Spreading happiness in schools

It’s been a week of violent videos going viral in South Africa. First, it was the video of a mother physically and verbally abusing her four year old child in Phoenix, Durban. I have not been able to bring myself to watch that video. The other video is of a learner hitting a teacher with a book at a Gauteng school. I watched that video because it spoke directly to this post, which I started working on earlier this week. If you haven’t seen it already, here is a shortened clip from www.news24.com (Disturbingly, the initial video identifies learners in the classroom at the time.)

I am appalled at the learner’s behaviour. I am equally appalled at the other learners who cheer her on thereafter. Where is the mutual respect and understanding? I admit, it’s not the worst incident of school violence we have seen in South Africa, but that should not make it any less shocking. There are also incidents of teachers being abusive and violent towards learners which I condemn with equal disdain. Once we become immune to this, and stop acting to reverse this, the entire schooling system as we know it today will be eroded. That cannot happen on our watch.
School is meant to be a happy place. It was my happy place. I have the warmest memories of school. And the few fights that I remember among learners never involved weapons. Violence against teachers was unheard of during my school days. Interestingly, I got in touch with a former high school friend who is doing her bit to spread the happiness that we enjoyed in school. And, there’s  greater momentum to achieve this ahead of the International Day of Happiness on the 20 of March, as declared by the United Nations.

Verushka Bhagaloo Rajagopaul is The Way to Happiness In-Charge for Johannesburg North. I spoke to her about their work across South Africa, particularly within schools.
One of the things I have picked up on as a lecturer, and this would apply to schools too, is that there is a need to create a “happy” environment within the classroom – one that allows the teacher/lecturer and students to speak freely, to listen to each other and agree to disagree. But creating this environment isn’t easy. What practical steps does The Way to Happiness provide on this?
The greatest aspect of The Way to Happiness precepts, is that it allows the individual to see for themselves what is real or not. It does not dictate, but provides a reality to the youth and adults on the outcomes of their actions, together with guidance on practical steps. The precept “Love and Help Children” identifies that you must get a child’s understanding and willingness to follow the code of The Way to Happiness, and that would apply to an adult as well. It cannot be forced. And by doing this, you start to allow this child to have a say, which is you showing them respect, and that has them increase their co-operation with you – which is a great first step to creating a happier environment.
On top of that, another related precept is “Set a Good Example” which is the demonstration of good actions, whether speaking or movement. The Way to Happiness programme was delivered in prisons in 1994 at a time of much unrest in South Africa, and the inmates who had the programme delivered to them began to implement this precept. A success of this was when any unrest stirred up, those that understood and willingly accepted and implemented this precept, stood against the wall and did not indulge in fighting even when hit. It was difficult for them, but above all else, they held this precept close to them as they knew it was what would keep them sane. These regular inmates have not returned to prison since.
But of all the precepts, “Try To Treat Others As You Would Want Them To Treat You”, is the most relevant, and needs the previous 2 in place to truly be effective. If in a situation the teacher or child is presented with a possibility to give a response, and if they had to think on whether they would appreciate getting that response and the answer was no, it is an immediate indicator that they should not respond in such a way. For example, for a little child who likes to hit, by asking them if they like getting hit, one can bring up the awareness of the child on how others feel as well.
It’s become a major concern in South Africa – the levels of bullying, intimidation and violence within schools, not limited to among peers but also learners being violent towards teachers. How can teachers be better equipped to deal with this and other social evils such as drug and alcohol abuse by learners?
The precepts above apply as well, with different examples applied to them to make it clear why violence and bullying does not work; but added on to that are the following precepts:
Be temperate, which includes do not do harmful drugs and do not take alcohol to excess (or at all if below the legal drinking age). There is additional knowledge that we can direct teachers, parents and learners to which indicates the Truth About Drugs, and helps learners make more informed decisions on why not to indulge in them. I would advise that this be taught in schools, and the foundation can help teachers get in touch with the Truth About Drugs foundation.
Interestingly enough, the “Safeguard and Improve Your Area” precept also applies. By giving the scholars responsibility and actions to take, such as ensuring their classroom is neat and tidy and that the gardens around their space are in good condition, the scholar becomes more willing to be a productive person. Production leads to increased morale, which leads to happiness and invariably less outbursts of the violent type. This last part is backed up by the precept of “Be industrious”.
What exactly happens in your teaching training programme?
The teacher training programme takes teachers through The Way to Happiness education kit. There is a teacher’s guide with steps to take to teach the learner and provide them with practical experience on each precept that will result in a better understanding and implementation.
Depending on the time available, the programme can cover between 1 to 5 precepts.
The kit also includes a DVD that has public service announcements explaining each precept (also available on the website), The Way to Happiness film, the booklet with exercises and flyers.   

