what counts as a relevant quality will depend on the area
of learning. However, this does not mean that the relevant qualities are purely
subjective or merely a matter of opinion. Rather, it implies that learning as the
cultivation of qualities and virtues must be an individually tailored process. It means
that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of education can only provide something superficial.
Thus, human-centred education must contain at its heart the capacity to adapt to the
specific needs of the individual.
1.1.4 Needs of students
A human centred education takes into account the current needs of students. This
handbook specifically concerns young people in secondary education. Responding
to the needs of adolescents requires maintaining a delicate balance. During
adolescence, young people tend to struggle for autonomy and a new sense of self,
form close relationships with their peers, and can often drift from their parents and
families. At the same time, they need to be supported, cared for and guided through
a time of unprecedented physical, emotional, psychological and social change.
Below we list some key preoccupations and needs during adolescence:
With an increased drive towards autonomy, often manifested in a rejection of
authority, there comes a need for more opportunities to develop self-
understanding, including an idea of one’s future life.
As they become more open to explore their inner world and to question the
nature of reality, young people need spiritual guidance and experiences, as well
as opportunities to explore and reflect. As they begin to think about right and
wrong, they will need opportunities to discuss and debate issues, and to cultivate
moral reasoning and moral agency.
As they seek independence from their families and move towards closer peer
friendships and more intimate and romantic relationships, all this indicates the
need for safe and trusting spaces for discussing feelings, emotional experiences
and relational issues. This is especially so when combined with an increased
disposition to be emotionally vulnerable and more sensitive to emotions.
Any tendency towards apathy will be overcome when young people learn to
connect to the intrinsically valuable nature of activities, to develop appropriate
appreciations and to confront challenges.
Adolescents’ craving for excitement suggests a need for diversity in their
activities, such as music, sport, arts and drama. Their tendency to experiment
with things that are novel, such as drinks, drugs or smoking, presents the need
for other channels for creativity and despair, as well as for clearer guidance.
As adolescents’ cognitive capabilities become more complex and sophisticated,
they need appropriate intellectual engagement. With such engagement, they can
strengthen their capacities to select and synthesise knowledge claims, they can
interpret and interrogate the accuracy of such claims and the plausibility of
arguments, and better navigate the information-saturated media.
This list outlines some of the needs that adolescents may have. Education must be
tailored to meet these needs and to provide opportunities for the young person to
flourish. In Chapter 3 on the curriculum, we offer some detailed proposals in terms of
how a human-centred education could be designed to meet these needs and support
the growth of the student in a caring way.
1.2 The nature of human-centred learning community
Taking a human-centred view of educational institutions is an opportunity for a
fundamental shift away from the dehumanising mechanism of current mass
schooling towards seeing schools as humanising learning communities. A human-
centred learning community is underpinned by a culture of care and respect in which
people treat each other as persons rather than as role occupants. Such a community
provides a respectful culture in which individuals relate to each other in a caring way.
Thus, school would become a home away from home for the student.
A human-centred learning community is driven by a collective search for betterment
and a shared experience of meaningfulness. It is characterised by a shared
commitment to a way of being and flourishing together. This means that the culture
of the community encourages young people to care for and support each other with
a common sense of direction.
A human-centred learning community also involves a close partnership with parents
and others within the wider community. It values the participation of parents as being
of crucial importance for the student’s development. Parents themselves may also
learn and grow as they participate in the life of the school community.
Communal life is itself part of real-life learning and collective self-reflection, dialogue
and collaboration. Through these processes of ‘lived citizenship’, the young person
develops a greater capacity to be responsible for their own learning. We will expand
on this in Chapter 2.
1.3 The human-centred approach to curriculum
A human-centred curriculum is constructed around the developmental and current
needs of the student. Its construction would not be based primarily on academic
subjects and fixed end-results or learning outcomes, though these are not ruled out.
Rather the curriculum divides into time-slots for different kinds of development. In
this way, the curriculum will indicate the kind of open-ended processes that teachers
facilitate guided by relevant principles.
