Don’t forget to breathe

Jenesa Jeram
Insights Newsletter
11 August, 2017

As loyal readers might be aware, The New Zealand Initiative has long been concerned that there is a real scandal in New Zealand education. Some of our most vulnerable kids are leaving school without the skills they need to get ahead in life.

No, I’m not talking about literacy and numeracy – although they are important too. I am talking about something even more basic.

It appears the kids of today do not even know how to smile and breathe.

Luckily, over 200 schools in New Zealand are already rushing to remedy this problem with their ‘Pause, Breathe, Smile’ mindfulness programme.

Now admittedly, even I struggle with these tasks sometimes. Because of my lack of mindfulness study, I fear my smiles come across more like grimaces. To be perfectly honest, even the thought of being forced to take a mindfulness class has provoked an emotion which I think is rage.

One of the lessons, titled ‘Everything for the first time’ sounds particularly compelling: Using creative role-play for looking at the world with curiosity and interest. Using creative role-play to feign interest sounds like a valuable workplace skill.

No doubt there will be some who question whether it is the role of schools to teach children the joy of stopping to smell the roses. But the comments from one middle school principal are convincing: ‘school wasn't just about learning subjects, but also making pupils better people.’

Amen to that. I look forward to my future children being able to earn NCEA credits for essential activities like ‘giving a genuine compliment’ or ‘doing someone a favour with no expectation of reward’. Frankly, the world might be a better place if some students were held back from graduation until they could prove they were good people.

Never mind the fact that the evidence-base for mindfulness instruction is patchy at best. Or that there are trade-offs: teachers do not have an infinite amount of time to teach everything from the traditional subjects like literacy and numeracy to less traditional subjects like healthy eating. Or that unequal outcomes in educational achievement can lead to other inequalities later in life.

But as my colleagues waste their time grappling with policy issues like how to improve New Zealand’s education system, I can at least aspire to be a source of inspiration to them all.

Next time they look a little frustrated, I will remind them to pause, breathe and smile

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