Two recently completed EU projects have been looking at the potential benefits of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in education. And the results look pretty compelling, with positive outcomes for pupils, staff and parents alike. As with all such initiatives, the focus then switches to what comes next, in terms of moving from pilots to a more mainstream adoption.
The first project, across Portugal, Sweden and the Netherlands, looked at applying TM to broad educational establishments, to reduce stress and violence and improve social inclusion. The second was more focused on non-formal educational establishments with minority and disadvantaged students or those from a migrant background. The latter spanned Portugal (again), Italy, the UK and Belgium.
“Teaching TM in schools has been going on for a long time but not on a big scale,” says Richard Johnson, National Director of the TM Programme in England. The UK has a particular heritage as it has the only state-funded TM school in Europe, the Maharishi Free School in Skelmersdale, West Lancashire, which is based on a system of consciousness-based education.
Around five years ago, a group of TM organisations in Europe came together and, at the third attempt, gained EU funding under the Erasmus+ programme. The Maharishi Foundation UK was one of the main leads.
TM is an ancient practice that uses a mantra as the focus. By allowing the mind the freedom to be still, the body gains deep rest and releases accumulated stress. It can also, says Johnson, bring a level of dynamism and creativity, alongside the restfulness.
Both projects embraced the need for a “whole school approach”, so that TM was offered not only to pupils but also to teachers, with it important that the headteacher/principal was included, the rest of the staff and parents.
The first project, which ran for a couple of years and ended in late 2018, took in 40 or so schools, involving more than 520 students, 110 parents, and 350 staff. A set of EU-level policy recommendations was a key outcome.
The project involved 15 minutes of meditation at the start and end of each school day for those who wanted to participate and the same amount of “quiet time” for those who did not (often, those who declined at the start came on board over time as their peers started to experience, and benefit from, the approach).
The second project, which has just finished and with the final published results awaited, covered 20 schools (including, in the UK, a couple in Essex and one in Liverpool) and a couple of organisations working with migrant children.
Portugal has proved to be a particularly receptive country, so that nine regional teacher training colleges now offer TM courses as part of their accredited programmes, with many others expected to follow. The University of Algarve has also introduced TM. There has also been interest and presentations in Latvia, Germany and Sweden.
That second project, by virtue of working with a challenging cohort of pupils, has complemented the initial study. From the UK, an interim report concluded: “The project so far has shown a great impact and potential on these kinds of schools, as the level of stress within the teaching profession is very high and a number of teachers have been very appreciative of this programme to help them as well as their students. The results have been very encouraging with a number of staff expressing appreciation that they have learnt a life skill which is very useful and practical on a personal level, which impacts their professional life.”
A project in the Algarve has had particularly striking results and, says Johnson, Italy has also been swift to embrace the approach. It helps where there is some autonomy in schools such as in Portugal, where headteachers can direct what is taught in 25% of the school day. In the UK, where the curriculum is fairly rigid, it has actually proved easier in many ways to adopt TM in the alternative provision schools, as they have more flexibility and larger budgets.
The benefits of the initial programme were cited as:
- A more peaceful school environment.
- Greater tolerance among students.
- Increased students focus.
- Increased creativity.
- Greater happiness and satisfaction in the school.
- Better health.
- Increased academic attainment.
“The results have been very encouraging indeed,” says Johnson. For anxiety, depression, behavioural problems, sickness and so on, the benefits have been clear from the statistics, he says. And the effects have been almost as beneficial for staff as for pupils. He also points out that the gains are broad, which is unusual in education, where interventions tend to have single outcomes.
The policy recommendations report for the first project states: “The practice of QT [Quiet Time]/TM is recommended for more widespread implementation as a self-balancing prevention strategy to violence and violent radicalisation and at the same time as a strength-based approach to inclusive education addressing psychosocial, social and physical challenges to well-being. It is estimated that the implementation of QT/TM yields a Return on Investment of more than 100% (i.e. the benefit is estimated to be at least 2-3 times higher than the cost), taking into account all benefits such as reduced drop-out, health benefits etc.” https://europe-project.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/EUROPE_Policy-recommendations_EN.pdf
What happens now? Johnson hopes for further grants: “The fire has certainly been stoked up” and he is optimistic that under the Erasmus+ scheme, the UK will continue to be able to participate, post-Brexit. The initial projects are likely to continue within the participating educational institutions and, as is clear from the Portuguese example, the ripple effects are moving TM into the wider educational sector.
Johnson says: “We’ve started, the results are encouraging and it is beginning to take root.” TM is easy to introduce and highly practical, he feels. Awareness and uptake of meditation as a whole, in society and in other areas of public services and the commercial world, is increasing, so this also helps. There is also a large and growing body of academic work that points to the health benefits. And there is also greater awareness of a mental health crisis, particularly among young people, which is crying out for new (or even ancient) better preventative approaches.