I am always pleased when there is talk of introducing mindfulness in schools but it can be seen as a bandwagon for those advocating it – part of the non-mainstream careerism that abounds in education.
Mindfulness as a concept was “originally” raised by the Buddha (as discussed in Samyutta Nikaya 45). The mindfulness peddled in western education has nowhere near this quality of tradition and experience. I am also not so sure of the quality of those who are advocating it. Typified by this Flipboard article the western approach seems to require scientific justification, and to my mind any scientific acceptance of benefit is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been much scientific work done by the Dalai Lama with the Mind and Life Institute, I would always start there.
Having said that bringing mindfulness in schools can only have positive benefits – at worst students would think they get nothing from it, how can it hurt? Adults often wonder whether they get anything from meditation.
The real issue is how to get mindfulness into schools, not whether it should happen. Mindfulness is clearly an individual activity, and therefore does not lend itself to the classroom situation. To discuss mindfulness academically – as part of an exam or PSE – is meaningless, students have to do it. Here in Thailand meditation in schools is common place because Buddhism is the national religion. In my volunteer lessons with kindergarten kids, with the help of the class teacher we always finished with a short meditation before eating lunch; it definitely helped. Kids were sat still sitting in lotus position, both of which would be virtually impossible in the UK.
In Nigeria I had a bunch of rowdy year 7’s. They came into the room, I made them shut up, and we did meditation for a couple of minutes. This was for discipline purposes, I have previously made kids stand in silence when they come into the room for discipline – meditation is better. Both discipline techniques really applied only for younger kids. Some of the Nigerian kids actively liked it, others were just this side of disrupting the activity.
Nigeria also had some very devout Christians. I noticed that just before a test they would pray – they would even use part of the test time to pray because there was test silence. I thought it would have been good to have a silent time before the start of a test – a “5-minute” mindfulness time. It would go something like this. Give out the papers so that everyone is ready to start the test. Then have a mindfulness time in which the emphasis would be calming down ready for the test, and by agreement there would be a period of the mindfulness time for prayer if students wished – or they could just continue to try to be calm. At an important exam I got a bad case of the “wobblies” after reading the paper, I lost nearly 10 minutes of the exam; in the end meditation helped with this.
Mindfulness and concentration are associated in Buddhism (see Samyutta Nikaya 45 again). In maths I felt there was a particular place for both with regards to problem-solving. Much of maths is technique but for many students they can remember the technique but do not know how and when to apply it. Most teachers overcome this by cramming – past papers, the students do not solve problems they just remember similar problems and apply the techniques the same way. I investigated meditation/mindfulness approaches for doing this under the umbrella of study skills but only after I retired so am unable to describe whether it would be effective. LINK
A slightly different approach to this could be considered. I don’t know whether it is common in all Muslim schools but one Muscat school I worked in had a prayer room. With cooperation a prayer room could also function as a “mindful prayer room”, “chanting” v Muslim prayer battles would not be conducive.
Mindfulness could be greatly beneficial to students, and attempts to introduce all students to mindfulness techniques is long overdue. But it does need to be practitioners who introduce it, and not a curriculum-required talk on its use in an ignored PSE lesson.