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UNESCO’s webinar explores link between happiness and positive learning

Smiling children running

On the occasion of the International Day of Education, and as part of the Learning Planet Festival celebrations, UNESCO hosted a webinar about the relationship between happiness and positive learning experiences. The event kicked off a global dialogue on the importance of positioning school well-being as both a pursuit and an enabler for a better learning, with the aim to scale up the work that began in Asia-Pacific through the regional Happy Schools Framework to the global context.

The webinar discussed findings and lessons learnt from the pilot implementation of the regional Happy Schools Framework in the first half of the panel discussion, followed by the second discussion focusing on the well-being experiences during the COVID-19 educational disruptions.

In 2014, UNESCO Bangkok launched the initial concept of ‘Happy Schools’ in the Asia-Pacific region with the aim of promoting happiness, well-being, and holistic development in schools, with the regional framework released in 2016.

During the event, Mr. Kiichi Oyasu, Director, Education Cooperation Department Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU) of Japan, and Ms. Phetsamone Kongchansavath and Ms. Sengpapha Holanouphab, ‘Happy Schools’ coordinators from Lao PDR shared their first-hand experiences of the ‘Happy Schools’ pilot implementation that took place between 2018-2020, representing system-level and school-level perspectives respectively.

Vietnam, a country that has recently joined the Happy School Initiative, was represented by Ms. Xuan Pham Thanh, a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) teacher practitioner. Ms. Xuan shared her trial-and-error experience trying to find activities that engaged and supported her students—and herself—during COVID-19 period.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity for a paradigm shift in education for better learning in schooling. Even before the pandemic, a number of issues persisted making schools unhappy spaces and learning environments unconducive to joyful and meaningful learning. Pervasive high-stakes testing and subsequent effects on mental health, school-based harassment and bullying, and a lack of engaging and relevant school and classroom practices posed challenges to creating positive school environments, thereby leading to less fruitful learning experiences and outcomes.

The second half of the panel discussion brought representatives from different countries to share how the pandemic affected well-being at school.  Starting with Mr. Francois Biney, Inspector of General Education, Côte D’Ivoire, followed by Ms. Eefje Cottenier, a parent from Belgium who represents a community of 1600 parents, and two students: a high school student from France and an elementary student from Palestine.

Moving forward, UNESCO is excited to begin its global scale-up of the Happy Schools Framework (HSF) on the UN’s International Day of Happiness on 20 March 2022. The regional HSF generated a lot of interest from countries around the world and research findings show that the culture of the school and the relationships between students, teachers and their peers influenced their happiness and learning outcomes. Going global with the Happy Schools Framework brings the critical alignment of SDG 4.1 about quality education and learning outcomes for all, and SDG 4.7 about global values for peace, citizenship and sustainable development.

Interested in helping to shape the Global Happy Schools Framework?

If you are a student, teacher, policy-maker, education expert or parent interested to be part of this initiative and the peer-review group shaping the global framework, contact: HappySchools@unesco.org

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