Can we reimagine school beyond the limiting notion that the primary task of schools is limited to narrow academic achievement? What would a school look like that emphasises whole-child development instead? How could health become an essential 21st skill that all children should learn in school? These are some of the questions that led us to write a Discussion Paper titled “Reinventing Australian schools for the better wellbeing, health, and learning of every child”.
Researchers and practitioners across disciplines have been connecting the dots between children’s wellbeing, health, and learning outcomes long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Future-oriented and child-focused experts in education and health understand that schools hold great potential to optimise these connections, providing better and more equitable futures for all Australians. But how to do so has been missing the mark in Australian schools.
Big change is never easy. It can take time, but it is possible. It becomes more likely if we all work together to build the momentum for change. Though system change is needed, we can all work together now rather than waiting for a new law or reform for permission. We believe that joining the efforts of experts working on improving lives of children in different sectors is a good way forward. The Health, Wellbeing and Learning in Schools Project is a partnership of the Melbourne University Graduate School of Education and the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Our Discussion Paper launches a campaign that invites key stakeholders to take the following actions to make this whole child vision in Australia come true. We invite everyone to join us and offer them the following tasks:
For parents: Think about what and how school could be in the future if it provided all children with what it takes to live a good life. Share your thoughts with your neighbours, friends and colleagues. Choose one concrete thing you can do to make that change happen.
For education authorities: Start conversations with one another and other stakeholders about what changes might better support a whole-child approach in Australian schools.
For policymakers and authorities: Consider how you would start to evolve systems using school innovation design approaches that enable new models to be co-designed and tested outside the current policy restrictions.
For journalists: Write and tell positive and encouraging stories highlighting the benefits of a whole-child and whole-school approach.
For schools: Think about what you’re doing that already supports a whole-child approach and what could be done differently to support that approach as a whole school.
For community leaders: Connect and collaborate with your local school/s.
For students: Think about how you would change your school to better benefit the health, wellbeing and learning of all and what action you can take to make that change.
We suggest shifting the core purpose of school from primarily focusing on academic intelligence to equally focusing on learning, wellbeing, and health for optimised whole child development. This change would enable schools to be multi-opportunity communities designed to build a healthy foundation for lifelong success.
Five key principles support our vision and are outlined in greater detail in the discussion paper:
- A whole child and whole school approach (organising principle)
- Co-designed, evidence-based and flexible learning and wellbeing approaches
- Health and wellbeing as essential 21st century skills
- Building an engaging culture of health, wellbeing and learning in school
- Relationships and partnerships between services, families and schools in every community
Now is the time to reinvent the purpose of schooling, and focus more on the whole child’s health, wellbeing and learning; and giving every child the whole school experience they deserve for healthy childhood development and lifelong flourishing. We can all be involved in this conversation, and in actualising this vision.
Research team is: Professor Sharon Goldfeld (MCRI), Associate Professor Jon Quach (MGSE/MCRI), Cecilia Sinclair (MCRI), Caitlin Senior (MGSE), and Professor Pasi Sahlberg (MGSE). Link to the project website is HERE.