Insights | More than a numbers game – Learning beyond grades
17 April 2019
Holistic education is a term used widely and frequently in the brochures and websites of international schools all over China. While there is no shortage of authoritative articles written on the theory behind this educational philosophy – its structures, key elements and benefits both academic and otherwise – it is a concept with a wide range of different interpretations. Still maintaining strong links with its founding school in the UK, Wellington College International Shanghai has emulated the group’s historical commitment to educating the whole child, while taking inspiration from its own experiences as an international school. The result is an approach to teaching and learning that encompasses more than just the discrete numbers of assessed academic achievement. Rather than discussing the theory, four pupils from Wellington will describe the reality of what their education looks and feels like on a daily basis. Equally importantly, they describe what their experiences have given them in terms of character development, self-exploration, preparation for future challenges, and more.
Florian – year 9Moving up from year 8 to year 9 – from Prep to Senior School – is a big adjustment. I’ve started studying my chosen subjects for IGCSE, which represents my first major decision about the direction I want my education to take. However, I feel it’s a challenge that I’ve been well prepared for as I enter my third year here at Wellington. When I arrived at the College, I realised that there were so many things that I could try out, and I felt that it was important to explore as much as I could, to find out what I liked and what I cared about, not just what I thought I was good at. That’s how I got involved in the performing arts, something I hadn’t tried at all at my previous school. Last year, I auditioned for the part of Kurt in The Sound of Music. I quickly discovered that I love performing, and being a part of a performance that involved people from lots of other year groups. We look up to the older pupils a lot, so it was great to act with them, talk to them and work together to create something we were all extremely proud of. I think this experience also helped me in my daily studies and another important part of my school life last year: being Head Boy of the Prep School. In both cases, I was more confident in my ability to speak up, share my ideas and work with others to achieve something special. I worked very hard with the Head Girl, Kayla, to lead the prefects in our whole-school project of encouraging sustainability by reducing the consumption of paper while increasing its recycling. More than anything, holding this position taught me the importance of taking responsibility for my actions and trying to make positive changes wherever I can. It wasn’t always easy, but I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to be a role model and leading by example through showing our College’s values and standards of behaviour. It’s a privilege to be offered so much at school, so to me it seems natural to want to try everything. In the coming years, I want to try out for bigger, more involved roles in productions and maybe positions of leadership too.
Seren – year 8Last year, when I was the Deputy Head of my house, I liked helping everyone working in a team to come up with projects that would make the whole college a better place. The house system means a lot to me, I think that goes for everyone at Wellington. In each house, year groups are mixed together, so everyone can make friends with people they might not otherwise get to know. You have a special place in the school with its own identity but without feeling apart from your friends in the other houses. I feel this most during house competitions and events: everyone thinks their house is the best and wants to win, but we also want everyone to do well and have a good time. The house system has given me the confidence to try new things I might not have considered, like House Debating. I signed up because I like talking (a lot!) but also listening and thinking about the best way to express my ideas convincingly. It’s good to test yourself because you can learn and develop new skills. Last term, I played volleyball, something I hadn’t got involved in previously because I thought it would hurt my hands. I tried it and now volleyball is one of my favourite hobbies. I realised that I shouldn’t let any negative ideas or worries get in the way of trying something new when given the chance. This academic year, I became the Prep School Head Girl and it’s helped me work on my communication and teamwork skills. Being a leader is challenging when you don’t know what people want, so you have to figure out how to understand them, listen to their ideas and work together to find the best solution. I think it’s helping me become a better communicator and a better person. All of these experiences have taught me that if you have interests, you should find ways to explore it further without waiting to be asked. For example, when we had an Alan Turing-themed week, I really liked the idea of cracking codes, so my friends and I asked our maths teacher if we could set up a cryptography club. He helped us get started by setting a cryptography challenge with house points for the winner!
Francesca – year 11Before coming to Wellington I didn’t particularly engage in sports but when I arrived the extensive facilities and opportunities available really encouraged me to dive in. Very quickly, my sporting interests extended beyond volleyball to include netball, football and swimming. I’ve captained various teams and this year I became a sports scholar, which has been an amazing experience, particularly the leadership element where I am expected to mentor younger pupils during their matches and training sessions. It’s only been a month but I’m already loving the chance to learn how to capture their attention and focus – it’s very satisfying and it helps me think about how I can improve my own sporting and academic performance. Being a scholar means that I have certain expectations that I have to live up to. I have to attend all of the meets. I have to train. I have a monthly bursary that I am expected to allocate and spend wisely on equipment and opportunities to improve my sporting abilities. It’s a big responsibility but it helps me maintain my focus and dedication. The College’s sports trips and tournaments are another great opportunity for me to challenge myself as an athlete and a leader. The best I’ve had so far was a netball trip to Beijing. Dozens of teams came from all over world, and it was clear that everyone was there to improve and learn from each other while also enjoying themselves. As a sports leader, I always try to help my teammates strike that healthy balance between enjoyment, competition and self-improvement. It’s been a great learning experience for me to lead by example and always keep my head up, no matter the score line. Sport is also a big help with my studies. After a session, I always feel like I have so much energy and I can actually get stuff done! It gives me confidence, relieves stress and I sleep better with a clear head. I have exams coming up soon, so I’ve planned my training sessions for the morning to start each day the right way. I’ve learned through sport that dedication counts for a lot, in school and in life. If you care about something, you have to approach it with all of the energy and determination you can muster. That’s what I’ve been taught and something I feel will help in my future.
Zehra – year 12Sixth form is a very exciting time because you can sense that everything you’ve been learning for years is building towards the start of your adult life. However, tests, homework, exam preparation – it all equals stress! To alleviate that stress, it’s essential to have a good outlet, or several ideally. That’s partly what has driven me to become involved in a wide range of activities throughout my time at Wellington, including sports teams, musical productions, playing the violin and various pupil leadership positions. Looking more long-term, beyond the stress-busting effects of working out different parts of my brain through different activities, I’ve discovered that it’s better to not focus on just being an exam robot. It’s not good for your sense of wellbeing and it doesn’t help with future aspirations for top universities, who look for well-rounded pupils who have pushed to explore their capabilities and limits, rather than concentrating on academia alone. I want to study medicine and I know from my own research plus all the advice the College has given me that it’s a very intensive course, one which requires its students to demonstrate an ability to cope with the pressure of challenging real-life situations alongside a heavy academic workload. I feel that the opportunities I’ve been given at school have already helped me prepare for this career path a great deal. Additionally, my intention of going into the medical field means I will have to be understanding with people of different ages and backgrounds, who all have different needs. Fortunately, I get the chance to do this now through daily experiences in and out of my lessons. The inclusive nature of the house system, as well as big collaborative events like musical productions and off-campus excursions, has exposed me to a wide range of ideas, perspectives and friendships across the year groups. Not only is this good preparation, it’s also made for some of my favourite memories of my time at school. Equally importantly, I’ve been given practical experience of what it’s like to care for people receiving medical care. Through the College, I’ve become involved in volunteering at a heart-to-heart hospital where I spend a couple of hours each visit playing with children who are either preparing for heart surgery or are recovering from a procedure. It’s shown me the reality of caring for vulnerable people who need help while also supporting their parents and families through a very difficult time. This experience is every bit as valuable as my biology lessons.
Personal exploration meets real-life preparationAt Wellington, pupils are receiving more than the ability to recognise, absorb and reproduce knowledge. They are taking risks, tackling challenges and assuming ownership within a supportive environment with the understanding that it is okay to fail so long as they learn from the experience. Each activity, project and exploration that they take on is a chance to purposefully engage with something they may enjoy and benefit from. It’s not about keeping pupils busy, it’s about encouraging them to commit their time and energy to and discover things that genuinely interest and excite them. Wellington’s experience is that the most academically successful pupils are those who take advantage of the opportunities the College has to offer. There’s a strong correlation between pupils who make more academic progress and those who feature in the cast lists of school productions, the sports teams, the musical ensembles and the leadership positions. This demonstrates how living school life to the fullest not only encourages the positive development of pupils’ character, it also actively supports tangible academic success. Equally importantly, it provides pupils with the chance to find purpose both within the classroom and beyond it. The original version of this article was published in Shanghai Family Magazine.