Follow Us:

Press Release: 'Happy Schools': UNESCO report offers first-ever framework on promoting learner well-being and happiness

BANGKOK, 25 MARCH, 2016 – The joy of learning is too often absent in Asia-Pacific schools due to an over-emphasis on tests and rote learning in heavily competitive and stressful environments.

A new report launched today by UNESCO Bangkok aims to change that by providing a comprehensive guiding framework for educators of what constitutes a “happy” school as well as detailing innovative practices in the region that are making schools happier  places of learning which may be more conducive to quality education.

Happy Schools: A Framework for Learner Well-Being in the Asia-Pacific”, is the first report of its kind in the region to detail what is being done – as well as what needs to be done – to promote learners’ happiness and well-being in schools.

Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, said that the report comes at an ideal time for learners in Asia-Pacific.

“Schools are becoming increasingly complex and children seem to be increasingly unhappy. This reflects the world that we live in today, driven by competition, rising inequality, rapid demographic and technological changes, and changing family structures and demands,” said Dr Kim. “As a result of all these factors, children are facing increased pressure, high expectations as well as an over-emphasis on academics, tests and competition in schools. Now more than ever before, there is a need for happy schools.”


One of the chief outcomes of the “Happy Schools” report is a detailed set of criteria that policy-makers, schools and education stakeholders in all contexts can use to gauge the extent to which they are mirroring the best practices in ensuring learners’ happiness and holistic development.

The “Happy Schools criteria” cover 22 specific areas in three broad categories: people, which includes friends and relationships in the school and community, and touches on areas such as respect for diversity and a focus on teachers; process, which encompasses teaching and learning methodologies that can enhance learners’ sense of well-being; and place, touching on both the physical environment of the school as well as its atmosphere – asking whether the school offers an inclusive, bullying-free environment for students, for example.

The criteria offer those in education a valuable tool against which they can assess their own policies, with clear guidelines on what can be done to make needed improvements. To that end, there are also several examples drawn from throughout the region of innovative school practices as well as examples of how measures that foster happiness in schools have been incorporated into education policy.

The release of Happy Schools comes at a critical time in regional and global education, with the recent commitment to ensuring quality education and well-being for all learners in the Education 2030 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),  as well as the increasingly prominent focus placed on linkages between learner happiness and the quality of education in international assessments, including PISA.


The full report is available here:


In advance of the release of the Happy Schools report, UNESCO Bangkok asked the question: What does a happy school look like to you?

Some 160 people throughout the region submitted their creations – photos, drawings and paintings – to the Happy Schools Art contest. Of these, the top three were selected for prizes and a total of 30 were chosen to be featured in an exhibition at Bangkok’s The Commons.

First, second, and third prize winners as well as the submission from our youngest entrant are featured below. The three finalists presented their work at the launch ceremony at The Commons.

E-Exhibition featuring all 30 selected entries 

The Happy Schools Exhibition continues until 3 April at The Commons. 

Images and captions from the top 30 entries are available for download here

Media inquiries: Noel Boivin, UNESCO Bangkok Media and Communications Officer,

 1ST PRIZE: ‘In The Mood for School’, Yejoon (Jennifer) Yoo (South Korea) 

Jennifer writes: “[I painted] ‘In the Mood for School’ to encourage both schools and students to acknowledge the value of useful learning content or lessons which are applicable in human life.


2ND PRIZE: "I Have a Big Dream", Estiawati Subair (Indonesia), 

“An elementary school in Makassar, Indonesia holds "inspiration classes" for students in which people from different professions speak to the students. Here, students inspired by dreams of being a pilot fly paper planes high.” 


3RD PRIZE, Debdatta Chakraborty 
Children at this barebones school in Bangladesh are in the first generation of their families to attend school – for them, just having the opportunity to learn brings happiness.

Special Mention –Elodie Khan, Australia, age 10 
The youngest entrant in the UNESCO Bangkok Happy Schools Art Contest explains her submission: "This picture shows friendship and inclusion. The different animals represent students from different backgrounds, nationalities and cultures. A happy school is a place where everyone is friendly, there are no bullies, and everyone feels included and safe."