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Education and Happiness

(93 Posts)
Sue61 Thu 16-Jun-11 15:59:55

I have been a teacher and teacher educator for 35 years and firmly believe that happiness should be an aim of education. Why is it that so many bright, creative people have hated school. Why do so many of us believe that children are miserable at school 'for their own good'. Why do so many people fear that children will be spoiled, unprepared, undisciplined, unsuccessful and ultimately unhappy if we don't make them conform at school? My experience as a teacher and mother and now grandmother tells me that learning is natural - a baby who didn't want to learn would be a cause for concern. And children learn best when they are happy. Of course this begs the question of what it means to be happy. I think learning makes me happy and I see it regularly making my little grandson happy - his delight in achieving things is a joy to behold - no one would doubt his achievements make him happy. I think learning should make us happy our whole lives. Unfortunately much time is spent in school trying to make children learn things that don't interest them. This produces unmotivated, uninterested, bored children. They may 'learn' enough to pass exams but then promptly forget it - that's not learning. What is the purpose of school? We have a system that sees education as largely having an economic purpose - what about happiness? Cameron is concerned to measure levels of happiness in adults. But what about children? Should an aim of education be happy children? And what would that look like in the classroom? I think the development of our personal capacities and interpersonal relationships are a key component of happiness - does school contribute to this in any meaningful way for all our children, or just some who happen to be motivated by what's on offer? My work has always made me happy and I want everyone to experience happiness in their work - how can schools help in this quest? What do others think?

Joan Thu 21-Jul-11 12:45:30

Yes, Artygran, little children have an amazing ability to pick up the languages around them naturally, and I feel it is such a shame to waste this. Unfortunately few children have the opportunity to do it, regardless of how much their parents might want it for them. I'm glad it worked out for your daughter.

I heard about the Canadian immersion method when I did my TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and it seemed so logical to me.

artygran Thu 21-Jul-11 12:27:12

Joan, I am glad you raise the Canadian immersion method. When my daughter was eight, we were based at a large NATO headquarters in Europe. She was offered the chance to join the French immersion class with the Canadian children because her teachers thought, being bright, she needed to be stretched. There were other British and American children in the class also and, apart from the first few weeks, they spoke and wrote nothing but French (it did not impact on her written English - probably helped it). This for the two and a half years we were there. When we came home, with less than a year to complete at junior school, no one knew quite how to take it forward as they then had no facility teaching languages to that age group. Languages were not tackled until year one at comprehensive. We engaged a tutor to maintain the conversational momentum and when she went up to the local comp her command of the language was so far in advance of everyone else, it became a real problem. The head of languages said she could have taken her GCE at that stage, and it needed to be fostered, but the headmaster did not believe in "fast-tracking". At the end of the day, they did agree to make an exception, so she did not lose the advantage she had gained, and she eventually went on to do French, German and European Business Studies at Uni. Children take to the immersion method surprisingly well. My son, aged three, attended a French speaking kindergarten in Belgium for a year and the English and American children seemed to understand everything that was said to them.

Annobel Thu 21-Jul-11 07:37:21

So true,*Joan*. Before I started Latin and French, at 12, I could be quite careless about spelling, but then, miraculously, I stopped making mistakes and have been a good speller ever since. When I taught in Africa, I only ever had one pupil who was a seriously bad speller, though our girls were, admittedly, the 'creme de la creme'.

Joan Thu 21-Jul-11 07:16:34

I think children should learn another language from grade 1, ie 5 years old. At that age it can be all fun and songs and play-acting. I understand they are very good at the 'immersion' method in Canada, to teach English speaking children French and the other way round. If you can get some decent second language teaching in to children before puberty, they have a good chance of becoming fluent.

Here in Australia there are parents who object to this, saying they should concentrate on English and get that right first, but the truth is, learning a second language does wonders for your English, especially grammar. It also teaches children about other cultures: you can't learn a language without learning about the culture too, and this is a great tool to combat racism and ethnocentric attitudes.

Also, having a second language, or more, is now known to combat dementia: it must be something about the different thought processes involved in thinking in different languages.

As for happiness in education: this is achieved through good teaching, and good planning. History and geography, English literature, foreign languages, sciences, maths, etc can all be extremely interesting to learn, especially with modern teaching aids. I still remember my first fortnight of Latin at age 12. The teacher simply told us tales of ancient Rome, of life there, of battles, of the Romans in Britain - I was spellbound. Then he started teaching the language - Latin is very hard but we enjoyed it - well most of us anyway.

