[Sponsored Article] The very best schools put just as much, if not more emphasis on children’s wellbeing as on academic success and Malvern College Hong Kong (MCHK) is an elite school that abides by this philosophy. According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), between 10 and 20 per cent of children and adolescents worldwide experience various forms of mental disorders, with half of these beginning by the age of 14. What’s worse, these conditions often remain undetected and therefore, untreated – which severely influences children’s development, academic performance, and ability to live productive and fulfilling lives. The situation is even worse in Hong Kong, as a government report from 2017 showed an annual increase of five per cent of children among mental health patients. This can be attributed to factors such as intense academic pressures, high family expectations and very little free time, as many Hong Kong parents have an “all work and no play” mentality. MCHK therefore believes that a child’s wellbeing and happiness must be a joint effort between schools and parents, and that the end goal can only be achieved if both parties work together. Maria Gebrial, Head of Primary at MCHK: “Just as school teaches mathematics or spelling, the whole academic team can be - and should be – involved in the journey aimed at developing character traits in pupils,” said Gebrial. “Life skills and the ability to acknowledge and understand emotions, as well as ways young people cope with setbacks, are crucial skills to their continued success in life beyond school.” MCHK is one of the first schools in Hong Kong to incorporate a fully-fledged wellbeing programme into its curriculum. Its entire academic team is carefully and thoroughly trained to assess and monitor pupils’ wellbeing, identify problems early on, and provide appropriate support. “It is no secret that happy children are healthier, learn better, display more emotional literacy and are better behaved,” Gebrial said. “When a pupil’s self-esteem is at its flourishing stage, the process of absorbing knowledge and learning is most efficient. If children’s emotional wellbeing gets out of balance, however, their learning will quickly be negatively affected. In extreme cases, emotional unhappiness leads to a total stand-still in academic progress.” To this end, MCHK conducts “wellbeing audits” to regularly assess its students’ emotional states. For example, secondary students are given anonymous surveys on a regular basis. For younger students, teachers may ask pupils to put a photograph of themselves next to emotional expressions presented in the form of a picture. This allows educators to get instant feedback on the emotional state of their pupils, while children improve their ability to understand, acknowledge, and express their feelings. According to Gebrial, mindfulness and equanimity - calmness and composure in a difficult situation - lies at the heart of Malvern education. To this end, the school uses a variety of emotional regulation techniques, including regular yoga practice, breathing techniques, posture correction, and being present in the moment. “Emotion regulation does not mean that children should be stopped from crying or feeling angry,” Gebrial explained. “On the contrary, adults should encourage children to express their emotions and not feel ashamed of them. Crying, for instance, helps children let sadness, disappointment or anger out of their system.” Malvern also integrates Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the classroom through writing corners, where children express their feelings in writing in response to questions asked by a teacher. Communication is practiced through conversation cards, drawing upon social and self-awareness, as well as relationship skills. Moreover, MCHK strongly believes the use of positive language around children fosters their resilience and the development of a growth mindset. Gebrial believes that it is not just schools that should adopt this approach, but parents, too. “Instead of saying: ‘you have done it wrong’, one might use more encouraging phrases like: ‘let us try a different way’ or ‘have we done our best work?’”, she said. “Through a switch in vocabulary, children know that they are allowed for mistakes to happen and that there is room for exploration of ideas in their learning journey.” Furthermore, as a candidate International Baccalaureate (IB) school, MCHK is deeply committed to the IB learner profile. This means a strong emphasis is placed on social, communication and self-management skills – all of which enable children to cope with both academic and emotional problems. “The primary goal for educators at MCHK is to build the pupils’ resilience,” said founding headmaster Dr Robin Lister. “As much as adults would like to handhold and protect their children, at some point they will have to go out into the real world. Our aim is to equip our pupils with a skillset that helps them cope with whatever life throws at them.” He added that honest and straightforward communication is of the utmost importance. “A good school, like a good parent, should talk to children and include them in the dialogue,” Lister said. “It is important to be upfront with children and explain things to them the way they are.” Gebrial added an important, but often overlooked reminder to parents. “The wellbeing of the adults and parents is as important as that of the children’s, and both parents and educators should be in balance if they want to set an example from the top,” she said.