For a large part of the last decade, schools have focused on the mental health of students as an addition to their curriculum rather than as a fundamental part of it. This is changing as we evolve through the 21st century, with educators and researchers realising the significant affect well-being has on student success. The Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Microsoft, recently released a white paper that explores the impact of student well-being on their success in school, as well as how emotion and cognition are affected in the age of Artificial Intelligence.
It has been found that positive emotions, resilience, optimism, and a sense of control over life are all components of well-being that require nurturing. Positive psychology fields have emerged to study this further, and suggest that positive emotions and engagement, as well as a sense of meaning and accomplishment, are powerful catalysts to academic success – and a student’s ability to thrive beyond graduation. The aim of teaching, after all, is to equip young people for the future. It is becoming such an essential feature of success, that the United Nations has adopted a new resolution that states to encourage the “pursuit of happiness and well-being in development”. To achieve this goal, they are focusing on global education – understanding that what happens in and around the classroom is vital for the positive development of society as a whole.
What is Well-Being?
There is no single definition regarding what well-being actually is, but the broad concept covers two distinct themes:
- Emotional – the presence of positive emotional states and the absence of negative affective states.
- Cognitive – which refers to life satisfaction as a whole.
Education systems are beginning to recognise the effect of well-being on learning and on their ability to shape the emotional and mental health of young people. PISA, the OECD’s programme for international student assessment, defines the well-being of students as “the psychological, cognitive, social, and physical functioning that students need to live a happy and fulfilling life”. This accounts for 12 studied elements, which include:
- Compromising a students’ sense of purpose
- Affective states and emotional strength
- Quality of social life, including relationships with family, peers, and teachers
- Social belonging
- Proficiency with academic knowledge
- Ability to live a healthy lifestyle
The Role of The School
Andreas Schleicher, the director of the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD states that “child well-being is not something you can easily delegate to families and social environments; schools need to take a more explicit role”. However, what does this mean? Historically, monitoring mental health was considered a pastoral duty to help students who require help already, rather than to encourage overall well-being.
This changed ten years ago when Doctor Seligman worked with Australia’s Geelong Grammar School. Children were taught self-talk practices and higher thinking patterns, along with skills in resilience, and neuroplasticity. The school quickly became an outlier, and their fusion of positive psychology with education is now an established example of the benefits of student well-being on student success. It began what was described as a “tectonic shift” in education, with well-being becoming a fundamental component of learning – just as important as academic performance.
By understanding the research, school leaders can take steps to ensure that student well-being is a built-in component of their curriculum, rather than a simple service. However, again – it is hard for many schools to understand what this actually looks like in action. We know it is essential, we know the influence – but do we know how to apply it?
The answer is yes, but that the application varies from campus to campus and will evolve quickly over time. This is because technology is influencing not only how students learn, but also how they engage socially. Digital devices contribute to education but also to well-being. Schools need to prepare students to act accountably online and become responsible digital citizens. They must even understand that technology is now an ingrained part of many student lifestyles, and should be utilised as a tool of education and not entertainment.
It can be challenging to know where to start because every school is different – just as every student is different. It is up to educators to make the most of their digital environments and to incorporate well-being into their curriculum if they are to enhance student success in a modern age. MOQdigital can help. Our team of education consultants can help you make the most out of your digital investments, your campus, and the changing face of education in the 21st century. Get in touch today.