Interview: Positive Education with The International Positive Education Network

The International Positive Education Network (IPEN) is founded on the mission to bring together teachers, parents, academics, students, schools, colleges, universities, charities, companies and governments to promote positive education.

What is positive education?

Positive Education is an approach to education that blends academic learning with character and wellbeing, preparing students with life skills such as grit, optimism, resilience, growth mindset, engagement and mindfulness amongst others.

The International Positive Education Network (IPEN) supports and drives change in education around the world.

Positive education is based on the science of wellbeing and happiness. It brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best practice in teaching. Positive Education is an intersection of traditional education with the building of wellbeing.

Positive education views school as a place where students not only cultivate their intellectual minds but also develop a broad set of character strengths, virtues and competencies which together support their wellbeing. What this looks like differs from country to country and school to school but at its core is the ‘character + academics’ approach to education.

Why is it necessary?

We are seeing a rise in depression amongst young people. Almost one in five will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.

Positive Education offers hope. Research has shown that character traits are malleable or skill-like and can be improved with good teaching and practice.

Positive education challenges the current paradigm of education, which values academic attainment above all other goals. Drawing on classical ideals, IPEN believe that the DNA of education is a double helix with intertwined strands of equal importance:

  1. Academics: The fulfilment of intellectual potential through the learning of the best that has been thought and known.
  2. Character and Wellbeing: The development of character strengths and wellbeing which are intrinsically valuable and contribute to a variety of positive life outcomes.

The twin strands of our ‘character plus academics’ approach complement one another and are mutually reinforcing. This ancient wisdom has been empirically verified by modern science. Academic achievement contributes to wellbeing by increasing engagement, meaning and accomplishment. Conversely, programmes and practices designed to enhance wellbeing through the development of character strengths and virtues have been shown to positively contribute to academic achievement.

By pursuing both strands, positive education aims to enable young people to become the authors of their own life stories, endowing them with the practical wisdom they need to make good choices, overcome adversity, lead happy and successful lives, and contribute positively to society.

How is the current system failing children?

Currently, there is too much emphasis on academic attainment and with the rise of mental health problems amongst young people, schools needs to start applying the lessons from positive education into curriculum and school practices.

“We still have a 19th Century model of education – fundamentally about learning facts for exams; these exams are not preparing us for life”, Anthony Seldon, Headmaster and creator of the happiness curriculum at Wellington College.

People flourish when they experience a balance of positive emotions, engagement with the world, good relationships with others, a sense of meaning and moral purpose, and the accomplishment of valued goals.

The aim of positive education is to equip young people with the knowledge and life skills to flourish and contribute to the flourishing of others.

Just as cognitive abilities can be improved through rigorous academic study, research has confirmed that our ability to be more courageous, patient, determined, compassionate or helpful can be improved with the right instruction. Character is a skill and it can be strengthened with knowledge and practice.

To develop a broad range of character strengths and virtues in young people involves whole-institution approaches in which every aspect of the culture – from the content of curricula to how teachers are trained to what is measured – is designed to promote both academic achievement and character development. Not one, or the other, but both. Only then can we recapture the essential purpose of education, which is to form flourishing individuals with strong moral values.

We believe that the goals of positive education are shared widely, both within societies and across the world. Research has identified a range of character strengths and virtues – such as curiosity, self-control and kindness – that are valued by all major cultures and religions because of their contribution to individual and societal flourishing.

Positive education seeks to instil these universal values in people as seeds for societal flourishing. Our movement is global in scope because all humans can benefit from positive education, independent of nationality, race, creed, class or culture.

Is this an approach that has been tried and tested?

We are deeply committed to the proper use of scientific inquiry and evaluation to support the case for positive education, and our public advocacy will be founded on evidence of what works.

There are number of case studies of schools applying and testing the benefits of a positive education curriculum, for example:

More details on various research is available here.

Where in the world are schools implementing this approach?

Positive Education has been adopted worldwide from USA, UK, Mexico, Belgium, Norway, Australia, Singapore, China, India, Nepal and many more. This is truly a global movement.

Since IPEN’s launch, we have constantly been inspired by this global movement, with more governments noticing the value of character and wellbeing, researchers studying the impact and teachers from all over the world coming up with innovative ways to bring new research to life in the classroom.

How can parents get involved in positive education?

It’s important for parents to educate themselves on positive education and really support any wellbeing programs being implemented at their children’s school.

What is your hope for the future of schooling?

More than ever skills like love, compassion, empathy and resilience should be taught in the classroom and in our homes. At IPEN we believe that change, while uncertain, can leave room for growth and opportunity.

We want to create a flourishing society where everyone is able to fulfil their potential and achieve both success and wellbeing. Every institution in society has a moral obligation to promote human flourishing, and none more so than those responsible for educating young people – families, schools and colleges.

Our goals are to support collaboration, change education practice and reform government policy.

We aim to persuade policymakers to change their policy frameworks so that practitioners are encouraged to educate for character and wellbeing alongside delivering rigorous and stretching academic study. We aim to create a growing community of positive educators who are able to collaborate with one another to develop a deeper understanding of the theory and practice of positive education. We aim to equip practitioners with the educational tools they need to start delivering positive education in the classroom.