BY LINDA EGENES

Does Gender Specific EducationIn most developing countries, the education of girls lags far behind that of boys. Yet because educated girls are better able to care for their families, universal education for girls is considered a major way to lead developing countries out of poverty. Helping all girls and boys receive an education is the mission of UNGEI, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.

The good news is that in America, the education of girls is on the rise. In fact, some researchers think that it’s not the girls who now need help, it’s the boys.

Since 2006, the gap is widening between boys’ and girls’ achievement. A recent NY Times article by David Leonhardt: “A Link Between Fidgety Boys and A Sputtering Economy” cites a paper by Diprete and Buchmann from Third Way, a Washington research group, which found getting As and Bs in middle school is a predictor for success in college. Girls significantly out-performed boys in academic grades (48% of the girls earned As and Bs while only 31% of the boys scored that high). Girls also out-performed boys in social behaviors that lead to success such as attentiveness, persistence, flexibility, independence, and “behaving.”

When I scrolled through the 635 comments on this article, I was struck by how many parents and educators felt that boys need a different kind of education.

One possible reason is the current emphasis on standardized testing. In an effort to raise test scores to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools across the country have cancelled art, music, PE and even recess to allow more time for kids to focus on academics. This cerebral, non-kinesthetic approach does not serve any student, but it hits boys the hardest, because they mature at a slower pace and often find it harder to sit still for hours at a desk.

Some experts point to gender specific education as a key to help both boys and girls learn. While in the past girls-only educational settings have been found to benefit girls more than boys (especially in closing the gender gap in math and science achievement), it seems that boys may also thrive in all-boys classrooms that favor a more engaging, active learning style.

One thing is clear: girls and boys alike are struggling with stress today, and stress can make it hard to focus. Some schools are helping their students experience academic success without stress by introducing the Transcendental Meditation technique. By meditating for a few minutes at the beginning and end of the school day, many children — along with their parents and teachers — are reporting a wide range of positive benefits due to their meditation sessions, from better grades to better behavior to feeling happier.

Even kids with ADHD—which affects more boys than girls—can be helped by meditating. Here are some comments from kids with ADHD:

“TM helped me with my schoolwork, I’m not getting as frustrated with friends, doing my homework better, not getting in as many fights at school, stuff like that.”

“It’s easier to focus and work on one thing instead of fidgeting. It makes me more confident.”

“I’m more calm, less hyper and more mature than I was before. Now all my friends want me to come over to their house.”

And the research backs up these positive reports. A random-assignment controlled study published in 2012 in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry (Vol 2, No 1) found improved brain functioning and decreased symptoms of ADHD in students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. The paper, ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice, is the second published study demonstrating TM’s ability to help students with attention-related difficulties.

“The Transcendental Meditation technique increases blood flow to the brain,” says Dr. Sarina Grosswald, the principal investigator of the study. “That’s important because one of the physiological correlates of ADHD is reduced blood flow in the brain. Practice of the TM technique also results in a dramatic reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression.” Dr. Grosswald’s study also found that organization, memory and strategizing skills significantly improved.

If boys and girls alike increased their learning ability and academic achievement by practicing the TM technique twice a day, perhaps there really could be a time when no child — or gender — fell behind. In fact, perhaps all students’ progress would leap ahead.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, June 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Educating Girls in UgandaUganda, like most countries in Africa, has experienced drought, famine, war, political instability, human rights violations, an AIDS epidemic, and extreme poverty. Providing higher education for Ugandan girls is especially critical, as research has shown that when young girls and women are educated, they are able to care better for their children and lead their families out of poverty.

The evidence is so striking that it can be boiled down to one sentence: If you want to change the world, invest in the education of girls.

According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 46.5% of girls in Uganda get married and have children before reaching the age of 18. The literacy rate of girls lags behind that of boys, and even though the primary school population is evenly divided between boys and girls, girls comprise only 46% of secondary students and 38% of college students.

In order to provide a high school education to girls in an area of Uganda where there are no opportunities for a non-sectarian higher education, Maharishi Secondary School for Girls is the first non-sectarian boarding school for girls in the eastern edge of Uganda. It started with a small group of 30 girls in 2009 in Mbale, Uganda. The next year it doubled to 60 and kept growing. Now with new buildings in progress, they are aiming for 600.

The school has been successful in helping children who have been rejected from other schools for behavioral problems or for being HIV positive. Grant Lusimbo, the amiable director who helped found the school says, “Our students are now performing better than the schools who take only the cream. This is a great joy to us. Now we get the students that the others say, “We can’t touch this one. We say, OK, we will take her, we have a method.’”

The method he refers to is the Transcendental Meditation technique, which the students practice twice a day together as a group in addition to taking a rigorous course of academics.

Director Lusimbo explains that the TM technique allows the thinking mind to settle down and experience the source of creativity, silence and calmness within. At the same time the body experiences deep rest and releases stress. This stress relief is especially important for Ugandan students, because even though the political situation is more stable now, the decades of stressful events have left large segments of the population, including the young people, suffering from depression and PTSD.

Lusimbo recounts what happened the first time he introduced the TM technique to students in another Ugandan school in 1983. He explains that in Uganda, corporal punishment is a common way to discipline students. “All of a sudden after introducing TM the behavior was so good,” he says. “So all corporal punishment was abolished.”

Now he likens the Maharishi Secondary School to a hospital that cures a patient who was considered incurable by doctors. “The other schools are saying, ‘No, we can’t teach you.’ We say, ‘Bring her to us and we’ll resurrect her.’ ”

The teachers, who also practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, are equally enthusiastic. Headmistress Kalyebbi Felistus says that she has taught in all types of schools, with girls alone, boys alone and mixed, but finds that these girls are more disciplined and eager to learn. History Teacher Zemei Beth says that the students are lively but “We don’t experience misbehaviors.”

Peer-reviewed research shows that the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique not only improves social behavior by calming anxiety and anger, but it improves focus and clarity of thinking, helping students to effortlessly increase their learning capacity. One student reported, “After morning lessons, I come out with my mind tired. But after meditating, my mind has become fresh and I can pick up on whatever they are teaching and understand hard subjects like biology, chemistry and physics.”

Science teacher Opado Joel says, “Our school has now improved in the level of academics simply because of one thing, and that’s meditation.”

One student who is HIV positive and had suffered from the stress and isolation that accompanies this condition, reported, “Since I started meditation, I have seen my health improving. I used to have body aches and terrible headaches, but these days I am happy to be healthy. I don’t experience aches. I understand myself—who I am. And my friends have started supporting me because they are also meditators.”

Visit the school’s website and watch their video here.

Watch the video of the dormitory in progress at the Maharishi Secondary School for Girls in Uganda here.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)