Such a curriculum will respect the student as a person by taking into account their
current needs as a human being. It will also provide appropriate spaces for the
development of the person as a whole rather than simply academic and vocational
training, and even those should be modulated towards the development of the whole
In order to respect the individual as a person, the curriculum will accord with the idea
that the young person is responsible for their own development. Therefore, it will
provide opportunities for them to find the fields and activities that fit their own nature
and interests. In so doing, it will encourage the student to be proactive in identifying
their own goals, and in constructing appropriate learning plans. At the same time, the
achieving of these goals will contribute significantly to the young person’s overall
development. It will be challenging in holistic ways. Therefore, such processes need
to be guided by an adult Learning Mentor/Tutor/Advisor, and we will call this post
Mentor thereafter, who has the capacity to see how the young person’s development
can be integrated with external standards.
The human-centred approach takes into account more directly the particular nature,
talents and weaknesses of the student as a focus of the learning process. Where
possible, the curriculum will be co-constructed with the student in close consultation
with a Learning Mentor/Tutor. We illustrate how this could be done in Chapter 3 of
this handbook.
To be integral, the curriculum will be constructed in terms of the development of
relevant qualities, and not simply skills and knowledge. The development of central
qualities or virtues is bound to involve the person as a whole. It will touch and
transform the motivational, cognitive, social and affective aspects of the student’s
nature. A curriculum that focuses on the qualities and virtues of the whole person can
offer a compelling learning experience in which individuals are actively engaged with
what they have chosen to do and to learn. They are therefore more likely to become
self-motivated, resourceful and responsible learners.
Once the individual cares effectively about a) herself and her own development, b)
about the people around her and c) about some areas of human knowledge, these
cares can be translated into processes of developing the relevant sensitivities. Under
such conditions, learning the pertinent skills and knowledge will be quite natural for
most students.
In Chapter 3, we give details concerning how to design a human-centred curriculum
around a set of time-allocations, rather than the conventional design around subject
areas. In broad terms, the school week would be divided into seven groups of
1. Direction Time: These sessions are a space for the student to be guided
through the process of shaping their own personalised timetable based on their
individual interests and needs, identified together with a Learning Mentor. These
sessions provide the opportunity for the student to grow ownership of their
developmental process and to gain the self-understanding required to build the
meta-structure of their educational experiences.
2. Group Emotional Time: These sessions are intended to enable young people to
explore and share the emotional and relationship issues arising for them in the
context of a personal development framework. They are aimed at developing
young people’s capacities for caring, listening and understanding their emotions
in positive ways.
3. Cognitive Development Time: These sessions are designed to help young
people develop cognitively in the most direct way possible, without the additional
requirements of a subject area. This would take the form of small tutorial
sessions dedicated to the arts of reading, thinking, listening, writing and
4. Individual Project Time: In these sessions, each individual has time to develop
his/her own project and work on issues that pertain to their planned life-projection
and fundamental interests. Such work could include a definite project that
answers a specific question, a portfolio of art or essays, a business plan, or
various design projects. It might include work experience or simply focus on
academic work in the form of an inquiry, a long paper, or a combination of the
Specialist Subject Time/General Knowledge Time: During these periods,
students engage with subject-specific material, predominantly offered through
part lecture-style, part seminar-style classes. Teachers may also make use of
online resources for factual content, enabling them to offer more one-on-one
support to more students.
Exploration Time: During this time, students are encouraged to explore beyond
their current endeavours and to broaden their horizons. In consultation with their
Learning Mentor, the young person will determine the specific content of this part
of the curriculum. The content will not be restricted by an academic focus.
The central key to a human-centred curriculum is Direction Time. This forms the
apex of a triad with Cognitive Development Time and Group Time. Through the
guidance of a caring and trained Learning Mentor, the young person will be
increasingly able to identify his or her strengths and weaknesses, how he or she
needs to progress and what they are interested in and concerned about. This needs
to be a shared diagnostic process. From this evolving diagnostic, the student will be
able to co-construct programmes within the framework above for each term or
semester, as well as holistic learning agreements that enable the student to move
forward in a personally significant way. We illustrate how this might be done in more
detail in Chapter 3 of this handbook.
1.4 Human-centred pedagogy
The human-centred vision of education described thus far implies that teaching is a
set of disparate activities which requires different abilities and virtues from the
teacher depending on their place in the curriculum. Some teachers will be more
focused on guiding overall personal development, whilst others focus on cognitive
capacities, emotional development, or academic standards pertinent to a subject
area. Thus, the criteria for a ‘good teacher’ in a human-centred school largely
depend on the part of the curriculum for which he or she is responsible. A single
conception of a good teacher would be inadequate to capture the range of
educational processes.
Having said this, there are important commonalities and one of the most important
qualities of any human-centred teacher is the capacity to develop caring
relationships with students. Although this applies especially to the Learning Mentors,
it also pertains to all practitioners in the school who help students to nurture curiosity,
caring attitudes and a love of learning. A human-centred teacher is at the same time,
a guide, facilitator, role model and a friend.
This handbook will focus on describing the work of three important posts that support
the triad of pillars of human-centred education: the personal Learning Mentor for the
student, the Facilitator for group exploration and the Cognitive Coach.
The Learning Mentor enables the student to have a personalised education. She
helps the student forge links between the ‘bigger picture’ of his or her life and the
educational processes at school. The Mentor guides the student towards the self-
understanding required for the co-construction of a learning agreement and a
personalised curriculum. This process combines a respect for individual choice with
a recognition that students need guidance. Such a process will strengthen the
capacity of young people to choose well for the sake of their own development.
Adolescents are not always best at judging their needs and possibilities, and so,
choice requires guidance from a well-trained and experienced mentor. The
mentoring process will help the student internalise the standards that she needs to
take charge of her own development. To nurture a sense of her own development, it
is essential that the student has the space to be herself, as well as the support of a
trusted Mentor within the context of an ongoing relationship. The needed trust is not
easily built, and often takes time to establish and develop.
The work of the Facilitator is also of pivotal importance. Due to the holistic nature of
HCE, a school will have teachers who can act like counsellors, guiding the non-
cognitive development of young people. These “teachers” are group facilitators who
facilitate and guide intensive emotional sharing sessions. These facilitators construct
confidential and safe spaces in which students can share, without feeling any
pressure to do so. They lead the group sharing meetings in a way that helps the
young people to understand more deeply their emotions and their relationships with
others and to themselves.
The training sessions provided by the Cognitive Coach focus on enabling students to
strengthen their cognitive abilities. These include the arts of reading with
comprehension, listening attentively, writing well, and thinking critically and
strategically. These training sessions are important because they will enable the
student to grow intellectually and in self-confidence in ways that will allow him or her
to be more effective in other learning areas.
These conceptions of pedagogy are demanding and cannot be reduced to rules.
They require personal judgment.
A final point here. To be human-centred, an educational organisation will respect the
needs of teachers as well as those of students. This means providing space for the
development of teachers as persons, rather than just narrowly focused professional
training. The human-centred conception signifies that teachers will be able to find
well-being through their work. We will highlight some of the ways an organisation can
do this in Chapter 6 of the handbook.
1.5 Learning feedback and review
It is easy to reduce educational processes to a preparation for exams and tests, and
hence to a mere means to achieving better grades. There is increased pressure on
students to view their time at school in this manner too, and teachers and schools
often reinforce that view. Ultimately, this is deeply self-defeating. When grades
become the dominant goal, they prevent the individual from connecting with the
value or interesting features of what is being learned. In this way, the measurement
destroys what it is supposed to measure, namely the intrinsic value of the learning
process. Such an educational system can turn learning into a chore only undertaken
for a reward. It instrumentalises learning.
There are other negative implications of the focus on grades. It encourages students
to make judgments of their worth and progress in comparison with their class-mates;
while the nature of progress is that one has improved compared to one’s own past.
