In education, as in life, our central concern is wellbeing . . . for children and young people, and for adults.
In our view wellbeing is not a vague or a nebulous concept. Wellbeing is complex but definable. There are several different facets of wellbeing, each of which is essential for living and for learning.
Intellectual wellbeing is not the same as academic success – which is a subset of intellectual growth and achievement. Intellectual wellbeing involves an individual’s capacity to reason, to access information, to satisfy curiosity, to exchange ideas, to solve problems, to debate, to communicate effectively, to create new ideas, and so on. Intellectual wellbeing is achievable regardless of tests and examinations – although academic success is almost always an outcome of high intellectual wellbeing for those who choose to achieve academically.
Intellectual wellbeing is best achieved through learning to love learning for its own sake, and for our own benefit. Most of us cannot live without mental stimulation, and most of us have a thirst for new ideas and a better understanding of ourselves and our world. However, we cannot force intellectual wellbeing on others, even as we drive young people through a system that frequently involves teaching to tests.
We believe that young people have a right to a say in their own learning pathways, as well as freedom from coercion and compulsion. We see the development of technical expertise and practical knowledge and skills as essential a part of intellectual wellbeing as abstract and academic knowledge and skills.
Physical wellbeing is clearly necessary for everyone. Health and fitness are essential aspects of living well. Daily or regular practice is as necessary for physical wellbeing as it is for intellectual “fitness”. Young people also need knowledge and understanding of health issues. The use of our physical senses is important and necessary for learning and growing.
Social wellbeing is vital, encompassing as it does relationships and friendships of all sorts, especially those in the family, in schools and in the workplace. The world is full of the lonely, the disconnected and the anti-social. Empathy is a key component of social intelligence without which we can hardly function in the world. Many young people fail to develop a high degree of empathy without the active assistance of schools that view learning as a social activity which requires sharing and communication on a day to day basis. In schools where learning takes place individually and competitively it’s possible for young people to fail to grow in empathy and reach high levels of social intelligence.
Spiritual wellbeing results from children and young people developing positive sets of values and becoming aware of more than a hundred different virtues which they subscribe to and try to live by. From the ancient Greeks and Chinese onwards we’ve understood the need to practice virtuous living, and the need to understand the very nature of “virtue”. Without values such as truth, justice, equity, generosity and caring for others we cannot have a wellbeing society or individual wellbeing.
Spiritual wellbeing cannot be seen solely as a concern for families, communities and religions. Spiritual intelligence is often not apparent in certain families and certain so-called religious individuals. Schools must address spiritual wellbeing through non-secular and pragmatic approaches. In this area of learning ‘intuition’ is a key intelligence. Our intuition tells us, for example, that justice is better than injustice, truth is better than lies. Intuition can often be developed through various reflective, meditative and contemplative practices, including “mindfulness”. Intuition is essential for survival and for wellbeing, and yet very little conscious attention is paid to its development – or to the development of spiritual wellbeing – in our schools. Intuition is more than ‘gut feeling’. Intuition is a form of ‘knowing’ that is unmediated by intellect and reasoning, even though it is informed by abstract and theoretical knowledge.
Emotional and instinctual wellbeing arises from a growing capacity to manage our negative and destructive emotions, as well as to benefit from positive feelings of joy and love. Schools must develop emotional literacy (an understanding of emotions and an ability to discuss feelings) as well as encourage and enable children to learn together in situations that permit them to practice and rehearse social and emotional skills (such as generosity and self-restraint) in meaningful contexts. Schools must actively build cultures of caring, non-aggression and non-violence whilst also seeking to develop in children resilience, self-confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness. Passivity can be overcome through enabling young people to be active agents in their own learning and their all-round development.
Personal wellbeing arises from a clear appreciation and understanding of ourselves – what we might call our inner being – our needs, desires, preferences, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Without a clear insight into our unique individuality and our right to be different to others, as well as our similarity to others, it’s difficult to achieve personal wellbeing. Schools that currently concentrate on what’s “out there” must also consider the importance of helping students to appreciate and understand what’s within themselves. Much unhappiness arises from an inability to appreciate and understand ourselves, and from a consequent lack of personal wellbeing.
