Are schools able to provide a healthy environment for learning?

Contemporary parents being ‘over’ concerned about the health and education of their children is not news anymore. But what amazes me is that how they continue to ignore the health and safety of their children in schools.

Yes, schools these days have become an increasingly unhealthy place for children, all credit goes to the way the educational system is shaping up. Schools have become ‘pressure cookers’ and this is certainly very harmful for children. Anxieties, depression, eating disorder are amongst a few of the many unhealthy things that schools have been responsible in inculcating among students, especially high school students. Parents and high school staff have become obsessed in building resumes in order to get into the best colleges possible and further to get placed in a high paying company. This has resulted in building a very unhealthy environment for students in schools.2011 Harvest 4-Health 006

Schools today are filled with mentally and physically unhealthy students. (When I say mentally unhealthy, I don’t mean mentally unstable or mentally challenged, I mean the stress that students undergo make them mentally unhealthy.) Though majority of schools these days have counselors who are helpful in curing the child’s mental illness, still the pressure that’s created to succeed is tremendous to break or even cure.

Of course, small steps being taken by some schools include eliminating homework over vacations, eliminating mid-year exams, and adding yoga to physical education is a great idea, but sadly, physical education is disappearing from our schools! I love the idea of yoga classes in high schools. There is an abundance of evidence that teaching some form of stress management is essential for reducing the negative impact of excessive stress. In turn, learning to manage stress is a critical component in developing problem-solving skills and boosting self-confidence.

School administrators fail to see this psychological disorder. High schools today have become junior colleges. High schools continue to ignore the plea by physicians that our teens are suffering from sleep disorders. Research has shown that students learn more when they have had a good night’s sleep and have eaten a reasonable breakfast and lunch. Such obvious needs are being ignored. And we trust our children’s welfare to these people?

Lunch breaks in schools hardly allows the child to eat properly. With a few 15-20 minutes allotted as the lunch break, the child is unable to eat full lunch. This free period goes away in going to the washroom, a little bit of chit-chatting, putting books aside, etc. so there is not much time left to eat. It’s not only about having time to eat. Lunch period is an important socializing time as well as a break from the rigors of the classroom. When you add to this, reports of shrinking recess as well, there is a clear pattern of schools increasing anxiety about statewide test scores and trying to cram more academics into the school day. The school day unfortunately has become increasingly focused on teaching to the tests and less on teachers being able to introduce creative curriculum.

If there really isn’t enough time in the school day to address all these needs, why not lengthen the school day? When did six hours become the golden rule? The best of our schools, highly rated private day schools, keep children all day and add mandatory participation in sports as well as providing increased access to teachers and smaller classes so education can be more individualized. No reason public schools can’t do this. Except for unions. Private school teachers do this for less pay and benefits. It shouldn’t be about the money. Most teachers spend hours at home correcting papers and planning classes. If they had a longer day at work, time could be made available for their “homework” to be done at school.

The distorted expectations just keep creeping downward. The pressure to achieve academically is increasingly dominating our model of education, ignoring the old saying about teaching the total child – cognitive, social and emotional aspects need to be balanced for a healthy life. Schools are failing our children by ignoring the social and emotional needs and parents have unfortunately become their accomplices in this process. In fact, parents are often the driving force.

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