Holistic Education Creates “Perfect People”


By: A. Chaedar Alwasilah

Muslims believe that human beings are created by God, the best creature. Compared with other creatures, such as animals, humans are physically and mentally the most perfect. Therefore, human beings are able to control the world, while animals cannot and will never be able to do so.

However, Muslims are reminded that despite their inborn superiority over other creatures, their status or dignity could grow lower even than that of an animal. Exceptions include those who believe in God and perform noble deeds.

Throughout history, civilized people have detested greed, disobedience, ruthlessness, dishonesty, hypocrisy, backbiting and unfairness, all of which are qualities of animals.

On the surface a community seems to be managed by highly educated technocrats, politicians and bureaucrats. On the inside, however, it is managed by animal-like humans who lack commitment to the human values cherished by civilized people.

Human values, as elaborated by Chibber (2006), are truth, love, peace, the correct conduct and non-violence. All other human values such as accuracy, acceptance, attention, care of self and benevolence are basically subsumable under the five initial values. Those values are derived from the traditional values passed on from generation to generation.

For Muslims, those values are first and foremost derived from the Koran. Studies on comparative religions attest that all religions recognize and share basic values. Therefore, teaching religion means teaching students these shared values so they become true followers that are tolerant of other religions.

As explicitly stated in education laws, developments in education are aimed at developing Indonesian citizens who demonstrate faith in and fear of God, have a noble character, a mastery of science, technology and the arts and finally those who promote an advanced, prosperous and civilized society based on the state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

In other words, with respect to its aims, our national education already envisions to instill Indonesian citizens with human values. Those values are indicators of insan kamil, or a perfect and holistic people.

As is always the case, an educational movement is called for when there is a gap between ideals and realities. Holistic education is designed to bridge the gap, so that the ideals as written in the laws are manifested in daily life. To reiterate, we need a solution to turn promises into practice.

The term “holistic” is derived from the Greek root word holos, which means “whole, holy and health”. Thus, holistic education is aimed at preparing manusia seutuhnya, namely human beings who maintain wholeness, balance and interconnectedness throughout their lives. There are at least four dimensions to seeing how this balance should be maintained.

First, a physical-spiritual dimension. Through biology and physical education students learn about themselves and how to develop physically, while through religion students learn how to live in line with religious teachings. Most importantly though, religions should educate students how to live in harmony with people of different religions.

Second, an individual and social dimension. Humans are individual as well as social beings. Through social studies, students learn about themselves and others, and how to interact with others in a healthy relationship. Frequent brawls among school students represents asocial behavior and indicates an imbalance of individual and social dimensions.

Third, a cognitive and affective dimension. Through mathematics and science, students develop their intellectual capacities. Through the arts and cultural studies, students learn to develop and control their emotions, to see beauty, to experience awe and some sense of a different type of truth.

Fourth, there is a local, national and global dimension. Students should learn about their own language and culture. Character is built first through the first language and catered by the first culture.

Social studies teach students how to appreciate similarities and differences among ethnic cultures. Recurring interethnic conflict across the country shows that relevant school subjects have failed to serve their mission.

The four dimensions outlined above are maintained in the existing curriculum. The elementary curriculum, for example, includes the subjects of religion, civic education, Indonesian language, math, science, social studies, arts and skills, physical education, local content and self actualization, which is an extracurricular program.

In middle and high schools, the subjects above are taught more in-depth, each with a different emphasis depending on the student. In other words, as far as school subjects are created and distributed, our K-12 education should have accomplished the mission of holistic education.

In theory, the current education system is holistic already. But why is it called forth now? It’s like a fire brigade attempting to stop a fire. There is some evidence that national education has failed in many respects. Balance, wholeness and interconnectedness seem to be missing in the present system of education.

To conceptualize the mission of holistic education, there are key concepts to reflect on as follows. First, each person finds meaning and purpose in life through a connection to the community and to the natural world. Learning inside the class but staying away from the community and nature is not holistic at all.

Meaning is lost when knowledge is obscure and inaccessible. The hardest job of all for teachers is to make meaning clear and readily available inside and outside the classroom. Experiential learning is the most effective phrase to capture the concept of genuine meaning-making.

Students should be made sensitive to social problems related to poverty, natural disasters, human rights, social justice, multicultural issues, sustainable development, global warming and so forth. It is such sensitivities that make school subjects meaningful.

Second, holistic education emphasizes the attainment of humanitarian values such as compassion, truth, love, peace, proper conduct and non-violence. These values are not like irregular verbs to be memorized.

Rather, they are to be lived and experienced by the students through activities inside and outside campuses.

To make holistic education operational, it is imperative that the curriculum be not just a list of subjects to be learned. Rather, it should take the form of all experiences designed for students under the auspices or direction of the school.

The term “holistic” suggests an integration of theory and practice; form and content; cognition, effectiveness, and psychomotor activity; intelligence, emotional and social quotients; spiritual questions; kinesthetic, linguistic, musical, logistical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalistic and visual intelligence; and approaches, methods and techniques of teaching. To be holistic those values are to be exemplified by all teachers, regardless of their subjects.

Muslims are reminded by the prophet Muhammad’s saying that his main mission, as God’s messenger, was to refine the character of human beings. Or put another way, to qualify insan kamil, characterized by the aforementioned attributes, reminiscent of a view that Whitehead (1957) once held: The essence of education is that it be religious.


Notice: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper The Jakarta Post in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday, 28 January 2012. It is also able to be searched at: www.thejakartapost.com [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 31 January 2012].

Prof. Dr. H. Adeng Chaedar Alwasilah is professor of education at UPI (Indonesia University of Education) in Bandung and is a member of the Board of Higher Education.



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