Arising from a recognition and understanding of these different aspects of wellbeing is a need to redesign and indeed reinvent much of our education and schooling. Countries such Finland, Singapore and China have set themselves the task of achieving precisely these goals through creating education systems that are truly fit for purpose. The articles listed below can serve as a starting point for rethinking our schools and colleges, our curricula and our pedagogy.
We see a need, however, to avoid an inquiry into education that attempts to repeat or replicate important work that’s already been done. For this reason we recommend the following article on two key reports – “All Our Futures” and the “Cambridge Primary Review”:
An Education Inquiry – and a Debate?
Posted on June 19, 2013
(The articles listed below are available on the 3D Eye WordPress site)
Education Done To, For, or With Students?
Posted on July 30, 2013
Schools of the Future, and the Present
Posted on November 18, 2012
The Wellbeing of our Young People
Posted on April 12, 2013
Key Concepts for the Learning Revolution
Posted on November 13, 2012
The Future of Education – in Finland and Elsewhere
Posted on December 8, 2012
Simon Jenkins on Education in England – A Devastating Critique
Posted on October 12, 2012
MOOD: Another Great Educational Debate
Posted on March 8, 2013
Rearranging The Deckchairs
Posted on February 1, 2013
Descriptions of Fully Evolved Humans – Part One
Posted on December 14, 2012
International Comparisons, Enlightened Education
Posted on November 29, 2012
Return to Singapore
Posted on November 28, 2012
Children, Poverty, Wellbeing and Learning
Posted on September 10, 2012
Further Thoughts on Ofsted and Wellbeing
Posted on January 19, 2012
With regard to any legislation that might be necessary to achieve greater wellbeing within schools and within society, please be aware of the following paragraphs which are taken from a 3D Eye blog post that was published on July 12th 2013:
In 1944 the Butler Education Act didn’t mention the economy as part of its purpose for a new education system, other than to make the point that a free education for all might contribute to tackling economic inequalities. To the contrary, its main aim for education was:
“to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community by securing that efficient education throughout those stages shall be available to meet the needs of the population in the area”.
In 1976, James Callaghan’s famous education speech at Ruskin College didn’t begin with economic drivers for education policy. He mentioned that everyone had something to say about the economy but that it was “not as important in the long run as preparing future generations for life”. (Please note, he said preparing for life not preparing for work. Work is a component of life – that’s all.) He continued by quoting RH Tawney who wrote that the “endowment of our children is the most precious of the natural resources of this community”. He also said:
“The goals of our education, from nursery school through to adult education, are clear enough. They are to equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive, place in society, and also to fit them to do a job of work. Not one or the other but both.”
The economy and the future economic stability of our country are things that should be of deep concern to all of us, but to see children and young people solely as some sort of commodity within this is not the answer. Addressing socio-economic inequalities is definitely something that we need to consider, and we have to go beyond the tokenism of the Pupil Premium to address this, however helpful an additional £900 per pupil might be.
Maybe we need to return to the 1944 Education Act to consider what we want for education in this country, and “the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community” (and the individuals within that community) isn’t a bad place to start.
Our hope for 2015 is that we can bring together all those who see a need to challenge our government’s stated aims for education – which have been summed up (by Michael Gove and others) as “preparing young people to take part in the global economic race”. We reject this impoverished and instrumentalist view of learning and human development, particularly since the government’s essential view is that high attainment in high-stakes academic tests and exams is the main or the sole pathway to achieving those aims.
We welcome the beginnings of a conversation about building “character” – but disagree with the notion that this is essentially about developing ‘toughness’, resilience, bravery, etc. It’s not even about developing a capacity for ‘sensitivity’. As we said at the start of this post, wellbeing is the main issue, and although wellbeing is complex and multi-faceted we can define it and develop it systematically when we are clear about the different aspects of wellbeing.