Education must be as much about our students’ emotional education as it is their academic education. We have come a long way since the three Viennese schools of Psychotherapy and modern CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) could provide all pastoral educators and classroom teachers with a range of simple, practical and effective tools by which students can learn to manage their emotions and their reactions. It is often implicit in schools that we teach our students to manage their emotions through socialisation but there are now explicit tools available which can facilitate this. It is about time we use them.
No less important must be a focus on the moral and ethical wellbeing of our students. If we, as professional educators do not explicitly teach our students the difference between right and wrong and the social contract by which we are all bound then we are implicitly leaving our students to discover these things for themselves. This is a worry as the source of their moral education is likely to be the media, the movies and Facebook…hardly a robust and consistent education in how to behave. Unfortunately for non-Muslim students in the UAE, however, there are no
Religious Education lessons like those we may have been used to back home. However good or bad the lessons were and however much students did or did not subscribe to the religious doctrines presented, they did provide useful time and space for students to consider the moral maze. It is time that schools considered how they can introduce secular philosophy lessons into schools in order to make up for this shortfall.
Beyond an earthly education in how to behave and the difference between right and wrong, however, is the even more profound and spiritual question of why we are all here. Again, except for our Muslim students who are fortunate enough to have Islam to provide them with the answers, there are thousands of non-Muslim students who simply do not have dedicated time set aside in school to be able to ask the most fundamental of all questions: what is the meaning of life? It was interesting to ask all the delegates at GESS Dubai 2016 how many of them actually asked that question of their students this year. No-one in the audience raised their hand.
Finally and perhaps more prosaically there is a real need for us to ask whether we are being sufficiently mindful of our students’ future wellbeing. This brings us almost full-circle back to the founding principles of mass education. Are we sufficiently preparing our students with the requisite skills for the contemporary workplace? We read regularly in the press that 65% of the jobs that our students will do, have not even been invented yet, that the tech revolution will continue at an exponential rate such that cars will build themselves and all but the most human jobs will be automated. This is going to make for an ultra-competitive jobs market in which only the most socially adept students will have the human roles. There is therefore a very real need for schools to invest in the development of a broad range of soft skills so that their students have a competitive advantage in this increasingly automatic world.
A focus on wellbeing in education is therefore far from a new topic and is far more than simply a focus on happiness. Wellbeing has and hopefully will continue to be the only purpose of education for millennia to come.
By Michael Lambert
Michael is Headmaster of Dubai College.