It is troubling to see children stressing out about their academics. While it is important to get good grades, making it a priority robs of them of the unique experiences they will only get as a child. This kind of thinking is so similar to the Indian film, appropriately named ‘3 Idiots’, when three friends were faced with the pressure of performing well academically because “life is a race”, and some of them did to their own demise.
Which is why it is so invigorating to see schools spearheading programs that will help reduce and manage the stress the kids are constantly under.
What happens to the body when under stress?
To understand how stress affects a child, let us look into what it does to the body first. When a person is under stress, whether a child or a full adult, the hypothalamus releases a hormone that signals the pituitary and the autonomic nervous system to produce the stress hormones called cortisol and epinephrine.
Epinephrine is what is commonly known as adrenaline, and this accelerates a person’s heart rate and therefore increases the blood pressure. Cortisol, on the other hand, boosts a person’s muscle and memory power by elevating blood sugar.
In most cases, this is acceptable. For instance, if you are in danger, you can depend on those stress hormones to get you out of harm’s way. However, if you put that in the context of school and how it is a constant experience for children, that becomes a problem. The fight-or-flight reaction should be reserved for life-threatening situations; but with kids under academic stress, it becomes an automatic reaction to school.
What efforts have schools been making?
There has been a shift in education in the recent years. Before, test grades are given more emphasis than group work or extra-curricular activities. But with the popularity of what is called ‘holistic education’, other elements of education have also been given a spotlight. This educational framework balances academic rigor and student well-being.
Schools that have already adapted the holistic education framework aims to produce students who are not only knowledgeable in key political, social, and scientific concepts; but they must also be able to use that knowledge to help improve society. They should not just be able to recite definitions and terms, but an attitude of social awareness should be ingrained in them.
To do this, schools have created programs that challenge their notion of how the world works. After every class discussion, they are tasked to apply the concepts they have learnt through collaborative projects. These projects ranges from simple mechanical problems to applications in society like solving an old problem in a new way. And then from there, be able to come up with their own ideas about a topic, and then synthesize it with the definitions they have memorized.
International schools have perfected holistic education
International schools have an edge because they have been using the holistic education framework for a very long time. This is probably due to their diverse learning landscape. They cater to students from different nations and with different perspective, and so they must create an environment where students can exchange cultures freely.
A diverse learning environment develops open-mindedness and critical thinking, a trait that the world is in dire need of today. It lets students listen to other people’s experiences and understanding them before airing out their own thoughts.
An example of this school is the Global Indian International School (GIIS) – a Singapore-based international school that believes happiness within a diverse learning environment should be nurtured. To accompany their globally recognized values-based education, they have also created a happiness index.
Exploring the GIIS Happiness Index
There are three factors involved in GIIS’ happiness index:
The school believes that the layout of the school helps in enhancing the overall happiness of students and teachers. What they want is for the school to become a safe and secure place for everyone in the campus, much like how your house is your comfort zone. There are a lot of open, green spaces so that everyone can feel relaxed within the walls of the schools. Their classrooms are well-lit, the layout is convenient, and they make use of colors that are easy on the eyes.
GIIS uses their ‘Nine Gems’ model of learning that gives importance to the following key factors:
- Cerebral learning
- Social and emotional learning
- Physical learning
They provide classroom and school-wide activities that will not challenge a student’s mental capacity, but also their social skills and physical prowess.
The educators play an important role in cultivating happiness in the GIIS campus. Right from the start, the school makes sure that their attitude fits the philosophy that the school adheres to. But most importantly, they also make sure that educators are happy teaching in the campus.
More importantly, GIIS encourages students, teachers, and parents to give useful feedback on how to improve the learning landscape. With feedback, they are not just providing the students with a conducive place for learning, but they are also showing them that their thoughts and experiences in the campus matter especially when it comes to improvement.