Education – Preparing Young People for Life through True Well-Being – Part 1
Nowadays, educational systems around the world are not really helping to develop the full potential of young people and many parents are not offering a space for the kids to grow in the context of well-being. Hence, we are not really preparing our youth for life in the fullest sense of the word. This fact is a global problem. Yet, it has not yet become part of our daily conversations on education around the globe. Conversations on this matter have been very limited and very restricted in scope. Yet, they are much needed.
It is important to point out that the world is going through two different and related problems at once: clear negative trends regarding health and regarding well-being. As shown by The Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 the crisis is an uncontroversial fact. It reveals that only 4% of the global population was free from health complaints in 2013, while one-third, or 2.3 billion people, struggled with more than five health problems each. Worldwide, the proportion of years of healthy life people lost because of illness (rather than simply dying earlier) rose from 21% in 1990 to 31% in 2013.
The World Health Organisation adds to this that, “nearly 35% of the global burden of disease has roots in adolescence. For this reason, stopping the trend of continuous deterioration of the global burden of disease requires acting now and engaging with young people on these matters as part of way school supports them and prepares them for life.
In 2012, the INDERA Foundation started the Youth Programme Equilibrium responding to a call for original proposals to deal with series of entrenched problems and dynamics, which were a hurdle for carrying out daily activities in schools in Catalonia, Spain.
We worked on topics such as bullying and cyberbullying, gender based violence, sexual violence, discrimination, body image, the impact of the mass media and advertising on young people’s life, Social Media as a communication means to evolve or to abuse between others. In every activity sex and sexuality was a main concern and much was needed to talk about to inform, share and present. However, although much awareness was raised and lots of topics learned there seemed to be no real embodiment of what was learned. The normalization of violence and abuse had taken their toll and the young were able to repeat and recall what they learned, but they were not able to live it.
We realized, the level of disconnection and numbness was so high that they did not have a marker in their body that would let them feel the abuse and violence they had accepted as their normal, being it self-applied or through others. Off course there were many young people being very aware of what is going on in youth culture today, but they kind of submit to the fact that this is how life goes and that you can try to stay away from it, but that you cannot really do anything about it.
We strongly saw the need for a whole school programme that involves many topics, being one of it the need for a comprehensive sexuality education, that does not focus mainly on the physicality and sexuality as function, but on building connection and relationships and support them to develop a quality in their bodies that serves as a marker for true well-being.
We started to look deeper into what wellbeing in the educational context actually means and how to apply it into the school setting and analysed the current leading policy debate in this direction, which has been specifically introduced by Nicky Morgan, the UK secretary of state for education and Julia Manning and Jon Paxman (Reference), the first looking at character and resilience building and the second at supporting wellbeing. Building on it we defined well-being and developed a framework to bring true health and well-being into schools.
Preparing young people for life is about character and resilience building
In December of 2014, Nicky Morgan, the UK secretary of state for education, unveiled a new multi-million British Pounds fund to introduce important changes in the UK educational system. This initiative was the government’s response to the problematic features it has identified in the current educational system, namely the facts that:
as it stands today, education does not provide pupils with the necessary tools for life;
the current system is too narrowly constructed around academic performance. Securing good grades carries a disproportionate weight in the pupils’ concerns and efforts;
academic learning in and by itself is not enough to prepare a pupil for life.
For the UK government preparing pupils for life means building “the abilities and traits that help young people persevere with setbacks, confidently engage in debates, and contribute to the wider community”. Consequently, it has proposed a twofold policy answer: first, to teach pupils “character, resilience and grit” and, second, “to place character education on a par with academic learning for pupils across the country”.
The policy decision was to create a multi-million British Pounds fund aimed to bring to schools some actors and organizations from civil society that have succeeded in building character and resilience in their own domains of activity. The fund will support the following 14 programs:
bringing rugby coaches into primary and secondary schools to carry out a new character-based programme;
building first aiders who are resilient, confident and motivated;
promoting school based scouting activities;
promoting community volunteerism in exchange for job opportunities;
developing and piloting Physical Education lessons that will help to build character traits that help the young people to succeed;
developing and piloting a character virtue programme for pupils who are in the first two years of primary school;
developing and piloting a Personal Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE) character curriculum, from key stages 1 to 4;
expanding an existing ‘summit programme’ for disadvantaged children & young people (5-16yr olds), equipping them with the attributes, attitudes & behaviours needed to succeed in education & later life;
expanding the XL Programme from the Prince’s Trust, whose aim is to achieve a range of personal and employability skills and gain qualifications, to disadvantaged students.
helping pupils with behavioural problems develop relationship skills and social-emotional awareness;
building and piloting a character development programme based on resilience, leadership, community and curiosity;
developing positive values and character traits in the classroom;
supporting pupils with special educational needs or disabilities;
developing a way to teach character education within established curriculum subjects.
