Learning and Well-being

Life Skills October 07, 2015

An Agenda for Change

This article is the executive summary of the 2015 WISE Research Report “Learning and Well-being“.

Find out more about the 2015 WISE Research series.

Our focus in this report is on learning and well-being, and the synergy between the two. It is this synergy that supports children’s unfolding capacities to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.

The relationship between learning and well-being is, by its very nature, multidimensional — encompassing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions (UEF, 2007). Several international institutions have developed policies to support children’s learning and well-being. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has had a particularly important influence on thinking about children’s participation and voice. The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of promoting well-being as well as preventing illness. UNESCO has highlighted learning as a lifelong and lifewide process. The Council of Europe has been among the first to propose ‘Well-being for All’ as a common vision for multiple stakeholders.

In the research community, there has been a growing engagement regarding various aspects of children’s well-being. Researchers from a range of disciplines (including health, children’s sociology and social welfare, psychology, educational psychology, neuroscience, human development, philosophy) have set out to better understand the synergies between learning and well-being.

Although these perspectives are in many ways complementary, they use very different frames of reference. What’s needed is an integrative framework to illuminate a shared vision for approaches and services across sectors, and to develop a common language and agenda for collaboration among partners. In this WISE Research Report, we describe a framework which brings together the various dimensions of well-being, and also captures the dynamic nature of learning.

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The report includes five chapters.

Chapter 1 introduces the key issues and approach of the report, and sets out the definitions of learning and well-being that shape our understanding. For the purposes of this report, we define well being as realizing one’s unique potential, through the development of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions in relation to self, others and the environment (O’Toole & Kropf, 2010).

Chapter 2 explores six key trends that are shaping thinking on learning and well-being, including:

  • Children’s agency and participation, with a particular focus on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Systems-based approaches, which explore interaction of the child with the people in his or her life, and the different contexts in which they live and learn.
  • Process-orientation examples, such as Unesco’s 1996 Delors Commission report, which emphasizes a holistic approach to lifelong and lifewide learning.
  • The ‘capabilities approach’ for children, including skill development for critical thinking and reasoning, as well as the capacity to listen to and empathize with others.
  • Strengths-based approaches that emphasize the importance of promoting well-being and not just preventing ill-being
  • Pluralistic approaches which recognize the diversity of learners’ social identities as well as diverse ways of learning important to well-being and educational attainment.

Chapter 2 concludes with our proposed integrative framework as a way to bring together these various perspectives.

In chapter 3, we turn to the subject of measurement with a focus on international and national indices that address children’s well-being (including educational attainment and well-being in school). These indices are intended to counterbalance measures of Gross Domestic Product by providing attention on social well-being. Since these indices have a strong influence on policy, research and practice, it is important that they measure what matters. We explore efforts to refine and improve them.

In chapter 4, we describe six ‘promising practices’ to promote children’s learning and well- being. The six programs include:

  • Elham Palestine
  • Child-to-Child
  • Children as Actors Transforming Society (CATS)
  • Philosophy for Children
  • UNICEF’s Rights-Respecting Schools (RRS), and
  • Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)

These programs are geographically diverse, representing both community and school-based. Each of these programs has attained a significant scale and reach. Each reflects the strong influence of the UNCRC through emphasizing children’s agency and participation.

Focusing on children’s well-being may seem unattainable in schools or community programs with significant barriers, such as too few resources or too many students, so we’ve highlighted several programs that have found practical ways to address these barriers.

Chapter 5 builds on the previous chapters by setting out principles for policy. It is an ambitious agenda for change, calling for:

  • An integrated framework to support collaboration across diverse agencies, academic disciplines and on-the-ground practitioners.
  • Ongoing support for the development of effective measurement to shape more effective policies at international, national and community levels.
  • Opportunities for peer learning among policy makers as well as practitioners. Practitioners, in particular, need opportunities to share practical approaches to overcoming barriers.
  • Engagement of children as competent partners in matters that affect them. This means not only are their voices heard, but they participate in developing solutions or responses.
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