Getting children to meditate at school: a good idea, really?

Better manage stress, regulate emotions, facilitate concentration and learning, improve relationships in class … The promises of the practice of meditation at school have something to appeal to teachers as well as students and their students. parents. They also seem very close to convincing Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Minister of National Education. “The idea is gaining ground, we have had many discussions with the ministry. The Scientific Council of National Education will take up the issue,” assures MP Gaël Le Bohec. This big fan of mindfulness meditation – he even wanted to see the National Assembly reimburse elected officials for sessions – gave at the beginning of the year a report proposing to launch an experiment in 200 classes.

Solicited by L’Express, the ministry procrastinated: “This document is a private member’s report, which we did not order. It did not lead to any conclusion on our part,” says one rue de Grenelle , where we still confirm the upcoming seizure of the scientific council chaired by Prof. Stanislas Dehaene. It did not take more to move a number of observers, starting with the League of Human Rights (LDH). The association has just published a statement asking the ministry to abandon any project in this direction, in the name of the separation of Church and State. If the supporters of mindfulness meditation see it as a secular practice, it indeed finds its origins in the movement New Age and Buddhism. “We wanted to alert public opinion, because by continuing in this direction, the ministry would go beyond the framework of the instruction to move towards a behavioral approach, with an ideological and medical point of view. This seems to us very far from the mission. of National Education “, explains Malik Salemkour, president of the LDH.

“The state does not have the means to control the stakeholders”

However, mindfulness meditation has already entered through the back door in schools. As Gaël Le Bohec reminds us in his report, nearly 425 schools, colleges or high schools have already offered this practice to their students. If it is each time local initiatives, due to professors, leaders, or heads of establishments convinced, this trend had not escaped the Miviludes (interministerial mission of vigilance and fight against sectarian aberrations, now attached to the Ministry of the Interior). “The problem is that the National Education and the town halls (for extracurricular activities, editor’s note) do not have the means to control the participants”, worried its former secretary general last year. And in fact, in Brittany, a school welcomed a worker trained in meditation by an organization called Golden Palace of the lemurs, specialized in “recovery of vital energy by the quantum leap” (sic) …

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“By accepting meditation in school premises, it is granted a form of recognition and legitimation”, regrets honorary lawyer Jean-Pierre Jougla, member of the sectarian phenomenon group of the LDH. If this method, which consists of concentrating on your breathing and letting your thoughts come without controlling them, is very popular today, it is not without its risks. Serge Blisko, the former president of Miviludes, thus regularly alerted to the possibility of mental control in the event of a practice supervised by ill-intentioned people. The mission also received 150 referrals on this subject between 2018 and 2019. Without going that far, do we know if meditation can really benefit students? “We have very positive feedback from teachers who offer it in their classes. The idea of ​​the experiment is precisely to demonstrate it scientifically. Work exists abroad, but only one study has been carried out in France to date. : it was encouraging, but small, ”defends Gaël Le Bohec.

At the moment, the evidence for the effectiveness of meditation at school is indeed more than limited. The French study, carried out on 139 children, 85 participants in a meditation program and 54 in a control group, did not show significant differences between the two groups. Except for the 30% most in difficulty, suffering from anxiety in particular. “But that does not mean anything because if we take care of these children, that we give them time and attention, they will necessarily be better than those to whom we do not offer anything”, assures a scientist member of the group sectarian phenomenon of LDH. Similarly, the latest reviews of the scientific literature on the role of meditation in schools show above all that the work carried out so far was tainted with such methodological biases that it is in reality not possible to draw conclusions. reliable.

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The effects of meditation on adults have already been the subject of a plethora of studies. While some of them were particularly positive, a meta-analysis published in 2017 denounced their flawed protocols, going so far as to speak of “disinformation”. Under these conditions, is it really necessary to bring this debate to schools? It will be up to the scientific council of the ministry to judge …



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