A Dublin mum thinks Irish kids should be free from exam stress and is calling for mindfulness to be introduced in schools to help kids cope.
Rachel Brady, 36, from Finglas, Dublin, said her daughter Brianna, 13, goes to a good school and she’s happy – but she would rather her youngster didn’t have to deal with the inevitable stress struggles that comes hand-in-and with the tough secondary school curriculum.
The mum-of-two is calling on the Department of Education to introduce mindfulness, meditation and other stress-relieving functions to help kids deal with school.
“My daughter is only 13 and she’s already worrying about exams in September,” Rachel said. “She’s my world. If she’s only that age, can we stop to imagine the stress Junior and Leaving Cert kids are under?”
But the Department said it “is not in a position to endorse any particular programme” and would not be “currently providing specific training” regarding a rolled out mindfulness scheme.
Rachel said: “The Irish education system has got it all wrong. It focuses on the kids who are really good at rote learning and then forget everyone else, they can just manage, get by, somehow.
“There’s such a lot of pressure and stress to do well in school and they aren’t looking at the potential answers to help our children.
“There needs to be mandatory classes to deal with stress, teach kids mindfulness and how to cope.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about my daughter’s school, it’s the curriculum that’s too tough on the kids. And the Department of Education needs to look at the affect on our kids.”
Suicide and self-harm support organisation, Pieta House, carried out a study last year which found the top concern for kids in seven sample schools in Dublin and Cork, was exam stress.
50 per cent of students put educational stress ahead of body image, anxiety, bullying and cyber bullying.
“I told my daughter ‘I don’t care about exams, I just want you to be happy,’ because her health is my priority not academic success,” Rachel said.
“I watch how much work the kids have to do. They barely have any spare time. They are working as soon as they come in from school and it’s non stop.
“Every parent wants their child to do well in school but we have to put their well-being ahead of all that.
“Finland cut the hours of school and homework, as there was too much pressure on kids. Right now in Ireland the way the education system is set up, it’s taking too much of children’s lives up.
“They have to spend too much time with heads in books when this is merely rote learning, not intelligence.”
Students in Finland do only half-an-hour’s homework, children don’t attend school until the age of seven, there are no school uniforms, teachers are addressed by their first names and there’s only one set of exams at the end of a student’s education, when they are 18.
And even more staggeringly, despite this reduction in work, Finland has consistently featured at or near the top of the international league tables for educational performance for literacy, numeracy and science.
“Today we are seeing adults falling apart with stress and mental health issues,” Rachel said.
“We need to start teaching our children how to cope with stress in school and then they’ll be able to deal with the stress life throws at them as they grow up.
“I really believe the key is if the Department of Education cut back our children’s work loads and taught classes that improve wellbeing, we would have a happier nation of children and one day, adults.”
Rachel, who has studied mindfulness herself and is an advocate of meditation and other relaxation methods, is keen to get involved in any schools who wish to get involved with such a programme.
A Department of Education spokeswoman said: “Research on the effects of mindfulness on young people is not yet as extensive as work with adults but it’s growing. It’s a skill that can usefully be taught to young people as part of the SPHE curriculum.
“It can have a positive impact, can fit into a wide range of contexts for pupils and staff.
“It’s open to schools to be innovative in how they implement the Well-Being Guidelines and mindfulness is a skill that would support implementation.
“Education Centres provide a location for provision of mindfulness training by interested parties. The Department is not in a position to endorse any particular programme and is not currently providing specific training.”