Health checks, smoothie-making, yoga and dancing. Lessons were put on hold for one day last week as Stamford American International School (SAIS), Singapore and Australian International School (AIS) switched the focus to student wellbeing. The two campuses joined more than 70 other Cognita-owned schools to celebrate the group’s first-ever Global Be Well Day, as part of an ongoing campaign to improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
At SAIS, there was morning yoga, talks for staff and parents on wellbeing and resilience, non-invasive basic health checks, InBody scale machine tests and chiropractor assessments. Early years students made fruit salad and smoothies, and students in primary and secondary learnt about a healthy balanced diet, hygiene, sleep and screen time.
SAIS Wellbeing Ambassadors offered advice to parents, including:
Nearby, at Australian International School, Singapore, the day started with a school-wide dance and mindfulness session, followed by indoor obstacle courses and other activities. In the AIS Early Learning Village, classrooms were themed in accordance with the Be Well pillars of sleep, the brain, communication and mindfulness. And, in the 30-day countdown to Global Be Well Day, the school shared daily wellness tips from AIS Wellness Ambassadors including students and counsellors.
A spokesperson for Cognita said: “We believe that wellbeing is perhaps the biggest issue facing education today. On Friday September 27, ‘Global Be Well Day’, our 45,000 students around the world stopped normal lessons for the day to focus solely on wellbeing. The day took the form of a festival aimed at improving their understanding of wellbeing, with a myriad of practical activities on how to maintain it.”
A 2018 World Health Organisation report found that up to 20% of adolescents experience mental health conditions, and half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated. And a recent survey carried out by The Key, a support service for schools in the UK, found that eight out of 10 primary school teachers reported their students suffering from increased mental health issues around the time of their exams.
It is clear that the pressures of the modern world are weighing heavily on the young shoulders of students today – and initiatives such as Global Be Well Day are now an essential rather than optional aspect of any curriculum. Wellbeing needs to be more than a weekly yoga or mindfulness class, or the occasional wellbeing day, and we are seeing it move towards the top of the agenda within many schools.
Be Well Day is part of Cognita's Be Well programme, which runs throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and beyond. Teachers have access to a suite of learning resources, films, lesson plans, toolkits and other content for to support mental wellbeing throughout the school year.
Cognita has worked with the BBC’s Dr Rangan Chatterjee, sleep scientist Dr Matthew Walker of Berkeley and UCL brain expert Emma Kilford to develop video-based resources for teachers, students and parents. And the group includes a Be Well section on its website featuring tips on how to improve sleep and deal with disruptions such as nightmares and insomnia; how to eat your way to better mental wellbeing; advice on how young people can understand the biology of the brain to manage their emotions; and recommendations on screen time for young people.
Cognita’s CEO, Chris Jansen says: “We’ve worked with top experts in their field and drawn on the diversity of experience across our global group to provide a comprehensive set of tools offering the latest insights, expertise and advice gathered on the critical aspects of young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“Cognita is committed to sharing this work as widely as possible so that educators, parents and young people everywhere can access it and benefit from it. We believe in creating an inspiring world of education that builds self-belief and empowers individuals to succeed, wherever they go to school.”
SAIS and AIS are not alone in developing a school culture that supports wellbeing. International schools across Singapore are targeting the emotional health of their students to help ease the pressure to perform in exams, address the negative consequences of social media, encourage a positive body image. Examples include daily mindfulness sessions; wellbeing education lessons; school counselling teams on campus; and parent workshops focused on different aspects of mental health.
Schools are responding with different approaches. For example, at Nexus there’s an annual Are You Okay? mental health awareness week that’s run by a student council group. Integrated International School (IIS) has a multi-sensory therapeutic Ocean Snoezelen room that’s used for meditation, yoga and imaginary play. And Tanglin Trust School has been awarded the Wellbeing Award for Schools (WAS) by the National Children’s Bureau in the UK for its commitment to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing across the school community.
Coming soon: How international schools in Singapore are prioritising student wellbeing