Educators rightly pay a lot of attention to how children are taught, what they are taught and the quality of teaching they receive. Far less heed is paid to the attitudes of students themselves. What do we know about what they think of school or their teachers? How well prepared do they think they are to learn? How confident are they and what is their level of self-esteem?
This report tries to answer those questions. Researchers have long known that attitudinal factors play a big part in educational success. The child who isn’t engaged or happy at school, for whatever reason, is unlikely to perform to the best of his or her abilities. The OECD has found, for instance, that there is a strong correlation between confidence and attainment in maths.
For all that, until relatively recently student wellbeing was seen as an adjunct to rather than an integral part of school life. Far-sighted opinion-formers and governments have, however, realised that wellbeing needs to figure prominently in education if young people are to develop to their full potential.
Governments across the world are increasingly recognising the importance of attitudes in learning. The United Arab Emirates, for instance, has appointed a ‘Minister of Happiness’ to underscore just how important wellbeing, and young people’s wellbeing in particular, is to the future health and wealth of the country. As Ohood Al Roumi, the first person to fill that position at the UAE, said recently: “Happiness is a serious job for governments… The role of the government is to create an environment where people can flourish – can reach their full potential – and choose to be happy.”
Dubai schools at the forefront of developing a culture of health and happiness among pupils are also rewarded for their efforts. Dubai English Speaking School was recently given the Star of the Community for involving pupils, teachers and parents in their wellbeing activities, and GEMS Wellington Academy in Dubai Silicon Oasis was given the award for most innovative school in implementing health and wellbeing programmes. This will only continue.
The best international schools, of course, understand that an over reliance on grades and exams will not produce the balanced, well-rounded learners the minister desires. They know that to motivate students they cannot grind them through an exam factory. They appreciate that the most important thing they can do for young people, particularly as the pressures to get into a good university multiply, is to help them understand themselves.
I hope this report plays its part in shifting the balance in education away from an obsession with grades to an appreciation of just how important student attitudes to themselves and their schools are. Elsewhere in this report, teachers and academics outline what schools can do to remove the obstacles that impede so much student potential. Those barriers will not be overcome by over testing. But if schools take student attitudes and happiness seriously then there is no reason why they cannot produce the well-rounded, confident and engaged students we would like all our children to be. GREG WATSON, Chief Executive, GL Education
GREG WATSON, Chief Executive, GL Education
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