Vancouver resident Victor Chan has had experiences in life that others can only imagine. In 1971, he was kidnapped along with two other people while vacationing in Afghanistan. The following year he met the Dalai Lama, and over the next four decades they coauthored two books and Chan founded the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver. During the 1980s, Chan travelled to Tibet 11 times and wrote a definitive 1,100-page guidebook for pilgrims.
These days, his foremost goal is to turn B.C. into a globally recognized centre for educating socially and emotionally intelligent students. He’s hoping that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Vancouver later this month—his fourth in 10 years—will further that objective.
“There is a strong correlation between social and emotional fluency and better academic outcomes,” Chan told the Georgia Straight by phone.
During previous visits to Vancouver in 2004, 2006, and 2009, the Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of educating the heart. Chan said that as a result of these efforts, B.C. has become a world leader in fostering mindfulness in the classroom. He noted that several B.C. school districts have incorporated a program to encourage self-regulation in classrooms that was developed by York University researcher Stuart Shanker. The Ontario academic has defined self-regulation as an ability to control physical, behavioural, and mental impulses.
Chan pointed out that the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, which was led by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1970s, showed that children’s ability to exhibit self-control was very predictive of future well-being. “The research is really well documented,” Chan said. “Having these things actually embedded in some of the school districts is the type of thing we’re very keen to report to the Dalai Lama.”
In The Wisdom of Compassion: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights (Riverhead Books, 2012), the Dalai Lama and Chan point out that UBC education professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl developed the first North American program to show future teachers how to incorporate social and emotional development into classroom learning.
“For the past several years, Schonert-Reichl has also worked closely with actress Goldie Hawn to study the effectiveness of the Hawn Foundation’s pioneering MindUP program,” the book relates. “This is a fifteen-module curriculum designed by educators and brain scientists to promote mindfulness in the classroom. The data show that children who have completed the course improved their ability to concentrate.”
Not only that, but according to the book they also achieved higher scores on standardized tests, demonstrated greater empathy, and tended to be happier.
The Dalai Lama and Chan also write in The Wisdom of Compassion that an analysis of 213 studies involving 300,000 students showed that those who “received social, emotional, and mindfulness instruction scored 11 to 17 percentage points higher on achievement tests, compared with those who did not receive such instruction”.
Chan said that on October 21, the Dalai Lama will get a chance to witness how empathy is being fostered in B.C. classrooms during a visit to John Oliver secondary school, where he’ll also join four students on-stage in the gymnasium. “They will talk about what it means to educate the heart,” Chan said. “I think it’s very interesting for him, who is always talking to grownups, to share the stage with students and talk about things that are clearly of interest to the students as well as to him.”
The following day, the Dalai Lama will join researchers at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts to discuss how a child’s first five years influence the rest of their life. “He tells me that if he is a good person—if he is a compassionate, empathetic person—it’s because of those early influences he had with his mother, who was the kindest, most gentle and compassionate person,” Chan stated.
He added that he expects the researchers will discuss the development of neural pathways in infancy. That will be preceded on October 21 by a discussion at the Vancouver Convention Centre on educating the heart with a panel including the Dalai Lama, Schonert-Reichl, U.S. management guru Peter Senge, Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman, spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan, and the YWCA’s Janet Austin.
Chan said that UBC’s research into mindfulness education has captured the interest of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who heads Bangladesh’s largest nongovernmental organization. As a result, these ideas are being implemented in the 37,000 schools he oversees.
“The Dalai Lama made an effect on the community here 10 years ago,” Chan concluded. “I am hoping that he will be pleased with these really tangible achievements and continue to help us, work with us, and make sure that the education shines in B.C. and [becomes] a model for other education jurisdictions as well.”