Teenagers who feel part of a school community and enjoy good relations with their parents and teachers are more likely to perform better academically and be happier with their lives, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of students’ well-being.
Students’ Well-Being: PISA 2015 Results analyses for the first time students’ motivation to perform well in school, their relationships with peers and teachers, their home life, and how they spend their time outside of school. The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 students in 72 participating countries and economies who also completed the main OECD PISA 2015 test on science, mathematics and reading.
Many students are very anxious about school work and tests and the analysis reveals this is not related to the number of school hours or the frequency of tests but with how supportive they feel their teachers and schools to be: on average across OECD countries, 59% of students reported they often worry that taking a test will be difficult, and 66% reported feeling stressed about poor grades. Some 55% of students say they are very anxious for a test even if they are well prepared. In all countries, girls reported greater schoolwork-related anxiety than boys; and anxiety about schoolwork, homework and tests is negatively related to performance.
Teachers play a big role in creating the conditions for students’ well-being at school and governments should not define the role of teachers solely through the number of instruction hours. Happier students tend to report positive relations with their teachers. Students in schools where life satisfaction is above the national average reported a higher level of support from their teacher than students in schools where life satisfaction is below average.
“These findings show how teachers, schools and parents can make a real difference to children’s well-being,” said OECD Chief of Staff Gabriela Ramos, launching the report in London. “Together they can help young people develop a sense of control over their future and the resilience they need to be successful in life. There is no secret, you perform better if you feel valued, if you feel well treated, if you are given a hand to succeed!”
Parents can make a big difference too. Students whose parents reported “spending time just talking to my child”, “eating the main meal with my child around a table” or “discussing how well my child is doing at school” regularly were between 22% and 39% more likely to report high levels of life satisfaction. The academic impact is also significant: students who spent time talking with their parents were two-thirds of a school year ahead in science learning, and even after accounting for socio-economic status, the advantage remains at one-third of a school year.
The survey revealed that bullying was a major issue in schools, with a large proportion of students reporting being victims. On average across OECD countries, around 4% of students – roughly one per class – reported that they are hit or pushed at least a few times per month, a percentage that varies from 1% to 9.5% across countries. Bullying is lower in schools where students have positive relationships with their teachers. Parents need to be involved in school planning and responses to bullying, and schools need to collaborate with other institutions and services to put in place comprehensive prevention and response plans.
On average across OECD countries, most 15-year-old students are happy with their lives, reporting a level of 7.3 on a scale of life satisfaction that ranges from 0 to 10. But there are large variations across countries: while less than 4% of students in the Netherlands said that they were not satisfied with their life, more than 20% of students in Korea and Turkey were. Girls and disadvantaged students are less likely than boys and advantaged students to report high levels of life satisfaction. The lower life satisfaction reported by 15-year-old girls in PISA is possibly a reflection of girls’ harsh self-criticism, particularly related to their image of their own bodies at a time when they are undergoing major physical changes. PISA 2015 does not collect data on students’ body image, but the results on eating habits reveal that girls were much more likely than boys to skip breakfast and more likely to skip dinner.
Research suggests that exposure to images of overly thin girls and women in traditional media and social media has a negative impact on girls’ satisfaction with themselves. The causes of this are complex and multi-faceted, but the role of the media in promoting gender stereotypes seems to be undermining girls’ well-being and the OECD is starting to look at this issue intensively.
Other key findings include:
Performance at school and life satisfaction
Most students in 67 countries and economies feel that they belong to the school community. Disadvantaged students were 7.7 percentage points less likely than advantaged students to report that they feel that they belong at school, and first-generation immigrant students 4.6 percentage points less likely than students without an immigrant background.
Girls were more likely than boys to report that they want top grades at school and that they want to be able to select among the best opportunities when they graduate. But boys were more likely than girls to describe themselves as ambitious and to aspire to be the best, whatever they do.
On average across OECD countries, 44% of 15-years-old students expect that they will complete university. In Colombia, Korea, Qatar and the United States, more than three out of four students expect so. Students’ expectations of further education are influenced by education policy, particularly the degree of sorting students into different education tracks.
Students’ social life at school
One in five students reported that they experience some form of unfair treatment by their teachers (they are harshly disciplined, or feel offended or ridiculed in front of others) at least a few times in a given month.
Girls are less likely than boys to become victims of physical aggressions, but are more likely to be the object of nasty rumours.
Students attending schools where bullying is frequent, by international standards, score 47 points lower in science than students in schools where bullying occurs less frequently. Students who reported being frequently exposed to bullying also reported a weaker sense of belonging at school and less satisfaction with life.
Students’ use of their time outside of school
About 6.6% of students across OECD countries do not engage in any kind of moderate or vigorous physical activity outside of school, and the share of physically inactive students is 1.8 percentage points higher among girls than among boys. Physically active students are less likely than those who do not participate in any kind of physical activity outside of school to skip school, feel like an outsider at school, feel very anxious about schoolwork, or be frequently bullied.
On average across OECD countries, around 23% of students reported that they work for pay and 73% reported that they work in the house before or after school. More boys than girls work for pay, and fewer boys than girls do unpaid household chores.
On average across OECD countries, students spend more than two hours on line during a typical weekday after school, and more than three hours on line during a typical weekend day. Between 2012 and 2015, the time spent on line outside of school increased by around 40 minutes per day on both weekdays and weekends.
What the PISA results imply for policy:
To try to reduce schoolwork-related anxiety among students, specific professional development can be offered to teachers so that they can identify those students who suffer from anxiety and teach these students how to learn from mistakes. For example, one way to encourage a positive attitude towards mistakes is to take the most common mistakes that the class made on a test or quiz and let the students analyse them together. In addition, teachers can help students set realistic – but challenging – goals for themselves, since students are more likely to value what they are learning, and to enjoy the process of learning, when they can attain the goals they set. Strategies for encouraging goal-setting and enhancing intrinsic motivation to learn include providing meaningful rationales for learning activities, acknowledging students’ feelings about the tasks, and avoiding excessive pressure and control. Providing constructive feedback on the results of assessments can also nurture students’ confidence and intrinsic motivation.
PISA finds that one major threat to students’ feelings of belonging at school are their perceptions of negative relationships with their teachers. To build better teacher-student relations, teachers should be trained in basic methods of observation, listening and intercultural communication so that they can better take into account individual learners’ needs. Teachers should also be encouraged to collaborate and exchange information about students’ difficulties, character and strengths with their colleagues, so that they can collectively find the best approach to make students feel part of the school community.
The data also show that a large proportion of students report being victims of bullying at school. Effective anti-bullying programmes follow a whole-of-school approach that includes training for teachers on bullying behaviour and how to handle it, anonymous surveys of students to monitor the prevalence of bullying, and strategies to provide information to and engage with parents. Teachers and parents have a particularly important role to play in preventing bullying at school: teachers need to communicate to students that they will not tolerate any form of bullying; and parents need to be involved in school planning and responses to bullying.
PISA results from 18 culturally and economically diverse countries show that students whose parents routinely engage in day-to-day home-based activities, such as eating a meal together or spending time “just talking” not only score higher in PISA, but are also more satisfied with their lives. Schools can help parents become more involved in their child’s education by removing any barriers to their participation in school events, such as offering flexible channels of communication for busy working parents, and suggesting ways in which parents can get involved both at home and in school.
To improve students’ well-being, schools should also teach students the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle through physical and health education. Engaging physical education at school can reduce the number of students who are physically inactive out of school.