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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Pupils’ happiness must come first

Experts say that satisfaction leads to good performance in class, not the other way around, and the system must reflect this.

DUBAI // The belief that one needs to work hard, score high exam grades and then secure a good job to be happy is being challenged by the emirate’s private school regulator.

“Conventionally, we are telling kids to work hard so they become successful so they become happy,” said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

“This has to change. Happiness has to be a prerequisite to working hard and success. Happiness leads you to success, not the other way around.”

He was speaking at the What Works Wellbeing conference, organised by the KHDA and attended by more than 600 private schoolteachers and principals on Monday at the Mohammed bin Rashid Academic Medical Centre in Healthcare City.

In between attending workshops on how to introduce a culture of well-being in schools, the educators were encouraged to take part in yoga, table tennis and t’ai chi demonstrations.

“We’re at the beginning of a total revolution,” said Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham and former headmaster of Wellington College, one of Britain’s top private schools, who spoke at the conference.

“There’s a revolution that’s happening from the ground up in schools with teachers who are revolted with what’s happening and by the very boring, restricting imposition of an exam-fed education that has no space for creativity or reflection or imagination or kindness or the individual.

“And this whole movement is about re-humanising schools, stopping them from being 19th-century factories and helping them to be 21st-century enlightened places.”

As headmaster of Wellington College, Dr Seldon introduced happiness and well-being into the curriculum after founding the International Positive Education Network and co-founding Action for Happiness, a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society.

During his tenure at Wellington, the school’s rankings greatly improved, but he has often been critical in the British press about schools’ obsession with league tables.

“This is all about intelligent living, so helping a child take responsibility for its own life, learning how much to eat, what to eat, how to exercise, how to sleep well, how to rest well – it’s key in a happy life,” Dr Seldon said.

Psychologist Dr Kaiping Peng, who is introducing positive psychology programmes in schools in China, said that society needed to rethink the way children were educated. “We need a paradigm shift, we need a revolution, we need a change of mindset,” Dr Peng said.

Dr Peng has proposed three goals for education: teaching children how to develop emotional intelligence; think creatively; and to be empathetic.

He said there was no direct connection between a pupil’s sense of well-being or happiness and how that student would perform in an exam, for example.

“It’s very hard to measure the success in terms of test scores, because the test scores in China don’t reflect the students’ motivation, students’ happiness, students’ kindness. It’s all about memorising the materials,” Dr Peng said.

“But we have some conditional evidence. Number one, happy students tend to be motivated students. So they like to go to school, they like the class, they like to talk to teachers, they like to talk to other students, so they are more motivated.

“Lazy students are more likely to be unhappy students.”

rpennington@thenational.ae