Since the start of the 21st century, some schools have started promoting pupils’ well-being through lessons and programmes specifically devoted to it. In his book Exploring Well-being in School, American educator John White cites the example of Wellington College’s course of lessons on well-being. In some colleges, they added a new statutory subject called personal well-being. This is coupled with economic wellbeing and financial capability.
Personal well-being includes work on confidence, healthy lifestyles, relationships, risk and social diversity. According to John White, seeing personal well-being as a separate subject is an old way of thinking. When we think about education for well-being, we should start with the fundamental purposes of education.
A curriculum should be aim-based rather than subject-based. When a curriculum becomes aim-based, we can see that everything or nearly everything a school does would help equip children for a fulfilling life. No one subject can hope to respond to all the manifold aspects of well-being that we discussed in the earlier parts.
Schools should be given maximum freedom to decide how best to realise overall aims, including well-being aims. They should be free to organise their work within discrete subjects via interdisciplinary projects. Having followed a traditional pattern of training, teachers in particular subjects and employed within subject departments in schools, we should look for new ways to encourage schools to think outside these boxes.
Choice of students
In school, students have to engage in various kinds of activities prescribed in their curriculum. It may not be according to their choices. Sometimes they find it absorbing, but in most cases, they do not find it engaging. For example, they may not be interested in doing French at the time set aside for this, but they may find it interesting in other circumstances.
When students spend more time at school doing things they do not have their heart in, it could be counter-productive from a well-being point of view. One way to tackle this problem is to improve the quality of teaching and teacher training so that teachers know how to better motivate children to love their subject. Another is to teach compulsory lessons in appealing ways, for instance, through themes and projects as well as subjects. The third way is to insist on comprehensive coverage but leave children the freedom to choose what they do and when they do that. The fourth way would be giving children expanding opportunities to choose what they want to explore further.
School work, homework and preparing for examinations together contribute to a huge load of heteronomous work.
The best way, says John White, is to have a combination of the above ways. Giving children more freedom to organise their work is important. There is no case for the libertarian project of allowing children maximum choice, but there is everything to be said for building in more free time for children to do their own thing, including, if they wish, occasionally mooning around and daydreaming.
Working and learning
Is school a place for work or for learning? When we think more about this, we can understand that these both go together. In schools, children acquire knowledge, hone skills and become more entrenched in habits in the course of producing solutions to problems or while creating essays, paintings, and so on. Sometimes they create an end-product, but they learn nothing from the process. Not all learning comes via work. The knowledge we pick up from everyday experience, from conversations and from reading for enjoyment is an example of this. If schools are places for wholehearted engagement in activities, sometimes these will involve work, sometimes not.
This requires, according to John White, a shift from the traditional way of seeing schools as workplaces where children engage in carefully structured activities like doing mathematics, listening to the teacher and writing something, all with end-products in mind. School work, homework and preparing for examinations together contribute to a huge load of heteronomous work. When a child steps into a school, he or she spends a lot of time playing, but within a couple of years, will understand that the school is a more serious business.
Some students will adjust to this idea of heteronomous work because they see this as a doorway to autonomous work tomorrow – as a doctor, an academic, or an architect. Schools equip these children for a life of autonomous well-being. Those students who do not have the support to help them overcome hurdles will feel discouraged. From the point of view of preparation for a fulfilling life, their schooling is counter-productive.
Educationists say there is a strong case for making education fit for purpose. There should be wholehearted involvement from students. As far as possible, school work should be autonomous – something learners freely choose to do.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of the importance of the choices of students in education for well- being?
Can you think of the reasons for the need for a shift from the traditional way of seeing schools as workplaces?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children, and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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