Key HCE Ideas

The aims of Human-Centred Education

Human-Centred Education (HCE) respects the person as a whole, and values the holistic development of each individual. It focuses on empowering young people to pursue a rich, meaningful, flourishing life during adolescence and throughout their adulthood. It focuses to nurture those core personal qualities and dispositions that make us more fully human, including inner integrity, relationships with others, and care for the world at large. HCE asserts that the development of whole persons/human beings is paramount and should have priority over other general educational aims, such as students’ academic excellence, a country’s economic growth and a society’s transformation.

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 human qualities, such as the capacity to take responsibility for oneself and to care for others, as well as qualities such as those relating to understanding, including curiosity, persistence and patience. Without these qualities, knowledge and skills can mean little. This is because personal qualities involve caring about the right things in the right way and they are central to a holistic view of human development.

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 a subject 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 a tailored process. It means that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of education can only provide something superficial. Thus, HCE must contain at its heart the capacity to adapt to the specific needs of each student.

The needs of students

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 challenged, supported, cared for and guided through a time of unprecedented physical, emotional, psychological and social transformation. Education must be tailored to meet these diverse needs and to provide opportunities for the young person to flourish.

The characteristics of educative processes

HCE is based on the principle that human life has primary intrinsic value and shouldn’t be instrumentalised. This has a number of implications in terms of educative processes:

First, it means that adolescence is not merely a preparation for adult life. Therefore, schooling is a lived experience and an important part of a young person’s current life. As such, it is valuable as an end in itself. Thus schools must provide a culture and spaces for young people to enjoy this special time of life.

Second, it means that students cannot be treated simply as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge and information in order to attain grades. Instead, HCE encourages students to develop proactivity in the pursuit of learning and to be responsible for their ongoing personal development. 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 in order that young people can develop proactivity and responsibility.

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 recognise this. In this way, such a school would constitute a learning community.

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 relationships, and place qualities-based processes of personal development at the core of the HCE curriculum. It transforms the nature of pedagogy and of learning feedback and review.

Humanising Learning Community

Taking a human-centred view of educational institutions affords an opportunity for a fundamental shift from the dehumanising mechanism of current mass schooling towards developing schools as humanising learning communities.

A human-centred learning community is underpinned by a culture of respect and genuine concern for the well-being of each person. In a learning community, students, teachers, school leaders and parents treat each other as persons rather than as role occupants. As such, schools can provide a respectful culture in which individuals relate to each other in a caring way. In this way, a school would become a home away from home for the student.