Among those children aged 6 to 16, an estimated 17.5% experienced mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance use, as well as attention-deficit and disruptive disorders. More than half (138 million, or 51%) of children in China are in rural areas, which are commonly associated with lower socioeconomic status, education inequality that leads to higher school dropout, lower academic performances, and limited mental health resources. Addressing their mental health needs and educational equity have become priorities for the Chinese educational system. Rural children and adolescents have higher rates of mental disorders comparable to metropolitan youth but face limited mental health service resources, such as lack of mental health prevention lessons, teachers who are familiar with children’s mental health development. Therefore, it is urgent to fill the gap of children’s mental health promotion in rural areas.
Schools often function as sites for programs and interventions to facilitate children’s growth and thriving. In many western countries, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs are recognized as effective mental health and education interventions in school settings. However, the SEL program or curriculum has not been well developed and tested in Chinese contexts. The program is an innovative solution since it is one of the earliest programs in China that aims at empowering rural teachers through providing a systematic SEL curriculum, training, and cooperating with county governmental departments to bring 8-10 lessons to rural children in one semester. Firstly, we design more than ten types of the curriculum - each curriculum has about 8 to 10 lessons that meet the needs of students of different ages. In addition, we provide rural teachers with systematic training, including online and offline ones, aiming to promote their knowledge, skills, and competencies in children’s mental health promotion. Furthermore, with the cooperation of county education departments, we encourage various participants to get involved and make efforts to create a child-friendly environment.
To date, the Flourish Magic School Program has benefited over 320,000 schools aged children living in rural areas of mainland China. Also, more than 3,500 teachers form around 1500 schools have benefited from receiving training and support as curriculum facilitators. According to the program evaluation results, students showed statistically significant improvements in terms of self-esteem, emotional recognition & regulation, peer relationship and self-resilience. Based on the qualitative analysis, participating students reported that they “enjoy fun lessons while learning new skills to manage emotions better and get along well with classmates”. Teachers reported improved academic performances among student participants.