Happy Schools. Happy Children. =)

chalkboard-1264200

In the recent times, there has been an awakening in the education sector across the world, global forums, the government and the society that children are beyond just students. At the policy level, there is a steady growth in the acknowledgement of children’s social, emotional and psychological needs that mold them both as learners and as children. However, this renewed approach is very gradually seeping at the implementation level.

School-going children spend a vast majority of their day either in school or engaging in school work or conversation outside the school. Schooling is increasingly loaded with “marketable” items, parents’ comparisons & society-driven aspirations and assessment-driven teaching by under-skilled teachers. Children’s minds, spirits and bodies are evidently weighed down – literally and figuratively -by schooling. This, in fact, completely contradicts the impact that many education policies (including our National Curriculum Framework, 2005) set out to create.

It is then not surprising that children across research studies have stated school-related factors as primary causes of stress (Putwain, 2007). Coupled with other socio-economic and domestic conditions, this also leads to  psychological disorders. A meta-analysis (the only such epidemiological study conducted in India until 2015) shows that 23.33% of school-going children experience at least a few psychiatric disorders that can be identified even by untrained teachers. Evidently many more less known and “invisible” psychological disorders go undetected and misunderstood by parents and teachers.

If this is where we stand 10 years after the reformed & progressive National Curriculum Framework (2005) and National Plan of Action for Children (2005) and various other international recommendations, clearly a lot has been lost between policy and practice.

With increased access to schools, how do we prepare ourselves for the growing responsibility to set up a robust eco-system in the school that makes it a positive experience for the children?

The most recent attempt to answer this question is UNESCO’s ‘Happy Schools – a framework for learner well-being in the Asia-Pacific’(2016). Based on the incorrigible synergy of happiness and quality education, the framework is the culmination of philosophies of happiness, regional theories of happiness and how these theories are manifested in education at 2 levels of interventions – policy and practice. It is built on the central beliefs that a) happiness is something that can be learnt; and b) learning is an intrinsic source of and means to happiness.

Based on the 650 responses from students, teachers, parents and principals from the Asia-Pacific region, the framework proposes 22 criteria that a Happy School should satisfy. These are classified in 3 broad categories – People, Process & Place (shown in the image below). The framework goes on to briefly explain the meanings and implications of each of the criteria.

Happy Schools

(Picture from ‘Happy Schools’)

Perhaps the most important recommendations made by the framework is for education systems to:

  • look beyond traditional methods
  • discover the richness of students’ diverse talents & intelligence
  • recognize & enhance the values and competencies that promote happiness.

“We measure what we treasure”, says the framework. The countries included in this study have proven this by measuring well-being of citizens (including children!) and formulating policies to improve their well-being. Japan’s 2007 revision of the School Education Act and Republic of Korea’s Happy Education for All have been in response to identified stress levels and its effects on students. On the other hand, Bhutan’s 2011 policy on Educating for Gross National Happiness and Vanuatu’s National Curriculum Statement are proactive measures to promote happiness and well-being alongside peace and sustainability.

It is a little disheartening that in a study conducted across Asian countries, there is only one Indian school mentioned on account of its child-friendly practices. The fact that none of India’s child-oriented policies were mentioned in the report probably goes to show that we have a long way to go in providing happier schooling.

There are many over-whelming next steps to be taken towards applying this framework in our country. Any attempt will dishevel many of the written and unwritten rules & mindsets that are deeply ingrained in our education system. Particularly for a country like India – a complex web of inequalities of class, caste, and gender – the challenges are compound.

Besides the cause of ‘Happy Schools’, we will have to compete with pressing concerns such as child mortality rates, lack of basic health care facilities and sanitation. This also reflects in the National Plan for Children (2005) and the National Policy for Children (2013) wherein predominant parts of the policies speak of health and nutrition.

There are also challenges of low quality of teacher training in the country and lack of respect towards the profession of teaching. In the recent past, teacher training organizations have gained popularity and strong client base in schools. However, the impact in terms of consistency and culture-shift remain to be seen. Considering the scale of the country, it will take a greater impetus to create the ‘generation of positive teachers who can develop and nurture happiness and love for learning’ prescribed by the framework.

While none of these national concerns are to be undermined, the need for having happier schools is no less critical. The way ahead, therefore, lies in capacity creation and capacity building at every level such that one challenge does not become the road block for addressing another.

Having to address inert mindsets can be as excruciating a challenge as competing with other national concerns. Our country that culturally glorifies sacrifice and favors tradition over happiness. We confuse ‘studying for a test’ with ‘learning’ and ‘marks’ with ‘learning progress’. Hence, the most important and urgent next step coming from the report would be to prepare an ‘advocacy campaign that can change attitudes’ about the ‘over-focus on numbers (marks)’ and the unworthy sacrifice of happiness.

The framework and ensuing report lay out other such next-steps to transforming our schools into happier spaces. Guiding a mixed gamut of schools – strewn across a complex society – through the next steps is probably beyond the scope of any one such document. However, prioritizing happiness and transforming schools may be well within the capability of strong & committed school teams.

The onus is therefore on the educators to try to adapt their schools and communities based on the framework and thereby evolve into a ‘Happy School’ for a happier and healthier future for children. So lets make schools happy and learning enjoyable for 2 simple reasons – because that is how it ought to be and more importantly, because we owe it to the kids.

In case you want to know more, please read this research paper: Patel, V., Flisher, A., Nikapota, A., & Malhotra, S. (2008). Promoting Child and Adolescent mental health in low and middle income countries. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 313 – 334.

– Ranjani Polepeddi

Ranjani is an educator with a keen interest in Child Mental Health and Waste Management. She has Masters degrees in Education and Applied Psychology. She is currently studying Environment & Sustainable Development. Ranjani taught in a Low income private school in Dharavi, Mumbai as a part of her Teach For India Fellowship (2011-13). Her interests include writing, music and reading. Her twitter handle is @soyliberada

 

One Response to “Happy Schools. Happy Children. =)

  • Great article, very relevant to today’s circumstances in Education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: