SCMP By Samuel Chan
【SCMP Education Post:Study in the UK】Keeping minds and the social media bug in check
Hong Kong children attending UK boarding schools do require smartphones to keep in touch with their parents, but parents also need to know schools have measures in place to ensure children unplug from their online world. Schools employ a variety of methods to ensure that children’s mental health and emotional well-being are in order, and some of the techniques might just surprise you …

A recent report by Deloitte has confirmed that the UK has never been more addicted to smartphones. Is it partly down to FOMO (the fear of missing out) and thus a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing? Or is it a simple overreaction to a trend which is still relatively new? Whatever the reasons, balance is required and children have to shoulder some of the responsibility too.


A “whole-school approach” is a term that is bandied about quite often within the UK independent school scene


A recent parliamentary debate threw up some startling recommendations on the side of education minister, Edward Timpson. First of all, according to Mr Timpson, children should be taught Buddhist mindfulness meditation techniques as a means to aid them “unplug from their online world”. Not only that, mindfulness should be incorporated into a school’s regular programme on a day-to-day basis. Consequently, according to Timpson, children will be in the position to “enjoy good mental health and emotional wellbeing”.


A “whole-school approach” is a term that is bandied about quite often within the UK independent school scene. Mr Timpson, of course, wants to see collective action on the part of school communities to improve learning conditions and student well-being. But behind typical PR promises and catchy terminology, and away from the dormitories where children are hooked up to the Internet, what are schools already doing to please the likes of Mr Timpson and, perhaps unintentionally, control the overuse of Smartphones?


Let us first cite an example from Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Elstree, Hertfordshire, where an inspiring Chemistry teacher named Anjna Pindoria offers lower sixth students, teachers and year 10 students yoga lessons. These are eight week courses and Ms Pindoria is adamant that the classes improve the psychological and physical well-being of those instructed.


The fact that Haberdashers’ recognises the benefits of yoga, and that it may ease the academic demands in addition to social pressures, says a great deal about the school’s attitude to its Enrichment and Enhancement Programme. More relevantly, Ms Pindoria says that yoga provides pupils with the chance to “switch off” from all the social interaction on their mobile phones.


Adopting a “whole-school approach” is very much to the taste of Tonbridge School, which is at the forefront of teaching mindfulness – and does so to all Year 10 pupils. The idea is to put pupils in the here and now – they concentrate on the present and forget about social media and academic work. The school’s course focuses on several key skills, including savouring activities, such as walking, and establishing calm and concentration. Pupils are also expected to practise at home.


Other top schools prefer to use their immediate surroundings and the Great Outdoors to help keep pupils mentally fresh and away from the screens. Abbotsholme, for instance, has its own working farm. All pupils from the Juniors to Year 9 have timetable slots devoted to farm activities. As for those who volunteer to on the farm at 7.45am, I cannot personally think a worthier and more refreshing way to start the day.


Through the examples I have provided, I am trying to highlight some serious points. First of all, independent school students are just as susceptible to mental health challenges than those from state schools. However, I think boarding schools have the measures, facilities, support systems and ideas in place to keep pupils’ mental health in good shape.


An important survey, which was carried out in accordance with the 2015 Headmasters’ and Headteachers’ Conference (HMC), revealed that 94 per cent of schools reported that misuse of social media was an issue and, for 65% of heads, a “serious concern”.


I must respond to these figures. The vital issue here is not about nipping social media use in the bud and banning it completely, because Hong Kong children need social media applications to stay in touch with loved ones at home. It is more about persistence on the part of schools to continue to offer unconventional (meditative and mindfulness) programmes to pupils to show them the brighter side of life.


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