Furthermore, students often understand grades only in personal and judgmental
terms, and use them to label themselves as failures.
To avoid these problems, an educational system can separate out the three main
purposes of evaluating a young person’s learning:
To meet the learning needs of students.
To satisfy the informational needs of employers and other institutions.
To fulfil the need for public accountability.
These needs are distinct in nature, and can be addressed through separate means,
rather than as one grand process called ‘assessment’ that attempts to serve all three
purposes at once. Lumping learning feedback together with assessment in the
format of exams fails to respect the person because it involves testing the learners
for the sake of ends that are not theirs. In this way, the system instrumentalises
learning for the sake of the informational needs of external bodies.
In the current UK climate, schools have little choice about how they meet the needs
of employers, institutions and public accountability – standardised testing and
grading, culminating in public exams, are what is expected. They do, however, have
greater scope for meeting the learning needs of students in more radically diverse
We propose, therefore, that learners’ feedback not be regarded as ‘assessment’.
From a human-centred view, feedback from teachers and peers offers valuable
opportunities for the individual to understand their progress with regard to their own
goals, as well as in accordance with external standards. Learning feedback also
enables students to appreciate better how these standards relate to more basic
epistemological values. At the same time, a human-centred approach encourages
more active self-evaluation in terms of the individual’s own past (ipsative feedback).
This approach has four very important features:
It requires understanding the relevant standards well, i.e. what counts as good in
this context.
It embodies the idea that individuals are responsible for their own learning and
promotes more proactive motivation.
It requires critical self-reflection, an important human quality.
It encourages the student to improve relative to their own past rather than by
being better than someone else.
If the student feels intrinsically motivated by and connected to what they are doing,
they are more likely to take responsibility for their own learning. Such motivation can
be fostered by helping the student understand the general value of school and the
more specific value of any learning process and by involving him or her more directly
in identifying their own trajectories in learning. Ongoing feedback enables the
student to reflect on their experience and use reflection to guide further learning. In
Chapter 5, we will provide detailed illustration of how learning feedback might help
the student to grow holistically. Examples will be given to show how schools can
integrate more rigorous feedback in the learning process and help the learner to see
their own progress over time, to understand their talents, strengths and needs, and
to identify meaningful work.
1.6 Implementing human-centred education in schools
To guide a school through the process of becoming more human-centred, the seven
parts of this handbook provide:
An overall introduction to the concept of human-centred education including its
underlying values, key principles, conceptions of curriculum, pedagogy and
learning feedback/review (this current chapter).
Practical guidelines on building a school as a learning community, including
developing an understanding of the nature of learning community, the part that
the vision, ethos and school policies can play in creating, nurturing and
developing the community, the physical environment, and the characteristics of
the community’s life when actively pursuing a relational culture together (Chapter
Practical guidelines on developing an HCE school curriculum, which is qualities-
based. These guidelines show how the different curriculum elements interact
towards supporting the students’ experiences and overall development (Chapter
Practical guidelines on developing the pedagogical processes and outlining the
teachers’ corresponding activities to support the curriculum (see Chapter 4).
Practical guidelines on developing a system for learning feedback and learning
review including some examples illustrating how learning can be monitored
without the necessity of resorting to grades and exams (Chapter 5).
A set of ideas for developing teachers’ qualities and practical suggestions for in-
service teacher training and mutual learning (Chapter 6).
A detailed outline of human-centred approach to school governance, including
using collaborative and co-creative ways to lead and guide the school community
(Chapter 7).
Practical guidelines on shifting the school from an educational institution to a
learning community, including initiating the processes necessary for the
community to arrive at a shared vision and ethos, ways to develop policies for
implementing human-centred education, and the practical steps that the school
community needs for actively living human-centred values (Chapter 8)
Appendices charting additional resources for school and classroom use (Chapter
The situation of each school is different. Some schools may feel that they would like
to and can implement a human-centred model as completely or as fully as possible.
Other schools may feel that their situation requires a more cautious or step-by-step
approach perhaps because of the policy climate within the country or region or
because of a lack of resources.
