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Human-centred education places the human being at the heart of the educational process through an approach to schooling based on radically rethinking of the aims of education, the nature of learning and the relationships between individuals in the school community.  


Describing the ideas of Human-Centred education in terms of :

  • the aims of education
  • the character of educational processes
  • the nature of learning
  • the needs of students.


The aims of education

Educational activities have three general kinds of aim:

  1. Various kinds of social ends (economic growth, economic strategy)
  2. Academic ends (e.g. to understand how cells multiply)
  3. The development of the Individual

The living of our lives has a primary intrinsic value. Accordingly, human-centred education asserts that the development of the individual as a whole is paramount and has priority over other aims. Holistic development includes a persons' emotions and motivation, and is not simply a way to perform better academically, so cognitive development will be contextualised as being integral with overall growth in terms of well-being and flourishing.


The character of educational processes

If we normally think that only in achieving the goals of our activities do we realise the value of our activities, then we relinquish the intrinsic value of our actions to those instrumentalist values embodied in systems of 'instrumental rationality' or means-ends thinking'. This conception has the implication that our goal-directed actions are merely of instrumental value in getting to our goals, in effect that our activity must be efficiently directed only to these goals or be considered lost or wasted time. It cannot recognize that learning as an activity is itself of intrinsic value as an important part of one's lived experience and takes place during a significant period of development of the individual.
Human-Centred approaches to educational processes take adolescent lived experience into account in designing spaces and providing an enjoyable culture of learning. Young people are not empty vessels to be filled with stuff that would make them useful in some future role with specific goals. Structures and processes can encourage learners to take ownership of their personal development and to recognize and navigate themselves through the curriculum, community and culture of a school.


The nature of learning

Learning to 'be', is acknowledged as part of the process along with learning by acquisition of knowledge and skills. To this extent practice concerns itself with the development of personal qualities and dispositions such as curiosity, caring for others and inner integrity. Without the appropriate virtues or qualities, knowledge and skills do not stand by themselves; they are driven and informed by developing the sense of knowing and doing the right things in the right way. The kinds of qualities or virtues we need in academic, vocational, business and professional endeavours often overlap with those we need for everyday life. In explicitly nurturing qualities and virtues geared towards wholeness, well-being and flourishing, (though these may not be directly tested or measurable in themselves), human-centred educational processes may seek to, or include:

  • Curiousity, Inquisitiveness, Reflexivity, Motivation, Aptitude, Open-mindedness
  • Caring about connecting well with others, understanding other people, applying ethical considerations to decisions and action.
  • Caring for things of value beyond oneself; social justice, truth, beauty, the earth, the world.
  • Caring about thinking independently, creatively, critically, systematically. Applying sound reasoning. Using language with sensibility and care in thinking and communicating.
  • Self-understanding, self-knowledge, insightfulness, self-respect, how to handle negative feelings, how to live well.

Virtues and qualities such as these may vary in importance or emphasis for any given individual, culture, society or area of learning. This is why Human-Centred Education is fundamentally about the capacity of the education process and setting to adapt itself to the specific needs of the individual.


The needs of students


The handbook addresses itself to young people in secondary education. Adolescents have to deal formatively with selfhood, autonomy, peer relations, and with radical physical psychological emotional and social change. A Human-Centred Education approach is specified to help them to meet their challenges and provide opportunities for young people to flourish.


Put into Action

Some characteristics of a human-centred learning community and how to adapt your school in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, roles, assessment, environment and values. By activating such an approach we develop our practice and understanding of the aims of education, the nature of learning, and the relationships between individuals in schools as learning-communities where adults and young people are valued and respected for who they are and supported and guided accordingly.



Some characteristics of a human-centred learning Community:
  • underpinned by a culture of care and respect, mutual concern and compassion, in which people treat each other as persons rather than as role occupants.
  • a shared commitment to a way of being and flourishing together driven by a collective search for shared experience of meaningfulness in a community of learners.
  • each person feels ownership of and empowerment to contribute to the future of the school; this would require trust, a culture of listening and engagement.
  • governance is about a values-based orientation and leadership is collaborative rather than authoritarian.
  • close links with parents and others within the wider community.
  • engages with processes (such as lived-citizenship) showing young people developing their capacity and responsibility for learning
environment might include:
  • larger indoor spaces with natural light
  • green outdoor spaces
  • extensive library
  • free access to technology and specialist facilities
  • access to quiet spaces and solitary time
  Considering (re)visioning your environment as a Learning Community? please refer to the adapting your school section [below].