Mamie Thu 21-Jul-11 07:16:28

The Primary Languages strategy was brought in several years ago and is introduced in Key Stage 2 (7-11). I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I know it is going well in the Local Authority where I used to work. It is a Europe-wide strategy and I have taught English to primary school children here in France. I don't know if cuts to education budgets will impact on it, but it wouldn't surprise me; you have to put money into in-service training for teachers to make it work.

artygran Thu 21-Jul-11 06:50:36

If I may go back to the subject of languages; we don't start to teach foreign languages early enough in this country. Children need to start to learn a language in the early primary stage, when their enthusiasm and capacity for it is likely to be at a much greater level than when they reach secondary school, by which time many appear to be burdened by embarrassment at having to speak in a language other than their own (let alone get to grips with the grammar) and therefore lack the enthusiasm and drop the subject at the earliest opportunity. It seems to me that few primary schools compulsorily teach a language, though many have extra curricular language lessons on a voluntary basis and I think maybe we are missing a trick here.

Mamie Sat 09-Jul-11 17:24:09

Totally agree with your second paragraph Charlotta.
I think very few politicians seem to understand how much hard work it has taken to get the Level 4 percentages to where they are at the end of primary education. Another figure you never see quoted is that about a third of children aged 11 actually achieve a Level 5, which is the expectation for age 14.
Of course there are still pockets of underachievement such as boys' writing and it is proving very hard to get past the 80% figure, but as I have said many times, there are no easy solutions here.

Charlotta Sat 09-Jul-11 16:19:00

What I don't understand is, when 80% are leaving school with level 4 literacy and numeracy, what is Michael Gove on about then? That seems to be a number any country could be proud of. I don't think you can judge literacy by the blogs and twitters on Forums. This seems to be another use of language altogether and if the standard really is so low then it must be the other 20%
But returning to the original thread, I think the school system in the States is the one where happiness is considered all important at least to the fortunate few who go to good schools in a good area where the teachers have parental support.
If you weren't happy at school but learnt enough to pass exams then the time wasn't wasted. When you have got your pieces of paper to say you have passed this and that, then you are free later to really do something you think is important. Nobody wants to see an unhappy child but as a rule children with enough food and sleep and a normal homelife aren't unhappy and possess the ability to make the most out of life at that age. If the basics are missing then the child will be unhappy but then no school or learning method can aleviate their unhappiness completely.

Mamie Sat 09-Jul-11 06:52:36

Well sorry to bang on about this Charlotta, but I don't accept that "so many" are leaving without basic skills. The figure reaching Level 4, which is a good level of literacy and numeracy, is around 80%. Level 3 does not equal illiteracy or innumeracy. Actually, much of the writing on forums (absolutely not aimed at this forum or anyone in particular) would not be judged as a Level 4.
I think that ICT is a very important part of the curriculum for pupils in primary schools; in my view it is essential that we teach children to use technology appropriately and to understand its uses and misuses.

Charlotta Fri 08-Jul-11 21:26:14

That can happen in France . The French are also fussy about hearing incorrect French from foreigners. At least in Paris, I find it easier in the South of France.

The main thing is that our grandchildren learn real subjects and even the practical ones need some maths skills. It has been said on this thread that practical children dont get enough encouragement. In my experience the best practical work was done by people who were brainy as well. Either hands or heads is too simple.
The kids are 11 years at school. It must be enough to read, write and do enough maths to get you through a normal day. What is going wrong when so many are leaving without these basic skills? Were these happy children? I don't think so. More discipline, smaller classes and no computers in junior schools. That would help.

Mamie Fri 08-Jul-11 18:05:23

Oh I see - I thought you meant facts as in kings and queens, capes and bays. Yes of course you need to acquire knowledge as building blocks as you acquire the skills to learn more. As far as languages are concerned, here in France people (in my experience) do not often speak English very well. I have had pupils who have been told "If you don't think it is right then don't say it", which I think is madness if you are learning a language.

expatmaggie Fri 08-Jul-11 17:27:42

I said teach the facts of the world. You cannot develop a love of learning unless you are learning facts and then adding new facts to these and so on. For that you then learn concentration because that is what you need in order to do it. Research skills are only possible if you already have a lot of facts whether in science or geography or whatever. From a standpoint of knowing something you then research to find more in order to get to know more.

I live in Germany where all educated people speak English ( and a lot French or Spanish as well). Are they gifted at languages, are the Swedes and the Dutch gifted at languages? Do these languages fly to them in a dream? No! They have all learnt English the hard way by slogging at it and learning vocabulary. I don't know if in class they were asked if they were happy. I think regarding English they are motivated but it was still hard work.
But I do know that learning something, swotting at it and persevering and succeeding makes you happy. Very happy indeed.

Childhood is not only for being happy and carefree, it is to fit you for the world you are going to live in.

