Happiness at school?

The intelligences at play!
June 5, 2018
Like Headu, also PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment), which is a three-year programme of international investigations promoted by OCSE (the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development), is aimed at ascertaining the competences of students from many countries. It is interested in “lifelong learning” – and it cannot be otherwise, given that the attention of the investigation in question focuses not only on the mastery of specific curricular contents, but rather is interested in the capacity of students to utilise the competences acquired over the years dedicated to study in order to solve daily problems and difficulties and to continue to learn in the future (“lifelong learning”, precisely), without a solution of continuity.

From 2000 on, a growing number of countries has participated in the revelations, passing from the initial number of 43 countries in the year 2000 to a grand total of 66 countries in 2012. The tests have as their destination between 4,500 and 13,000 fifteen-year-old students in each country taken into consideration. In particular, in the most recent investigation, PISA’s axis of interest shifted, or rather expanded, seeing that, for example, the investigation entitled “Do teacher-student relation affect student’s well-being at school” explored for the first time how the relationship between teachers and students influences the students’ sense of belonging to their school and to school in general, weighs on well-being and even on scholastic output. The result specifically within the Italian reality was confirmed to be below the world average in all items. As also, in the latter case, i.e. in the one concerning well-being and happiness at school. Therefore, we felt like exploring more, much more. Here is what we discovered.

1 Having clarified and stablished the existence of an International Day of Happiness, we also recalled that it was set up in 2012 by the United Nations Organisation. But, in addition to being pursued, mentioned, desired, reproduced, and copied, is happiness also taught? In what way and in what school? In these complex, strange, mysterious times, perhaps it is necessary to remind ourselves that happiness exists and can be grasped. It is not a legendary chimera, but an attainable objective. And yet…

2 In British schools, for example, from now on and also during the coming years, there is and there will be a judgment on the “serenity, well-being” parameter which by now, in Great Britain as in the United States, is considered to be relevant and fundamental on a par with classical and academic ones. How has this been arrived at? Everything originated from a single consideration: the new Anglo-Saxon generations are found to be lacking in serenity. Various statistics and repeated studies, in fact, register psycholgical privations for a good 10% of British students: one out of two, that is, define themselves as being “unhappy”.

3 Compared with British schools, only Japan is capable of being… worse, since it precedes them in the classification as to dissatisfaction and to unhappiness. The Japanese Ministry of Education has therefore decided to remedy this state of things by organising lessons on well-being and on empathy, in class and in seminars on bullying, anxiety, and depression.

4 An emblematic example consists of Harvard, a private American university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the bastion of American knowledge. At Harvard, a course has been instituted in positive psychology that numbers more registrations than that of economy, for which the university has always been world-famous. We are therefore talking about 900 students who are all anxious to learn to become…happy. The fact makes us reflect.

5 At the private English institution of Wellington College in Crowthorne, in the county of Berkshire, the Dean and the teachers consider, instead, that it is not necessary to wait to become a university student, and that happiness - just like good manners - should be taught starting from the end of secondary school, to student of 14, 15 and 16 years of age. What is the reason behind this? Theirs is a delicate age, one that is fragile like crystal, that submits adolescents to messages, interrogatives and input of all types. Taken up as they are with constructing their personalities and with carving out their self-eesteem, they risk more easily becoming the victims of depression, anxiety and stress. Therefore, at Wellington College, one hour a week is dedicated to learning the art of well-being.

6 At the Lerchenfeld Secondary School in Hamburg, Germany, just as is true of some one hundred other German schools, a new subject has been credited: happiness, to be precise. How is that? Well, the teachers teach practical exercises, some of which are even futuristic or bizarre – like the “tepid shower” or the “dive from the platform” – in order to enable their students to develop, wisely and without suffering, an awareness of their own capacities, a sense of belonging to the community, and self-esteem.

7 Since 2008 the Australian secondary school in Geelong has adopted an entire learning programme of positive education that combines teaching with positive psychology (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4hG9UHXO0M). This programme is aimed at promoting the well-being of students. The purpose? To help them overcome and win over depression, to focalise on their objectives, and to develop their competences, but all without anguish.

8 In Bhutan, on the eastern Himalayas, together with traditional school textbooks the schools provide traditional textbooks on meditation and prayers, in addition to manuals on happiness.

9 Other curiousities? South Corea appears to be one of the countries with the best students, but also with the least happy ones and the ones least satisfied with their schools, while Peru is found to be the country with the least prepared but happiest students. Statistical incongruities or explainable oddities?

10 And in Italy? Dedicated sites, articles and pages report that we are far from all this. The same PISA-OCSE investigation refers that the students are rather dissatisfied, that they are worn-out by anxieties, from performances superior to the average ones, that they are great consumers of Internet (23% navigate on line for more than 6 hours a day, andl 47% develop a malaise if they remain without their connection), and that the teachers appear to have very little interest. This is not enough: Italy is the fourth to last country as regards their students belonging to the school by way of their relationship with the teachers. Even if all this is true, there does exist the hope that everything will soon change.

An example by way of proof? Despite the fact that little is known, and if even less is written about it, in Rome in 2016 a new project originated regarding happiness that is aimed at the students of schools of all types and sizes. The said project , entitled “Lessons in Happiness, development of personal well-being”, is sponsored by the “Autorità Garante per l’Infanzia e l’Adolescenza [Guarantor Authority for Childhood and Adolescence]”, and was devised, elaborated and developed by Regina Giudetti, a psychologist and teacher of, precisely … happiness. It consists of circular lessons and brainstorming techniques, and teaches the basic principles for making known and recognising on the part of the students the competences, talents, and capacities for being oriented towards positive thoughts and towards the present, in order to identify the instruments necessary for utilising their resources in the best possible way.

Headu Research Centre

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