We understand that the extent to which a school can adopt a human-centred
approach will depend on its material resources, its human capacities and other
factors. For these reasons, this handbook caters for three different levels of
1. Values-based approach (minimum commitment): At the simplest level,
implementing the HCE approach requires systematic institutional reflection on
how the school might create the conditions for student holistic growth, asking
what do the values and principles of HCE mean for our school? At this initial
level, we can provide guidelines that help an institution to understand what such
a transformation would mean practically for the school.
2. Flexible approach (intermediate commitment): If a school wants to put
human-centred education into practice without engaging in major structural
changes then we explain the desired changes, taking the school’s existing
educational framework as a given. This level of engagement allows for
cumulative improvement rooted in deeper educational thinking.
3. Holistic approach (maximum commitment): This approach aims at
implementing human-centred education in all aspects of the school’s practice.
The handbook provides an integral vision for human-centred education, which
can be integrated fully within a school community.
It is worth noting that uptake of the model for an entire school would likely require
proportionally less financial investment, as the model by nature lends itself to
widespread sharing of resources, both human and otherwise.
For schools interested in taking these ideas beyond the values-based approach,
given the resources and training required, we recommend that the school commits to
implementing a human-centred approach to a single year group for a period of three
years starting ideally from the cohort at the age of 14. In other words, the students in
this group would receive human-centred practices over a period of three years.
The school would need to dedicate sufficient time each week to specifically designed
HCE sessions for these students. This is because it is key to the HCE approach that
students have access to sufficient Direction Time to enable them to understand their
development path and its educational implications. Furthermore, without sufficient
time for emotional sharing and cognitive development, the whole idea of the growth
of qualities could become insufficiently addressed.
At the same time, we recommend that other activities in the school reflect a broadly
HCE ethos. The reframing of what education is about is very important for the
process to be successful. This reframing would need to be understood by the whole
The introduction of the HCE approach into a school consists in several discrete steps
with different members of the community which is outlined below (see Chapter 8 for
more details).
First, the school community as a whole arrives at a common vision and ethos. This
will include coming to a shared decision to implement the HCE approach at some
level of commitment. The school leadership will plan the process as a whole, and
how to involve different members of the community.
Second, given consensus on the vision for the school, the school governing body or
leadership team will launch a process of articulating some policies and key practices
especially regarding the learning experiences of the students. This process will be
ongoing and involves consultation with the teaching staff. At the same time, the
community as a whole will express its ethos or culture, which illustrates the kind of
relationships that the community would like to embody. This expresses how values
are lived in day-to-day situations including approaches to communication, spaces for
dialogue and for listening, and physical features of the school. The details of these
suggested processes are described in Chapter 2.
Third, the school will need to establish a curriculum based on human-centred
principles. This means that the core leadership team of the school will need to form
an initial proposal as how best to implement a human-centred curriculum given the
context and resources of the school. This process would need to be shared with the
teachers. If time constraints allow, students could also be involved in this process. In
Chapter 3 and Chapter 8, we recommend some guidelines for this construction
Fourth, the teaching team of the school would need to be introduced to the main
pedagogical practices of human-centred education and there ought to be
discussions amongst the staff on how to implement these given the resources, time
constraints and commitments of the school community. It will also involve assigning
specific tasks to particular individuals. There will also be a need for review and
training sessions. These aspects of HCE are covered in Chapters 4, 6 and 8 of the
Finally, it is important for the school to establish good learning feedback and review
processes for students. In Chapter 5, we will show how this might be done. We will
assume that students will still be taking public exams around the age of 16, and so
we will trim and adjust the relevant feedback processes accordingly.
At the same time, the school team will want some evaluation of how successful the
process of introducing HCE into the school has been over a three-year period, and
also at regular intervals during that period consider how to make improvements to
the process. This also will be introduced in Chapter 7.