Mamie Fri 08-Jul-11 13:33:54

Agree with most of your post Maggie, but education is not just about teaching facts. I can't create an exhaustive list off the top, but love of learning, concentration, research skills, a spirit of enquiry, the ability to work independently and in a team, an ability to reflect on things, are the ones that spring to my mind at the moment. I am sure there are others. Of course, to that you need to add good skills in literacy, numeracy and ICT to enable the children to acquire and develop knowledge and understanding in other subjects.

expatmaggie Thu 07-Jul-11 19:36:52

It was clever of the Today progamme to recognise that speech is the basic structure on which thought grows. The more vocabulary you have, the more grammatical structures you have at your disposal the more complicated your thought processes can become. The better you can thnk and especially objectively, the easier you will find to understand other people and yourself in order to plan your life. Reading is a continuation of this and is important for the enlargement of your vocabulary and knowledge.
School can not teach happiness but facts about the world. That is what school is for. Of course school must create an atmosphere where stress or unhappiness don't prevent a child from learning.

jangly Thu 07-Jul-11 09:13:20

Mamie, I so agree with you.

jangly Thu 07-Jul-11 09:12:34

They were saying on the Today programme this morning that people who read are more able to understand other people and social situations.

Mamie Thu 07-Jul-11 06:23:54

Happiness and having fun in a classroom are important, but in my experience must be based on clear expectations of what the children will learn, supported by rigorous planning, teaching and assessment. A classroom that is just focused on "children being happy" can leave children adrift and unsure of what they are meant to be doing, which is not a long-term recipe for success or happiness.

Sue61 Wed 06-Jul-11 23:15:43

Thanks for all the contributors to the forum - really enjoyed reading your responses. STill interested in knowing how people would respond to some of my original questions.

expatmaggie Thu 23-Jun-11 19:18:43

It sounds a long day for a child that has got up early in the morning. When they are 7 years of age school starts here at 7:45. My grandson is waiting for the bus at 7.15 from the village where he lives. It is an early start on dark winter mornings and I found the getting up at 6 a.m. hard when my children were of school age, but the children coped. It is good that they get used to starting early if they are going to hold down a job in Germany where everything starts at that time.

Mamie Thu 23-Jun-11 14:43:21

They can start as soon as they are 2+ out of nappies in France and Spain. Reading and writing start at 6 in France and my grandson in Spain started at 4. French schools are formal rather than strict I would say. There is very little creative stuff in primary; art, music, dance and PE are rare and special events. Lots of French and Maths taught in a very formal way from workbooks that the parents have to buy. Having said that, my personal experience based on limited observation (taught English in primary schools for a year here) is that literacy skills are certainly no higher than in the UK and there is very little creative writing. They are only in school four days a week and it is a very long day, from our village the primary school children leave at 8 and come home just before six.

expatmaggie Thu 23-Jun-11 10:35:54

I didn't realise that they were starting school at 4 or 4.5, but have heard this is usual in France,too. There is very strict school system there -or was- I' m not so sure of my facts.
We have Rudolph Steiner schools here in Germany and they are an alternative but have draw backs for parents. Firstly they charge about €300 per month (£ 275) Then the school expects parents to play a big part in school life; build garden houses and log cabins, climbing frames etc. all wood of course as they are close to nature and alternative in their outlook.

We have such a school nearby and I had teacher from there in my Cambridge Certificate Advanced English course. He said all the rooms have to be round which means they build or plan everything themselves and then the history of the world began with some Indian God, and it all sounded a bit queer to me and I wouldn't have sent a child there, even if I had had the spare cash for two children. One thing is, though. When they are at school the children are happy but later on they have to come to terms with life 'outside'

There is not such a large intake of children in the Steiner School. Compared to GB we are a classless society and my daughter sat next to a millionaire's daughter and a guest worker 's daughter in the beginner's class. Private education, although becoming more popular is thought to be a bit suspect and those schools have some very difficult pupils.

em Wed 22-Jun-11 20:07:08

Most children in Scotland start school later than in England. At the very youngest it's 4.5 but that is generally discouraged. Most are nearer 5 or 5.5. (Depending on birthdays).Even then I think it's a bit young but I'd hate to see them go any younger than that.

crimson Wed 22-Jun-11 18:41:51

expatmaggie; children are starting school at 4 now; my grandson is just turned 4 and will be starting in September. Don't even have two intakes now [Sept and January]. I knew someone who went to Summerhill [I'd forgotten the name of it till you mentioned it]. They all went round on rollerskates and such like. Think she was a bit screwed up as well. Anyone know much about Steiner schools? Spoke to someone who taught at one a couple of years ago, and it all sounded very sensible and good for the children.We all see what happens to children that are child stars and don't have a proper childhood..feel that starting school early and having tests done is the equivilant of that.

Mamie Wed 22-Jun-11 18:35:52

Sorry, just realised I was guilty of using educational jargon in last post! Should perhaps explain that differentiation means adjusting planning and teaching to take account of different abilities, levels of language acquisition, special needs etc. Also apologies to those who already knew that!

Mamie Wed 22-Jun-11 16:39:48

Interesting article in the Guardian today saying that nearly a quarter of pupils in English schools are from ethnic minorities. Almost seventeen per cent in primaries and twelve per cent in secondaries have English as a second language. Of course, this does not mean that these children will underachieve, but it does, perhaps, demonstrate the challenges in teaching and differentiation that schools may face.