The Role of Well-being in Educational Success
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
The promising research behind why well-being should be taught in schools.
In education, the decision regarding what to spend time teaching can be difficult to make. Should more time be spent on math and writing to improve test scores, or art and gym to develop other areas of intelligence? The balance between preparing students for testing, and enriching other life skills is hard to strike. Due to this, it can seem unfeasible to spend classroom time on something as “frivolous” as teaching well-being. However, research has shown that instructing on well-being has led to increased test scores and academic success. That is, education in an area not directly connected to any grade may improve scores across all areas.
Well-being is a concept that includes feeling good and functioning well, and, as a result, is a multifaceted concept that can be practically measured. Positive functioning is not simply, “… the mere absence of psychological or behavioural problems, but also…the presence of strengths and wellness”. The development of well-being can be illustrated with the analogy of a garden: just like plants, aspects of positive functioning must also be cultivated to thrive over time. Adolescent well-being has also been described by the EPOCH measure of well-being, which stands for engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness, and happiness.
Through his research in Peru, Bhutan, and Mexico, Dr. Alejandro Adler of the University of Pennsylvania researched both the possibility and impact of teaching well-being on a large scale within schooling systems. Dr. Adler referred to adolescence as a, “… particularly significant developmental and malleable period in life". Therefore, adolescence may be a particularly valuable time to develop the skills for well-being. Dr. Adler was the first to establish a causal relationship between well-being and academic achievement, and thus highlighted the importance of including well-being education in school curricula.
In his research, each country had a well-being curriculum taught and integrated into the schools as a whole, ranging from 18-694 schools per country. Students were taught non-academic life skills such as mindfulness, communication, creative thinking, empathy, and problem-solving. The curriculums were both taught and integrated throughout the entire school because previous research established that well-being interventions are most effective when they impact all areas of a school, including the students, staff, academics, and extracurriculars.
Results showed that both well-being and academic performance significantly improved in schools with the curriculum (the treatment schools) compared to those without (the controls). For example, in Burhan, students previously performing at the 50th percentile on average improved to the 60th percentile, after completing the well-being curriculum. Furthermore, one year after the well-being intervention was completed, there was no significant decline in test scores in the treatment schools, suggesting that these benefits may be experienced long-term.
"It is not only the strictly academic classes and instruction that leads to significant benefits for students."
When we consider education, we must remember that it is not only the strictly academic classes and instruction that leads to significant benefits for students. As shown through the research of Dr. Adler, providing well-being education for students is highly effective in improving academic achievement. Furthermore, adolescence is a crucial time period for fostering positive mental health, as it is in childhood and adolescence that the first onset of mental disorders commonly occurs. Therefore, teaching and promoting wellbeing in schools has a great impact on student’s academic achievement, as well as their long-term wellbeing.
Adler, A. (2016). Teaching well-being increases academic performance: Evidence from Bhutan, Mexico, and Peru. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/edissertations/1572
Kessler, R. C., Amminger, G. P., Aguilar‐Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Lee, S., & Ustun, T. B. (2007). Age of onset of mental disorders: a review of recent literature. Current opinion in psychiatry, 20(4), 359. doi:10.1097/YCO.0b013e32816ebc8c
Kern, M. L., Benson, L., Steinberg, E. A., & Steinberg, L. (2016). The EPOCH measure of adolescent well-being. Psychological Assessment, 28(5), 586. doi:10.1037/pas000020