3 places sparking change through ‘positive education’

From India to the Netherlands, 3 schools and colleges where learning is not about academic achievement alone

1) Emotional growth at a Mumbai special needs school

Mumbai’s Gateway special needs school is based on neuroplasticity: the belief that, with the right interventions, everyone has a limitless learning capacity.

Manika Khanna, head of counselling at the school, says overcoming a fear of failure is crucial. “With anxiety, we go into fight, flight, freeze mode and learning can’t happen. Once a safe, trusting relationship is there between children and teachers, they are more likely to take risks.”

Associate head of school Varsha Morani adds: “Sometimes parents complain that we let their kids live in a bubble. That is not true. While we want kids to feel safe, we also create problem- solving opportunities. We teach them that it is OK to feel not OK, and to have confrontation, as long as they know how to deal with that.

“We explain that when you make mistakes, connections are made in your brain. Now, every time they make a mistake, they’ll say: ‘there’s another spark!’”

Children at Diwali party - Mumbai Gateway school

Students at Mumbai’s Gateway school perform at a Diwali party. Image: Gateway School of Mumbai

2) Students choose their own projects in the Netherlands

How can it be that children – who naturally want to learn – so often hate school? And why do teachers, who start out answering a calling, so often end up burnt out? Dutch secondary school principal Jan Fasen used these questions to establish a new kind of institution. He is principal of Mundium College, a collective of four schools in the southern Dutch city of Roermond that includes the Agora ‘learning experience’.

All existing classrooms were demolished and rosters and subjects done away with too. Students start the day with a ‘community’ session, in which they discuss the day’s news before beginning work on individualised learning paths. Instead of teachers, pupils are each assigned a coach who helps them develop their own research projects.

This self-initiated style of learning was challenging for some students at first. Jade says: “When asked for my interests, I first just said I liked sleep and food. So I ended up doing a project on dreaming and one on healthy eating. I like that we are encouraged to research and present differently, for example by interviewing a chef or giving a cooking workshop. If I feel my concentration dip, I’m allowed to leave for half an hour to dance, which is a big passion of mine. When I am re-energised, I go back to work.”

A student at Mundium College, Holland, where pupils are encouraged to pursue their interests. Image: Mundium College

A student at Mundium College, the Netherlands, where pupils are encouraged to pursue their interests. Image: Mundium College

3) Positive adult education in Devon, UK

Recognising that most of the current adult population is a product of a not-yet-transformed education system, adult education institutions report a growing demand for self-development courses about wellbeing and personal growth.

Julie Richardson of Schumacher College in Devon says participants tend to either be just out of school and moving into early adulthood, in mid-life, or at the end of their career and wanting to give back. Their Right Livelihood programme sends participants to Bhutan to see what Gross National Happiness looks like.

“Some people feel a disconnect: they have their job and they have a spiritual life. We had one woman who was an engineering professor in Thailand, who now include reflective practice as part of her teaching,” says Richardson. She says other participants start new projects, or stop old ones in order to take time out.

Schumacher College is a Brands of Inspiration partner of Positive News

Read our feature on ‘positive education’: could the approach enhance not just wellbeing, but academic performance too?