As part of a new series of thought leadership articles from educators around our global community, this month, Dr Simon Camby, Group Education Director, gives valuable insight into the fundamental backbone of our Cognita education; a holistic education. 

What do we mean by holistic education?

Throughout our Cognita global community we have been considering what makes a great school. We are a global system with over 100 schools in 16 countries. What does that mean? Massive diversity. This is what makes Cognita such a fascinating and brilliant place to be part of. There is always something to learn, always a new perspective and often something that blows your mind!

As part of our framework that guides the work of our schools, we use the term ‘Holistic Education’ as our ambition for each of the schools in our community.

Why holistic?

We intentionally chose the term holistic education.

Education is closely commented on by many across the world. Many of these commentators take an ‘either/or’ stance. For example, citing the absolute need to focus on content knowledge rather than skills; or the need to focus on social and emotional learning rather than academic development. We take a clear line that these types of argument are often reductive and overly simplistic. We firmly believe that we need to move away from ‘either/or’ to ‘and’. Students need x and y, not x or y. Moreover, our students deserve x and y.

We define holistic education as that which…

… blends social, emotional, physical and cognitive learning. This leads to strong academic outcomes, agency, an adaptive mindset and positive attitudes to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Effective holistic education is rooted in the concept of self-efficacy, a belief that ‘I can’.

Based on this we see the relationship between different types of learning. For example, we know that students need to feel positive about themselves in order to make strong and rounded academic progress. In other words, seeing the symbiotic relationship between social and emotional learning alongside academic and cognitive learning. Sometimes people use the term ‘soft skills’ when talking account social and emotional learning. In fact, they are far from ‘soft’ – they often unlock many other types of learning. There are no trade-offs here, they are ultimately connected.

We base our view of holistic education on the need to ensure that we nurture our students to develop a strong sense of self-efficacy and, ultimately, to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals.


Within our global community, we work with schools in 16 countries, with 12 curricula, 7 languages of instruction and 14 different assessment systems. For us, education is not complicated, it is complex. Diversity matters and there is no ‘one size fits all’. We take comfort from the words of Professor Dylan Wiliam…

[in education] ‘everything works somewhere but nothing works everywhere’

We know that success in each school is closely linked to deeply understanding the needs of the school community and ensuring that the promise to students and parents is lived and breathed. In essence, context matters – a great deal.

Guiding questions

  • What does holistic education mean to you?
  • What does it mean for your community of learners?
  • How do you evidence your delivery of holistic education?

Perhaps you can use these guiding questions to spark a conversation in your school today. Alternatively, share your thoughts on social media, tagging us @CognitaSchools or by using our hashtag #CognitaWay.

We are pleased to share this short video featuring Eromie Dassanayake, Head of Early Years at the Australian International School (AIS) in Singapore, as a case study of one of our brilliant schools embracing Holistic Education for our students. Eromie shares insight on what Holistic Education means at AIS, how it looks day-to-day and how the team at AIS define how they are delivering on the promise of a Holistic Education for our students. Thank you, Eromie!

Hear from Luiza Sassi, School Director at Instituto GayLussac in Niteroi, Brazil as she explains what a Holistic Education looks like at her school. Luiza has worked at GayLussac for over 37 years and she shines a light on the student-centric approach and the importance of the school’s infrastructure in providing an outstanding holistic education to over 1500 students. Thank you for sharing, Luiza.