The well-being of children as a pre-requisite for and the outcome of learning

There is a new curriculum for basic education in Finland effective as of August 2016. There are two related concepts that permeate the new curriculum: pupil’s well-being and pupils’ welfare. Everywhere in the Finnish curriculum is the acknowledgement that the well-being and welfare of children is the task and the outcome of the coordinated and teleological efforts of schools, homes, communities and administrative and local branches of government. Being ok at the school is not enough; being ok at home is a pre-requisite. Well-being and safety are preconditions for learning.[1]

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We know, after more than 60 years of research of factors associated to learning that the well-being of students, and how the children are raised at home, are as important or more important than school factors per se in explaining the variance of students’ and schools’ performance. And after 15 or so years of PISA and 15 or so years of the No Child Left Behind Act, a new generation of school reforms and school practices it’s been born. The Obama’s new Every Student Succeeds Act, the new Finnish Curriculum, and the OECD’s new framework for global competence[2] set the stage for two overarching education and learning reforms in the two or three decades to come: the well-being of individual students and the well-being of all.

How will we do this in schools? “How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?”

Well, first by recognizing that the continuum set of rich experiences in the students’ lives creates the willingness and ambience for learning and growth. It is not the home alone or the school alone or the community alone, but the way the children develop in different yet complimentary environments. Children need to feel safe, relaxed and secure to be ready to explore, concentrate, inquire and learn.

Furthermore, in the 21st century we share a new learning environment where children, between 8 and 18 years old, spend more than eight hours per day: the media, and most importantly, the digital media[3].

Each one of all three, home, school and community need to work on the well-being and welfare of children, but have to be able not only to communicate but also to collaborate and coordinate. If home is the problem, teachers, principals, local educational and municipal authorities, and social services should work to be able to reach and support a safe and serene home environment. If the community is the problem, then parents and teachers together with local and national organizations should work to improve the community as a learning venue for children. If the school is the hurdle, then the community-based school reform movement is the answer.

At any rate, the pre-requisite for learning is a safe, secure, cordial and peaceful environment for children’s potential to thrive. The spin-off of all this is that at the same time that we work with the welfare and well-being of children we are creating the conditions for the student’s school engagement, another big topic in the future of education. Once we have this, teachers can then create a cordial, flexible, and active learning environment where children feel safe to share ideas and emotions, sometimes working in groups, sometimes as independent learners, sometimes playing, sometimes purposely studying.

[1] Finnish National Board of Education (2016). National core curriculum for basic education 2014. Helsinki: ISBN 978-952-13-6259-0 (Digital publication). p. 44

[2] OECD (2016). Global competency for an inclusive world. Paris: OECD. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/Global-competency-for-an-inclusive-world.pdf (October 19 16).

[3] Victoria j: Rideout, Ulla G. Foehr, and Donald F. Roberts (2010). Generation M2 Media in the lives of 8-to 18 –years-olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study. California.

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