Making Meditation Compulsory in Education Systems
Arjun Limbu, Conscience Institute
Into a room of pillows and lavender scent, an elementary school student walks, enraged. He's just been made fun of by another student, an altercation that turned to pushing and name-calling. Rather than sending him to detention or the principal's office, his teacher sent him to Robert W. Coleman Elementary School's meditation room. "I did some deep breathing, had a little snack, and I got myself together," the boy recalled. "Then I apologized to my class." He's one of many children who benefit from what this West Baltimore elementary school calls its "Mindful Moment Room," a warm, brightly lit space strewn with purple floor pillows, yoga mats, and the scents of essential oils. Here, the children can stretch, do yoga, and practice deep breathing.
As we strive to improve the quality of education around the world, in pursuit of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is important to explore practices that support children’s emotional as well as cognitive health. Every child is different and goes through unique life experiences. They may be able to communicate about their issues, problems, and concerns with caring friends, teachers, parents, and guardians. However, some may not have such support systems and meditation can help them cope with unspoken-stress.
Global research about meditation programs in schools has already revealed many benefits. Teachers who learned mindfulness meditation have reported greater efficacy in doing their jobs and success in creating more emotionally supportive and organized classrooms. Studies also find that youth practicing mindfulness improve their cognitive abilities, social-emotional skills, and overall well-being. Such benefits may lead to more long-term advantages. For example, strong social skills in kindergarten predict improved education, employment, and mental health outcomes in adulthood, and less likelihood to become involved in crime or substance abuse. Cognitive gains may include increased attentiveness, better focus, and higher grades. Socio-emotional gains may include increased empathy, compassion, emotion self-regulation, and perspective-taking. Overall well-being gains may include decreased anxiety, stress, posttraumatic symptoms, and depression.,
A Happiness Curriculum
In Delhi, India, the government has added lessons in happiness to the school curriculum in the hope that it will transform educational outcomes for children. Students from pre-primary age to 14 years old receive daily lessons in happiness that include yoga and meditation and encouragement to take pride in their work. The 45-minute classes start with mindfulness, followed by stories and activities. While there are no exams associated with the new subject, teachers make periodic assessments of children’s progress using a “Happiness Index.”
Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister and education minister, introduced the plan for a happiness curriculum. “In the last 30 years, we have produced a lot of workers for industry, a lot of workers for factories . . . but we have not been developing good human beings,” he said. When announcing the new curriculum, he explained: “Education has to serve a larger moral and societal purpose and cannot be looked at in isolation from the needs of society. Even as we aim for economic equality, we must strive for ‘happiness equality’ as well.”
Parents report that after learning meditation, their children are able to cope better with problems, behave better, act less aggressively, and watch less television. Children say that they use meditation skills before school exams and in stressful situations.
Fifteen years ago, a 13-year-old boy in France who had attended a number of meditation courses wrote, “Meditation is a special moment that a person spends in quietness far away from noise, far from everything! This tranquility [is something] we find so rarely in life. Life is a river that we purify so little except during meditation. It is sometimes peaceful, sometimes agitated, sometimes clouded, sometimes dark. The mind is always overloaded with all sorts of thoughts. Meditation is an excellent way of taming the wandering mind. It is also a remedy for anger and melancholy.” That boy is now an adult, and he and his wife are both committed meditators. He plans for his two children to attend meditation lessons when they are a little older, as first steps along the path he has chosen for himself.
In India, educators have explored the benefits of meditation classes for autistic children, homeless children, orphans, children with hearing and speech impairments, and children with physical and mental disabilities. In Myanmar, meditation courses have been provided for children with visual or hearing impairments, children affected by leprosy, and juvenile offenders in various institutions. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, students organized a visit to southern Myanmar to offer physical assistance as well as meditation lessons; about 1,500 children participated within a few weeks.
It is best if school teachers participate in meditations courses along with their students. Thus, the teachers can lead by example and they become motivated to act as partners and co-workers in this constructive activity. Positive results are most likely when the children have opportunities to continue the meditation regularly at home or at school. When students see their teachers and parents engaged in the same, they respond easily and eagerly.
The following are some representative comments from children who took a meditation course:
"I feel that everyone should take this course."
"It's challenging and tough at first but enjoyable later on. It is good to look at oneself."
"I have gained a lot . . . of calmness out of this course."
"It is difficult but essential; will sure help me in my studies."
"I just can't say how wonderful it is here. I wish my elder sister could have come."
"I learned that my mind is like a monkey, always wandering. And I have learned how to control it."
"I liked the serene, peaceful atmosphere here and though meditation is difficult at times, it is very beneficial."
"When I get mad at something or somebody, I just take some deep breaths, keep doing my work, and tune everyone out. It gives you good confidence when you need to do something important."