Outreach: the nature of education

At The Student, we are attempting to facilitate an international outreach initiative to provide our readers with an intersectional approach on how common themes of psychological solutions are integrated within education in different cultural spheres. The following articles are by Deeksha Suresh (she/her) who works for the Academic Associate for Training and Research Initiatives, training and research psychological solutions hub led by a group of dedicated psychologists and psychotherapists, based in Bangalore, India

The evolution of education

The formal introduction of a child into a socially dynamic environment happens when they enter a classroom and therein, the child is equipped with the tools they need to function as a citizen of the world and more importantly, as a human being in a global community.

A classroom is a place of physical, social, and psychological growth and is a constantly evolving space. Dr. Tim Patston, the Coordinator of Creativity and Innovation at Geelong Grammar in Victoria says, “traditional hierarchical models of work are devolving into collaborative teams.” School environments have greatly evolved from the blackboard learning system because the way children learn has been more extensively researched upon. Some may learn through listening or through reading while others may learn through doing. The reality of the situation, however, is as the Swedish proverb says, ‘children do as you do; not as you say’.

While it may have been that a teacher would teach and the child would learn from the teacher, now that has dynamically shifted to children learning more through the observation of their peers. Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies or PALS is a peer-tutoring instructional programme developed by Lynn and Doug Fuchs in 1997. It allows students to work together on reading and other tutoring-related class activities. Teachers still play the role of training the students on how to help each other learn or rather, how to not only teach your peer but how do you also learn from them. On a study conducted on 120 students studying in grades 2-6 and high school students, it was revealed that peer-assisted learning would not only positively influence the comprehension of younger students but also that of adolescents. The shift in the hierarchy of the functionality of a classroom is not confined then only to elementary level and can even be implemented in graduate studies classrooms.

The evolution of classrooms also provides a platform to introduce a more inclusive education system where students with disabilities or differential needs, of any measure, can work in general education settings. Norman Kunc is a well-known advocate for disability-related issues and he states that, “the fundamental principle of inclusive education is the valuing of diversity within the human community…when inclusive education is fully embraced, we abandon the idea that children have to become “normal” in order to contribute to the world…we begin to look beyond typical ways of becoming valued members of the community, and in doing so, begin to realize the achievable goal of providing all children with an authentic sense of belonging.”

The Indian Education system boasts of its own peer learning environment with the ancient Sanskrit Gurukulam system. The students and the teachers would reside in the same physical space as equals, also engaging in everyday household chores with their peers as a part of their learning. The dynamic of a family was introduced into the space of a classroom where acceptance and non-judgement was key to hold a safe space for not merely physical growth but also social and psychological growth.

What Kunc’s definition and the general evolution of education currently suggests is not just a shift in the practice but also in the perspective we as a society collectively hold towards learning. When we begin to ask the questions – are we teaching for creativity or teaching creatively? And are we learning creatively? – we begin to recognise that the approach to education is far beyond a binary of teaching and learning and that it is multi-dimensional and all-encompassing.  One cannot attempt to teach creatively without understanding diversity and differential ability. In other words, the process cannot be carried out without keeping in mind the population and its purpose in community. It is perhaps this dynamism that asks: does anyone ever stop being a student?

 

Mental health in the curriculum

In the early 1900s, the mental hygiene movement advocated not only for a better treatment of mentally ill individuals but also introduced society to the importance of mental health or wellness in addition to physical wellness. In the aftermath of the movement, we still aim to rid our global community of the stigma associated with mental health and illness. One of the core areas of the modern version of this movement is the inculcation of mental health hygiene in schools and colleges. A.J Rosanoff defines mental hygiene by stating that it “endeavours to aid people off troubles as well as furnishing ways to handle troubles [sic].” In order to ward off troubles then, awareness, literacy and appropriate interventions are necessary.

While the factors that influence one’s mental health are many, two social factors may play a crucial role in determining risks negatively influencing one’s mental health – the home and the community. For a child, the first community they are an active part of is the school environment and can influence their psychological growth by fostering a sense of worth, competence and positively influences the child’s mental health.  The school environment can then play a pivotal role as a protector of the child, both physically and psychologically.

‘Prevention is better than cure’ is a phrase used widely in the medical field and its truth holds equal importance with respect to mental health. Mental hygiene or mental health curriculum is often comprised of three components – emotional well-being, de-stigmatisation and intervention at the time of distress. Engaging in a dialogue with respect to all three of the above provides for an encouragement of help-seeking behaviour. It normalises the emotion or situation thereby normalising the need for help. Even though students may be able to identify what they are feeling, they may not be aware that just as you need rest when you are physically ill, you may need to take care of yourself if you are not feeling well mentally.  Dr. Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist with Fortis Healthcare, India talks about the burden of yet another subject added to curriculum by stating “including such a mental health curriculum ought not to be viewed as increasing the academic burden of subjects being taught. Instead, its aim should be to highlight the need for incorporating life-skills training as an integral aspect of schooling. Some of these life skills could include encouraging [students] to acquire skills related to gender sensitivity, dealing with bullying and managing aggression, improving emotional intelligence while imbibing skills for emotional regulation, building empathy, training them to be assertive and, making them media literate.”

The goal of mental hygiene is not to track the exact manifestations of mental ill-health but to rather allow for an understanding of the subjectivity of each person’s mental health. In 2018, the states of Virginia and New York passed a state-wide mandate for providing mental health education in schools. The law in New York requires the integration of mental health within the curriculum of all grades from kindergarten through senior year. Early inclusion of mental hygiene in curriculum provide for a greater chance of influencing literacy and awareness and also in providing the opportunity for children to develop a sense of empathy and a collaborative community.

Adolf Meyer, the first psychiatrist-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital and a former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) said “the goal of medicine is peculiarly the goal of making itself unnecessary, of influencing life so that what is medicine today will become mere common sense tomorrow or at least within the next generation.” What Meyer says is what mental hygiene in curriculum would possibly achieve wherein mental health – awareness, intervention and de-stigmatisation – is merely common sense, inherent to every social sphere.

 

Image: Mohamed Hassan via pxhere

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