Hierarchy of Needs: the Student Version

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In the time I have been in education, which is almost 15 years now, there has been a constant focus towards addressing student needs. To date it seems we have not met these needs, as they keep increasing and are becoming more and more demanding. Hence there needs to be a structured framework to address the students’ needs in order to provide an inclusive and holistic education to students. But even before creating a framework it is necessary to find out what do students in today’s classrooms actually need.

Recently while teaching motivation theories to the grade 11 students in my business management class, we created a student’s hierarchy of needs very similar to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy is based on the student’s perspective of needs, hence, what is coming next, take it with a pinch of salt!

  1. Physiological needs: International school students have demanding physiological needs, it is much more than just food, shelter and clothing. A few examples cited by students themselves; the canteen needs to serve at least 5-6 types of international cuisine; the internet needs to be high speed preferably 5G; there has to be access to world-class facilities like a multi-function gym, heated swimming pools, etc; the freedom to wear anything but the uniform; the devices like laptops, phones, ear pods, have also made it to physiological needs that need to be satisfied.
  2. Safety needs: In a school, there cannot be any compromise with safety, all safety needs must be met. Access to counsellor, nurse, doctor, health and safety guidelines, fire drills, are some of the needs met by the school to ensure child safety and protection. While schools are sweating it out with the ever-increasing need for safety and security, it still isn’t enough. As for the student’s perspective safety means no bullying, no discrimination, no negative body image, no cliques, no harassments, and no ragging. These needs are more demanding and urgent for students.
  3. Belonging needs: Probably the most important need from a student’s perspective is the need to feel needed; a sense of belonging. It is no longer limited to having confidence and good relationships with peers. Students said they need to ‘fit in’; their attitude, attributes and actions need to be ratified by peers and teachers alike, even so, because it is a diverse, multicultural environment. But the dominant culture of the international school decides the fate of the students. I use the word ‘fit in’ as that is more important to students than doing ‘the right thing’. What matters most to students to have a sense of belonging is to be accepted by student, staff and school just the way they are and not the way they have to be.
  4. Esteem needs: These are developed over a period of time when students realize their potential. In the milieu of a school, it is still necessary to perform academically above average to gain self-esteem and confidence. Even in this century after having discussed and debated and researched the purpose of schooling, esteem is still linked to grades. This level is almost impossible for many students to describe and they feel it is hard to achieve. They have varied talents and may not aspire to get the highest grades, but they do aspire to gain a sense of accomplishment. In this vicious circle of achieving high grades, self-esteem and confidence are overlooked, hence students beg to differ when esteem needs are linked with academic performance, they would rather experience accomplishment with their unique abilities in their area of interest, not limited to academics.
  5. Self-actualization: Self-actualization is required to meet 21st century needs. Students need to have critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, entrepreneurship to be able to survive the next paradigm shift. Hence students feel they need to have all the physiological, safety, belonging, esteem needs to be met to reach the best of their potential.

Hence for students to reach the highest level of self-actualisation, international schools need to meet all the needs as per the students’ perspective. It is time to prioritise student’s hierarchy of needs while creating policies to provide a truly inclusive and holistic education experience for a diverse community of international students.

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