Research review of meditation in schools

A recent review of the effects of meditation in schools by a University of Melbourne team confirms the strong role of contemplative practices in education. And has implications for those working in higher education.

The team led by Professor Lea Waters reviewed 15 studies which collectively included data from 1800 students across Australia, Canada, India, United Kingdom, United States, and Taiwan. Waters recently wrote that their meta-review concluded:

Meditation is beneficial in the majority of cases and led to higher optimism, positive emotion, self-concept, self-care and self-acceptance as well as reduced anxiety, stress, and depression in students. Meditation was also associated with faster information processing, greater attentional focus, working memory, creativity and cognitive flexibility.

While mediation’s efficacy in these areas is now well supported a second level conclusion of the study points to interesting directions for further research and practice:

The meditation programs that were the most effective were those that encouraged regular practice, those that went for a term or longer and those that were delivered by teachers (as compared to an external meditation instructor).The meta-review found a strong case for infusing meditating into the culture of schools and making it a core part of teacher training.

This points to the importance of developing cohesive programs that introduce students to these practices over the life of a course. It also points to the need for University Teaching and Learning Centres to provide continuing professional development programs in these areas.

Waters and her colleagues also propose a theoretical model of the lines of relationship and effect between meditation and student wellness. They argue that “currently, the literature is fragmented, and no model has been put forward to understand what happens to students “inner worlds” when they meditate…the research has focussed on outcomes rather than causal variables” (121)

‘The School-Based Meditation Model’… Waters et al 2015

Although the pathways in the model are hypothetical it is strongly based on a range research.

The “School-Based Meditation Model”….has been developed using three strands of research: first, research from education showing that cognitive function and emotional regulation are positively associated with well-being, social competence and academic achievement; second, adult neuroscience research showing associations between meditation and areas of the brain that are responsible for cognitive function and emotional regulation; and third, research from contemplative education showing that students who attend school meditation activities have increased cognitive function (e.g. better working memory) and increased emotional regulation (e.g. students and teachers report being better able to manage anger and stress) compared to control groups. (121)

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