Preparing young people for life requires supporting their Wellbeing
Preparing young people for life requires supporting their wellbeing and health. This is what Julia Manning and Jon Paxman brought to the table in an interesting document published in January 2015 (https://www.2020health.org/2020health/Publications/Publications-2015/Head-of-Wellbeing.html).
According to them, UK schools are not providing students and staff with the necessary support regarding their health and wellbeing. Hence, they argue, it is not surprising that the UK suffers a national health and wellbeing crises that tax particularly young people (obesity crisis, widespread STI rates, poor diet, low and decreasing engagement in non-curricular physical activity, rising rates of depression, increasing incidents of cyber-bullying and 75% of children and young people living with undiagnosed mental illness are all signs of these crises) (Pag. 4). From their arguments, it can be clearly inferred that,
as it stands today, education does not provide pupils with the necessary health support so they can develop a feeling of wellbeing that allows them to acquire the tools they need for their future;
the current system is too narrowly constructed around academic performance. Health and wellbeing ‘performance’ of the students (and staff) do not stand on an equal foot with the other one. They are considered private matters and as such they are mainly left aside even if they may interfere with the academic side of the equation.
In addition to these, they bring a crucial element to the table: the wellbeing of staff. As they see the problem, the fact that schools do not support the health and wellbeing needs of staff affects everyone since the quality if what they are able to deliver suffers and this has a negative consequence for pupils.
All in all, a system that is not too concerned about the young people beyond the academic and that, paradoxically, is not willing to support their academic performance in a context of health and wellbeing crises, does not truly help to prepare them for life.
To redress these issues their policy answer to this situation is to change the school setting so to incorporate health promotion as a whole-school level activity. To do so, in practical terms, they propose the creation of a position of Head of Wellbeing in every High School. In their own words “this role should coordinate support for staff, the school sports curriculum, healthy eating, personal and social education, and onsite health; it should also promote integration, building health and social care links and developing these for the children in its community. An emphasis on Wellbeing should provide encouragement for children to take part in extra-curricular activities with their friends as well as vital emotional wellbeing support. It would also helps schools and parents tackle the issue of bullying more effectively through awareness and help to prepare our children as they become young adults” (Pag. 3).
For the authors, this proposal makes sense in five main grounds:
1. The need to raise wellbeing support within the whole-school community, for both pupils and staff; 2. Prevention and early intervention bring health benefits and make economic sense; 3. It is necessary to offer an always widely available, meaningful and coordinated wellbeing support for pupils; 4. Sustainable health and wellbeing support requires drawing upon the skills, knowledge, connections and potential in a community; 5. Health and wellbeing benefits educational attainment.
They envision three potential models of Heads of Wellbeing:
A top-down role, with a very strong focus on staff wellbeing, but also working to raise pupil health and wellbeing outcomes.
A more pupil-oriented model with tasks including wellbeing education coordination (and possibly some wellbeing teaching)
Someone with a counselling and/or medical background to emphasise mental and physical health of pupils.
What the current leading policy debate is offering here is not truly preparing young people for life, as it does not look at the root cause of what is really going on in the education system and society as a whole, but it is more focused on dealing with negative outcomes and how to manage the unwanted symptoms.
Both models of preparing young people for life fell short in what they are actually offering the young in terms of life skills and well-being. Furthermore, from our experience, resilience and character building have a negative impact on the quality of people’s well-being as it does not respect the body and is driven by success. It actually has deleterious consequences on the quality of the overall well-being of a person as it ignores the fact that the body is the marker of true well-being and that we can only build true well-being when we never disregard the body in whatever we do. Additionally it fosters competition and not cooperation between the young and character is build based on individual achievements and not collective collaboration. Building character based on individual success lets strive some and leads to failure of many.
Creating a Head of Wellbeing and promoting health within the whole-school community is a great approach and could be of great service. However, this approach is very much around how to organise the school setting to deliver well-being but offers very little on what to deliver. Preparing young people for life requires giving them tools that are useful for life.
By Eduardo Feldman
 In 2013, lower back pain became the first condition in a ranking of Years Lived with Disability and depression the second one. If you are depressed or have perennial lower back pain there can be no well-being.  (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60692-4/fulltext)  https://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/epidemiology/adolescence/en/  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/england-to-become-a-global-leader-of-teaching-character  The authors do not define what is wellbeing.  This statement makes clear that wellbeing and good health are a must for someone to be able to engage successfully in learning activities. If their characterisation of the national health and wellbeing crises is accurate, their proposal acquires an enormous relevance.