Research suggests a wet mind is a healthy mind. David Henderson reports.
The simple colourless liquid, H2O, could provide the easiest, cheapest and most startling route to academic success and classroom peace, according to researchers. They say that pupils should drink up to 2 litres a day.
Education consultants, academics and researchers across Scotland have latched onto the latest findings, mainly from the United States, that drinking more water may be the key to using the brain more effectively. They say that more neurological research on how people learn has been published in the last five years than ever before, and it is now time to apply the lessons to the classroom.
Ian Smith, former research fellow with the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and now a consultant, has studied the evidence. He says:
"There is no doubt in my mind that more water and more movement would make a difference. They are absolutely fundamental."
American research has discovered that encouraging pupils to drink lots more water in classrooms improves behaviour and performance. Pupils who are bored, listless, drowsy and lack concentration may in fact be dehydrated. And American hospitals report that patients improve when they are encouraged to drink up to 20 glasses of water a day.
Learning specialists recommend 8 to 15 glasses of water a day, depending on body size, weather and activity levels. Nutritionists say pure water is better than coffee, tea, soft drinks or fruit juices, all of which are diuretics. The body needs even more fluids to make up the deficits they cause.
Katrina Bowes, a lecturer at Cardonald College, Glasgow, points out that 70 per cent of the body and brain are water, and drinking more is essential to keep them functioning.
Around 20 of her child care students have thrown out their cans of fizzy, sweetened drinks for regular top-ups of water, even during lectures. "They feel energised and it helps them to be calm and to study," she says.
Mrs Bowes also works with teachers on in-service. She says they are responding to the evidence: "In primary especially, they cannot believe the difference." Some headteachers, however, remain to be convinced.
She finds it strange that secondary pupils sitting Standard grades and Highers are not allowed to drink during a period when they are using their brains intensively. "They could well be dehydrated," she says.
Maggie Pollard, head of Richmond Park School in Glasgow, is equally persuaded. She has introduced Water at Work stations in her school, and they run through four canisters of chilled water a week. "We need to have access to as much brain power as possible, and drinking water helps. It seems to work well with physically handicapped children and in occupational therapy. Plus children these days do not drink water," she explained.
Her pupils have been persuaded to drink as much as possible, and in class. Staff also drink to set an example.
Ian Smith believes the habit of offering tea and coffee should be dropped in favour of water. But he admits it is difficult in Scottish schools, particularly secondaries. "I make a point of drinking water when I'm working," he says.