Challenging the False Dichotomy: An Evidence Synthesis

Effective holistic approaches within education systems lead to improved academic, health, income, employment, societal and well-being outcomes. Their impacts are lasting, and their effectiveness spans high- to low-income countries. Their results are felt most strongly by those that need it the most. Such approaches make for smart financial investment, and they have led consistently to improved long-term life outcomes.3 Despite this, the wider institutionalisation of holistic practices in education systems remains the exception rather than the rule.4 This, in part, can be attributed to the misperception that a trade-off exists between supporting academic development versus holistic development, the “false dichotomy” that is being challenged within this synthesis. In fact, holistic child development incorporates, and is deeply intertwined with, academic rigour. Beyond academic outcomes, holistic approaches have a compounding positive effect over the course of a person’s life. The consistent finding from the literature is that a holistic approach is a powerful driver of success and important buffer against adversities. Evidence behind these claims is both robust, consistent, and increasingly representative of diverse contexts. Part of the challenge is that education systems are complex, with many competing interests and voices. However, in searching for a common ground in areas of critical concern for key stakeholders, four patterns of outcomes emerged. The patterns of evidence corroborate the hypothesis that, by supporting the holistic development of children, we can increase academic achievement, support children to overcome adversity, deliver wide-ranging societal and social consequences, and realise clear economic benefits

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LEGO Foundation, Porticus
Jacobs Foundation


Research and Evidence
Social and Emotional Learning