A curriculum for human-centred education is constructed around both the development and the current needs of any student. The curriculum will accord with the proposition that young persons are responsible for their own development. It will provide opportunities for them to find those fields and activities that fit their nature and interests. In so doing it will encourage students to be proactive in identifying their own goals and in constructing appropriate learning plans.
So that student development will be contributed to by any learning plan in an holistic way, they have an adult mentor/tutor/advisor. The mentor has the capacity to see how outcomes can be integrated with external standards. This approach is specified to take into account more directly the particular nature, talents, strengths and weaknesses of the student as a focus of the learning experience.
  • Direction time
  • Group Emotion time
  • Cognitive Development time
  • Individual Project time
  • Specialist Subject / General Knowledge time
  • Exploration time

The key element of the curriculum is 'Direction time', forming the apex of a triad with Cognitive Development time and Group time. With the guidance of the mentor any student progresses through an iterative diagnostic process towards knowing their strengths and weaknesses and identifying what they are interested in and concerned about. The student will be able to co-construct programmes within the time allocation framework for each term/semester and move forward in a personally significant way.


  For any school adapting to human-centred educational practice, as teacher, guide, facilitator or mentor, all are contributing to helping students to nurture their curiosity, caring attitude, and a love of learning.
  Teachers are developing and maintaining caring relationships with students.
  Making a safe learning environment to give students all opportunities to show a thirst for learning, sense of responsibility for themselves and to be offered challenges and guided resourcing to engage their holistic development.
  To work to the curriculum as described on this website implies the creation of three staffed roles:
  • Personal Learning Mentors :: to guide direction time
  • Professional Facilitators :: to lead emotional time
  • Cognitive Coaches :: to support cognitive development time
  There may be scope in your school to make use of the skills and capabilities of existing staff in conferring these roles. The Learning Mentor role is specified for a full-time highly attuned and dedicated individual. For more descriptive detail on these roles, please refer to the HCE handbook. [link to book]

Feedback and Review

  The regime and terminology of assessment is reformed in Human-centred educational establishments where distinctions can start to be made between various ultimate purposes for, and modes of, review and evaluation.
  Five distinct purposes/modes that assessment or evaluation are intended to serve:
  • To help students to improve themselves through education
  • To help teachers better support student development
  • To provide employers with information about the student as a candidate for a job or vocational training programme
  • To provide other educational institutions (HE and FE) evidence regarding the student as a candidate for apprenticeship or further study
  • As a measure for the government, parents and taxpayers with information about school educational standards and public accountability.
  Where the dispensation of education is intending to serve all of these ends through a single mode of assessment by examination, the priority of the learner is lost somewhat.  
  This all-out requirement to perform well in high-stakes examinations distorts the nature of learning and makes the work of the teacher onerous and stressful. Learning itself is no longer the objective, students are the instruments of the examination system so are unable to appreciate the intrinsic value of the learning process.
  For suggestions on how to reshape the way students’ learning is assessed and reviewed, please refer to the Handbook and [Learning Portfolio pdf].

Adapting your school


  The extent to which a school can adapt to a human-centred approach will depend on its material resources, its human capacities and other factors. Some schools may feel that they would like to and can implement a human-centred model as completely or as fully as possible. Other schools may feel that their situation requires a more cautious or step-by-step approach perhaps because of the policy climate within the country or region or because of a lack of resources.
  To propose adaptations then in terms of three distinct levels of engagement:
   Minimum adaptation :: Values-based Approach At the simplest level, implementing the HCE approach requires systematic institutional reflection on how the school might create the conditions for student holistic growth, asking what do the values and principles of HCE mean for our school? At this initial level, we can provide guidelines that help an institution to understand what such a transformation would mean practically for the school.
   Intermediate adaptation :: Flexible Approach If a school wants to put human-centred education into practice without engaging in major structural changes then we propose certain changes in the handbook that take as a given the schools existing educational framework. This level of engagement allows for cumulative improvement rooted in deeper educational thinking.
    Maximum adaptation :: Whole School/Holistic Approach This approach aims at implementing human-centred education in all aspects of the school’s practice. In our handbook we provide an integral vision for human-centred education, which can be integrated fully within a school community.

Depending on the level of commitment, shifting to a Human Centred approach may involve:

  • Understanding and internalising human-centred values
  • Sensitising and training the school team
  • Re-designing the school
  • Getting the entire community on board
  • Sustaining human-centred education through research
  • Humanising the educational system
  For more detail on what this might look like in practice please consult the HCE handbook [link to book] or contact us [link] for more information.