Relevance & Meaning elicits Engagement

How meaningful & relevant do North American youth consider university education? Universities might examine the British Parliament's Mindfulness Initiative for tips on how to win back students' engagement. "There are three key policy challenges in education on which the research evidence for mindfulness has a bearing. The first is the concern with academic attainment and improving results; the second is the deepening anxiety around the mental health of children; the third is the growing interest in concepts (which have been identified as a policy priority by all the major parties) of character-building and resilience which cover a range of non-academic skills and capabilities. The latter policy challenge has emerged relatively recently building on an earlier interest in emotional and social learning and how best to foster child development and wellbeing. As an umbrella term, it covers a wide range of moral and civic virtues as well as characteristics such as determination and "grit", and attracts considerable enthusiasm from parents, employers and schools. The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, has declared her ambition to make the nation a "global leader of teaching character." Mindfulness has much to contribute to this newly emerging agenda.” The Evidence "Many argue that the most important prerequisites for child development are executive control (the management of cognitive processes such as memory, problem solving, reasoning and planning) and emotion regulation (the ability to understand and manage the emotions, including and especially impulse control). These main contributors to self-regulation underpin emotional wellbeing, effective learning and academic attainment. They also predict income, health and criminality in adulthood. American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, is a prominent exponent of the research showing that these capabilities are the biggest single determinant of life outcomes. They contribute to the ability to cope with stress, to concentrate, and to use metacognition (thinking about thinking: a crucial skill for learning). They also support the cognitive flexibility required for effective decision-making and creativity. There is promising evidence that mindfulness training has been shown to enhance executive control in children and adolescents in line with adult evidence. What is of particular interest is that those with the lowest levels of executive control and emotional stability are likely to benefit most from mindfulness training. Recent meta-analyses of MBIs for children and adolescents suggested improvements in stress, anxiety, depression, emotional and behavioural regulation, with larger effects reported in clinical than in nonclinical populations. One of the most rigorous studies looked at the impact of an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course (MBSR) on 102 children aged 4-18 with a wide range of mental health diagnoses and they reported significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and distress. They also reported increased self-esteem and sleep quality. At a three-month follow-up, those who practised more showed improved clinicians' ratings of anxiety and depression compared with those who did not.” Full report:

Portrait by Lisa Congdon

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