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  5. The history of wellbeing in an educational context

The history of wellbeing in an educational context

The term ‘wellbeing’ comes up frequently in discussions about schooling and student life, but what exactly does it mean?

Wellbeing, sometimes also known as ‘wellness’, refers to the overall state of life of a person, or group of persons. Widespread use of the concept began in 1948, when the World Health Organisation issued a charter defining ‘health’ as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. This was an attempt to shift away from a narrow focus on the physiological dimensions of health only, towards a broader conception which includes the mental and social aspects. A ‘new kind of health’ was thus created.

Students may experience stress from a range of sources including academic studies, socialising with peers, settling in to a new environment and so on. As awareness of mental health issues becomes more prevalent, boarding schools are taking initiatives to look after their students better. In 2006, Wellington College in the UK was among the first schools in the world to explicitly incorporate a course on happiness and wellbeing into the curriculum. Many more have started to run wellbeing programmes, taking the personal, social and spiritual needs of students into account when providing pastoral care.