Some of these suggested processes will only be relevant to schools wishing to
implement human-centred education on a whole-school scale. Nevertheless, it will
help those who are implementing HCE more minimally to understand how the full
implementation would look in a human-centred school. This might provide insight
concerning the ideal aspiration. In Chapter 9, there is a list of appendices providing
practical resources, relevant websites, additional literature and other helpful
examples on some aspects of human-centred education being implemented in
worldwide schools.
1.7 Conclusion
We understand that the implementation of HCE values and principles needs to be
adapted to the specific circumstances of each school and community. This isn’t
something that can be done in a pre-packaged way. Therefore, the GHFP is
committed to helping each school to engage with the ideas in a practical way given
the constraints of their school. We offer a range of support for schools who are
implementing a human-centred model, including telephone and email support with
one of our team, running HCE training and mentoring courses, and facilitating the
development of online networks enabling support and collaboration between human-
centred schools.
In addition, we also create spaces for seminars and symposia to bring teachers and
educators together in order to reflect on the challenges they face, as well as to
examine helpful case studies that illustrate how human-centred education can be
implemented in different settings.
... The attempt is to build from strengths, thus fostering hope and engagement. This focus suggests that the evaluative process must privilege appreciative approaches (Cooperrider et al., 2001) and affirm the valuable aspects of the activities and experiences (Gill and Thomson, 2016). In doing so, evaluation continues to give life to learning, enhance well-being and enrich relationships central to learning. ...
... In the case of curriculum, the major shift is away from standardization. Developments in emergent curricula are among the most prominent, along with the expansion of individually tailored curricula in forward-looking schools (Gill and Thomson, 2016). Such developments favor more dialogic relations between student and teachers, and between students and others who can support their learning journey. ...
Full-text available
School leaders, teachers, and students from around the globe voice frustration at finding themselves increasingly enslaved by exam scores, performance targets and school rankings. While aimed primarily at institutional accountability and raising educational standards, measurement-based systems of assessment have become counter-productive for teachers and students at all levels. As frequently asserted, schools are losing the capacity to engage students in meaningful learning. In countries, such as the UK and USA, test performance has slowly become the very aim of education. With mounting pressure to attain good grades, mental health problems among students have exploded in number. Teachers also suffer from the demands of standardization and the appraisal of their performance through the test scores of their students. These are among the critiques of the dominant place of measurement-based assessment in contemporary education. No doubt, learning necessarily involves and requires evaluation. The question is how to separate the evaluative process and practices from the above-mentioned assessment tradition so that evaluation can truly serve to motivate and enhance learning, as well as contribute to the well-being of students, teachers, and the broader community. Drawing from a social constructionist theory, the present chapter outlines and illustrates an alternative approach to testing and grades. It highlights the fundamental place of relational processes in education.
Full-text available
During the COVID-19 lockdown, schools are closed, exams have been cancelled, and teaching and learning are taking an unprecedented form. In this process, two realities are brought to light. On the one hand, the pandemic highlights the widening gaps in society and the part that the educational system plays in privileging students from advantageous backgrounds, and discriminating and marginalising other students who are already vulnerable. On the other hand, it also illustrates that without the constraint and pressure of exams, students and teachers are provided with an opportunity to collaborate and co-create meaningful learning experiences. In this article, the author suggests that the gaps can be addressed and the potential of innovation can be enhanced if post-COVID education is liberated from the system of production, marked by standardisation and supported by tests and grades. To move beyond the tyranny of testing, the author proposes a relational orientation to educational evaluation which is formative and transformative.
Based on a thorough review of research about South Korean school leaders and their impact on school improvement, the present chapter provides an analysis of how they lead and manage schools in ways that soften the test-oriented mindset while promoting constructive changes that seek to nurture all students’ academic engagement and wellbeing. Special analytical attention is devoted to understanding how South Korean school leaders work with teachers and other stakeholders to creatively overcome the sharp contradiction between the new visions of education that are transformative and the prevailing rigid school structure and culture that prevents true educational experimentation. The chapter concludes with discussions regarding the possibilities of broadening traditional conceptualizations of educational leadership by integrating an international comparative perspective into leadership research and theorization.
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