Why We Need Mindfulness In Schools

The focus of the Mindfulness Foundation is making the practice of Mindfulness Meditation available to all UK School children by 2022. So, how did this retired IBM Executive get involved? A little background. My meditation studies started in 1967 at a Buddhist Monastery in Singapore and since then I have been privileged to continue my practice with many remarkable teachers including the Dalai Lama, Krishnamurti, Ajahn Sumedho and Osho.

 

So my work at IBM on the instigation and management of a $6.5 million donation for the UN Global Resource Database (GRID) was always inspired by meditation. Meditation that assists by relaxing the grip of old habits, old ways of thinking and thus creates a space for clarity of perception and something new and inspirational. The GRID project went on to lay the foundations for the IBM Sustainable Development agenda and its worldwide Smarter Planet initiative.  This year on 25 September 2015, more than 150 world leaders adopted the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as all countries need to redress their development to keep it within what are now called planetary boundaries.

I am blessed with several children, however it was only in 2013 that I became aware of the teaching of Mindfulness in Schools. This was at a conference with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the ‘father of mindfulness’. I saw the possibility to make a contribution and set up The Mindfulness Foundation to advocate and campaign to make “Mindfulness in Schools – as important as sport and as politically relevant as health”.

As Margaret Mead famously said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

 

A lot has been achieved this past year in the UK. July saw a £6.4 million Wellcome Trust three-part study including the first large randomised control trial of mindfulness training compared with ‘teaching as usual’ in 76 schools, which will involve nearly six thousand students aged 11 to 14. Other parts of the study are a programme of experimental research to establish whether and how mindfulness improves the mental resilience of teenagers and an evaluation of the most effective way to train teachers to deliver mindfulness classes to students.

In October the Mindful Nation UK report was launched in Parliament to ‘encourage the flourishing and wellbeing of a healthy nation’ with key recommendations for Education along with Criminal Justice, Health and the Workplace.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, one of three ministers at the launch, supported the creation of an education policy that acknowledged the long-term importance of wellbeing and Mindfulness was acknowledged as one of the most promising mental illness prevention strategies. Earlier in 2014 a report launched in the House of Lords on the use of wellbeing evidence to make substantive policy commendations recommended:

Mindfulness has significant potential to improve wellbeing and save public money. A key first step for unlocking this potential is to train health and education professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers) in mindfulness.

 

Working with this issue over the past two years it became evident that we need a monitoring system in schools to identify emerging problems in children and respond accordingly. Indeed, it has been found that up to 75% of mental health problems can be spotted before a child leaves school and we identified that a tool to do this already exists. It is called the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), a survey invented in the UK by Professor Robert Goodman, King’s College and used widely across the globe.

In partnership with IBM and Capita Children’s Services the Mindfulness Foundation prepared a Pathfinder Proposal that our new local MP, James Berry has been very helpful in presenting to Ministers at the Departments of Education and Health. In fact, James has become so enthused about Mindfulness he is doing the Parliamentary Mindfulness Training Course and has also written an excellent article recommending that ‘It’s time to start piloting mindfulness in our schools and measure its success.’

Whilst Mindfulness encourages the flourishing and wellbeing of healthy children we also need to commission high quality, effective children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing services grounded in the best available evidence. These are a safeguard for children and families and a cost-effective investment over the medium to long-term. Intervening early, particularly in the crucial childhood and teenage years, we can help to prevent mental illness from developing and mitigate its effects when it does. These problems pose serious long-term costs of as much as £105 billion a year.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says in relation to the new 2030 Global Goals “The challenge of transforming the world’s economy to a sustainable basis requires a fundamental shift in consciousness as well as in action.” I believe that the practice of Mindfulness by our children can make a huge contribution.

Originally Published in DAILY800.com
30 December 2015

ABOUT AUTHOR

Yoga Bowers is a grandfather who was inspired to set up the Mindfulness Foundation by Osho and Kabat-Zinn. In Singapore Yoga was instructed in Buddhist meditation and returning to England in 1969 Buckminster Fuller’s “To make the world work for 100% of humanity” motivated him to start his computing career. In the 70’s Yoga joined IBM and worked in Scientific Programs on Sustainable Development and was presented the IBM Chairman’s Award.