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First study of Buddhist education reveals happier, calmer students

Buddhist education can make students happier and assist with behavioural problems such as bullying, a Victoria University study has found.

The first study of the effects on students of Buddhist education, which was introduced to select Melbourne primary schools in 2005, has just been completed by VU PhD graduate Dr Sue Smith.

It reveals that students from Years 3 to 6 consistently rated themselves happier after their weekly meditation session, improved their concentration, coped with anxieties, regulated their emotions and felt greater kindness towards themselves and others.

Dr Smith said the positive results showed meditations adapted from the Buddhist tradition had an "important place'' in education and could be incorporated more widely into the curriculum without being religious.

A self-reporting technique called a 'Happiness Scale' was used by students to gauge their reaction to meditation. Children drew a happy, neutral or unhappy face before and after each meditation session.

"Consistently the children were marking themselves in the positive category after meditation,'' she said. "Even if they marked the same face twice they would say that although they didn't feel better, they were definitely calmer. They'd mention that their mind felt brighter, they were less worried, and had less bad stuff to think about.''

Dr Smith said teachers at each of the 12 schools in the study noted positive changes in their students.

"The teachers said the students developed new strategies to cope with bullying in a calm, detached way that helped them regulate their responses and become more resilient. Children who'd been tremendously unhappy started feeling more calm and children with very poor self esteem were becoming more confident.

"One surprise is that many of the students started practising meditation in their own time, for example before playing sport or before classroom tests.''

Dr Smith's study also looked at how Buddhist education could fit alongside the Victorian and national education policies.

"Buddhist perspectives on education are grossly underrepresented but these classes fit well with Victoria's Values Education and Personal Learning and Thinking Processes. Mindfulness practices are being added to Social and Emotional Learning and Positive Education programs "" two educational concepts that borrow from Buddhist traditions.

"Mindfulness is a secular application that comes directly from the Dharma (doctrine). Worldwide these have become known for stress-reduction, and studies with children in clinical settings have shown that these can assist young people with Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder, anxiety and aggression issues.''

Photo opportunity: Buddhist education students meditating at Footscray Primary School from 3-3.30pm on Thursday, July 22. Dr Sue Smith will be in attendance for interviews. NB: Students only available at this time.

For interview: Dr Sue Smith, Victoria University, on 0431 488 335

Media contact: Daniel Clarke, Media Officer, VU Marketing and Communications Department, Ph: 9919 9491 or 0407 771 072

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