How successful has this programme been at schools in South Africa?
Over the past few weeks we have been training teachers and schools across the country with more vigour because the number of volunteers has increased. In each area we have a person in charge, and I am one such person in South Africa, with my area of focus being Johannesburg North.
The schools have had learners very excited to learn more, and more and more teachers want to be educated on how to run the programme because of rave reviews by other educators in their area.
The biggest success has been that the teachers finally believe that they have a solution as the programme provides practical exercises that will reap results, and that children are enthusiastic about learning how to apply this.
And do you find that this motivates teachers to be able to share knowledge with learners and help them develop themselves personally?
A few years ago I met a group of teachers that were not interested in their learners. It was a disappointment. Now, when we bring The Way to Happiness to the teachers, they are seeing a solution, and through the implementation of the precepts in their own lives and through their improved production, they too are happier. The more they implement these precepts and help others to implement them, the greater their morale and the happier they get. This is a definite solution for improving the lot of teachers in South Africa.
Among your 21 precepts is… “Treat others as you would want them to treat you”. How important is that especially within schools today where there are learners and teachers from different race groups and with different religious and cultural beliefs?
I would add the precepts of Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others, Set a Good Example and Seek to Live With The Truth to this question.
Our society is plagued with many opinions that cause people to take up arms against many different races, sexes or religious groups. The lack of facts, and the ease with which people can turn one against the other, has been a key cause of the issues we face as a country and as the human race. We are ready to take up arms against what we feel is a threat to us and our beliefs.
However, if we had to choose to treat people as we would want them to treat us, we would not have further issues to resolve beyond this. And if we had to source the real why of the intolerance and resolve that, after first treating people as we would want them to treat us, then we would stop a lot of wrong actions in society and improve tolerance and happiness in society.
How can schools, youth groups and community organisations get in touch with you for more information? And which South African cities are you active in?
We would love to have more people assist us to get The Way to Happiness out further and have a much greater impact, which fulfils our need of Safeguarding and Improving Our Environment. They can email us on TWTH@hotmail.com for now. Alternatively, they can contact us via the website www.thewaytohappiness.org
If you are a business owner, you can contact us to have a group of employees educated to deliver The Way to Happiness programme, and you can obtain the DVD from us to play in your office, or send to your clients. There are many ways that you can become involved.
We have people in Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth. But if there is huge demand outside of this area, we can definitely plan to assist you.
What will you be doing on the 20th of March to commemorate International Happiness Day?
I am very excited for this day. Across South Africa through media, in-person education sessions and flyers, we intend on reaching approximately 1 million people. Prior to this, the group across the country is looking to skill up as many people to drive workshops on the day, and thereby increasing our access.
Personally, I intend to be on as many media platforms as possible, being interviewed or educating people on the precepts.
If you would like to be involved on the day, please do reach out to us. It is only the beginning of an incredible journey enabling people to be happy.
To help you along this journey to happiness, we are calling on teachers and lecturers in Durban to join a free class this Saturday, 17 March. The class will be held between 9.30 and 12.30.
All you have to do is comment on my blog, Facebook or Twitter with your name and the name of your school. The more schools we are able to reach, the better. Please feel free to email me for further information – jagjivanm@gmail.com. 
Let’s spread happiness!  

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