Happiness: The transactional value of school curriculum

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‘Happiness’ per se seems to be an alien concept in school curriculum but it is very important. A happy learner would be a young individual enjoying the process of learning, pleased to be learning new things, enthusiastically participating in his lessons and content to be a part of the school.


Schooling in India continues to be about serious matters like choosing a career, becoming employable, preparing for an unknown future etc. Therefore, the entire learning process is centralised and evaluation-result driven. Socio-emotional development of the learner forms a miniscule part of the curriculum either in the pre-primary classes or in the form of adolescent education but beyond that it’s all about chasing highest numbers or grades. Hence ‘happiness’ per se seems to be an alien concept in school curriculum and a discussion on it would be considered frivolous by most academia!

What it means?

Nevertheless what does learner’s happiness mean? Is it just uncontrolled bursts of laughter, friendly pranks in the classroom or is it an intangible state of mind, a concept which is quite abstract and elusive for a common educator to comprehend? A cursory look in the Merriam-Webster dictionary showed that it describes happiness as a state of well-being and contentment. Other such sources have also similarly defined happiness as an amalgam of positive or pleasant emotions like joy, satisfaction, peace. Therefore a happy learner would be a young individual enjoying the process of learning, pleased to be learning new things, enthusiastically participating in his lessons and content to be a part of the school. This picture is quite different from the highly competitive Indian student of today focussed totally on exams and results and many a times preferring coaching centres to his/her alma mater.

Education and happiness

Is there a relationship between education and happiness? A longitudinal study that began in US in 1972 and concluded in 2012 did establish that graduates were happier than non-graduates. The research study concluded that education resulted in happiness not only for the sole reason of economic prosperity that it brought, but also for the sake of acquisition of knowledge. The learners were happy to read literary works of great writers and philosophers, to understand the laws of nature and theories of Mathematics and Science. This knowledge when triggered thinking, reflection and innovation, resulted in more happiness, satisfaction and sense of achievement in the learner.

From this one could easily infer two-fold relationship between education and happiness which shows that ‘while one learns to be happy but one is also happy to learn!’ Education therefore has the capacity to inspire a person to go beyond the status quo and create something new using his knowledge and talent which results in satisfaction and pleasure. During this process, learner forms relationships and bonds with teachers and classmates to discuss, share, collaborate and at times compete, brings out the best in him/her. Happiness ultimately becomes an outcome of all these collaborative processes that the learner undergoes in pursuit of education. This concept came to be widely known as Positive Education.

Finland: A case-study
in Positive Education

While most great and large nations of the world are struggling to provide ‘quality education for all,’ Finland introduced revolutionary education reforms forty years ago and as a result now has the top education system as per the international rankings. What is Finland doing differently in schools that have a positive outcome of happy learners and teachers?

In Finland pre-primary education begins at the age of six, is compulsory but mostly informal. Formal schooling begins at the age of 7 and goes up to 16. The learners are not measured (no exams/test) in the first six years of schooling. Assessment is continuous and a part of the daily learning process. There is only one mandatory standardised school leaving test when they are sixteen years old. Teacher-learner ratio is kept small so that learners get opportunities of hands-on learning. The classroom is inclusive where children of differing capabilities and diverse background study together. Special education is a part of mainstream education. Almost 30% children are given remedial education. Teachers are in the class for only 4 hours a day and must spend at least 2 hours every week on professional development. Children enjoy a 75 minute recess every day. The success of Finnish education system is evident from the fact that the difference between top achievers and low achievers is smallest in the world. 93% Finnish students successfully pass out from school and of these 90% of all the students join higher education out of which 46% join vocational courses. The right combination of a highly qualified and skilled workforce perfectly meets the needs of Finnish economy.

In Finland, the success of their education system has made teaching profession highly sought after, at par with doctors and lawyers. Teachers are selected from top 10% of college graduates. A master’s degree is mandatory for teachers. Education is imparted in mother-tongue and English is the most commonly taught foreign language. Trust and responsibility are the underlying values of Finnish education system. The teachers enjoy a lot of pedagogical autonomy to manage their work. Quality assurance is based on steering (information, support and funding) rather than controlling. Finland has done away with systems of inspection and audit and rely on self-evaluation by the education providers and teachers.

A happy school

Based on a similar premise, UNESCO initiated Happy School Project (2014) to further research the idea of happiness in schools. This was done through a survey across many nations that sought the opinion of stakeholders on four simple questions – what made schools happy, what made schools unhappy, what can make teaching and learning fun and enjoyable and what can make all students feel included? The project brought out a Happy School Framework enlisting 22 criteria under three basic categories of People, Process and Place to enhance happiness in schools through learner well being and holistic development.

Happiness: A
transactional value

A happy school transacts the curriculum in a way that learners are happily engaged in the process of learning, they are glad to be collaborating with their peers and feel satisfied that they are making meaningful contribution in their tasks. There is a relationship of mutual respect and trust between teachers and learners and learners with their peers. The classroom is a safe place to voice their doubts and concerns, to make mistakes and errors of judgment without the fear of ridicule or shame from teachers or peers. The typical school day has a fair amount of work, play and leisure time for children to pursue their studies, interests and hobbies. The teachers are not pressured or overworked for results and learner achievement is assessed holistically rather than just in academics. Care is taken that no activity results in learner experiencing stress, anxiety or humiliation. Teaching–learning processes are discussed and reviewed to ensure that learning is a positive experience for all learners irrespective of their abilities and aptitudes.

School principals and teachers wishing to adopt happiness as the ‘transactional value’ underlying all the curricular processes, can review their current practices using the Checklist given below. The checklist is inspired by the best Finnish practices and the Happy School Framework of UNESCO.

Institutions as well as individuals are a ‘work in progress’ therefore a rating scale for self assessment will give them an opportunity to critically examine their practices, set own targets, prepare action-plans for improvement and make a periodic review of their own progress. Self-assessment may be made on a 3 point rating scale given in the table.

On a concluding note…

Most in-depth studies into learner happiness have established that there is no specific curriculum for learner happiness. There are also no text-books, story-books or workshops to be prescribed to help learners master the art of being happy. Happiness is the end result of learners and teachers enthusiastically working together in a democratic learning environment upholding learner’s freedom of expression and creativity. A happy school is committed to this vision.

Rashmi S Chari has been actively involved in the field of education for the last 31 years. She is currently Member of Educational Research & Innovations Committee (ERIC) of Ministry of HRD, Government of India. She has consistently supported the initiatives of the Apex educational bodies as a Resource Person and Advisor to the Apex educational institutions of India in NCERT and CBSE on Teacher Education, Educational Management, Early Childhood Care and Education and National Policy of Education (2015).

In the last two decades she has organised and conducted a number of conferences and workshops for teachers, principals and directors of prominent schools in India and Nepal. She has extensively researched Human Values in Education and has developed a curriculum for teacher-education for MHRD.

Her portfolio includes academics as well as vocational education and training (VET). In order to strengthen the VET in Indian schools she has undergone an intensive Entrepreneurship Training Workshop organised by the UN agency UNCTAD to become a Senior Facilitator with Empretec India.

She has also been invited as a Resource Person in workshops organized by international agencies such as WORLD BANK, UNODC and UNFPA on various aspects of school education in India.

Working in different capacities as a Teacher, Principal, Director and Advisor for over three decades, she has gathered valuable insights into critical aspects of educational management that enriches her write ups in educational journals.