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PISA Report: How Happy Are Our Children at School?

HappyHow happy are children at school? A few days ago, the OECD, through PISA, released an International study of children’s happiness with their schools and routines in order to answer this very question. Among the headlines were the number of hours teenagers spend surfing the internet in Great Britain and the United States. In addition, the fact that the number of hours dedicated to study is not related to life satisfaction puts an end to many assumptions about Asian countries. It is also clear that good teachers with the ability to provide students with a sense of belonging to the school are fundamental to students’ well-being.

According to Andreas Schleicher, the director of PISA, the majority of teachers want their students to feel comfortable in class. However, the findings report that not all are prepared to deal with the most difficult children, resulting in a bad environment. As PISA usually does, it has advised teachers to talk to each other to share efficient strategies and be able to better detect the difficulties experienced by students in the classroom. Once again, as the MacKinsey report did ten years ago, this report highlights the crucial role of teachers.

One of the aspects the report points to is the excessive use of the internet, which is actually linked to greater levels of dissatisfaction. Responsible use of time spent online is a challenge for all families and schools, which is why we are convinced that methods such as ours, that encourage children to work at full concentration for a minimum of 15 minutes, are successful. Parents using Smartick don’t have to worry about searching the internet for the best educational resources. We offer a personalized resource for 15 minutes each day so that children can concentrate on solving problems that completely adapt to their pace of learning. Parents also receive an email containing results as soon as their child has completed their session.

The level of anxiety expressed by some children when they do not have access to the internet (54%) and the lack of awareness of the time they spend connected to it is a warning sign.  Some of the unwanted effects of spending too much time online are the reduction of physical activity, increased risk of obesity, lack of concentration, and sleep disorders. The benefits of moderate use include access to information and the ability to socialize with friends without any physical barriers.

One of the most worrying problems the report highlights is that of bullying in schools.  According to PISA, schools can and should do more to prevent classroom environments that give rise to certain psychological harassment, such as spreading rumors, which is now augmented by access to social networks.

But there is good news. In general, teenagers are happy. In the US, teenagers were reasonably satisfied with their lives, scoring 7.36 on a scale of 0 to 10; similar to the OCDE average of 7.31. However, teenagers from the United Kingdom were below that average, scoring 6.98. The UK also returned the worrying figure of 15% of students who say they are not satisfied with the life they lead.

Regarding anxiety levels before exams, including students who believe they are well prepared, both the US and the UK are above the average of 55%. In the United Kingdom, 71.9% of students feel nervous about a test, compared with 67.7% in the US. Girls are often more affected by anxiety, according to the data gathered by PISA. Coincidentally, in both countries, practically all students are willing to take maximum advantage of their opportunities when they finish high school; 97% in both cases, which is five percentage points above the OECD average. The desire to be one of the best students in the class is shared by an average of 59.2% children globally, which rises to 85.4% in the US while the figure for the United Kingdom is ten percentage points lower.

According to the report, “Girls were more likely than boys to report that they want top grades at school and that they care about being able to select among the best opportunities when they graduate. Girls thus seem to care more than boys that their efforts at school are properly recognized, but they were less likely than boys to report that they are ambitious or competitive. On average across OECD countries, 68% of boys and 62% of girls reported that they want to be the best, whatever they do.”  There is further good news in this section. Although teenagers from low socio-economic backgrounds are less ambitious, this is not the case for immigrants who often match the aspirations of children from more affluent households, while studies have shown that motivated students do well in school. PISA highlights a virtuous circle in which the students with the highest life satisfaction are the most motivated at school and show more tenacity and resilience in achieving their goals.

The feeling of belonging to a group during school is important to avoid social conflicts in adolescence and, an average of 73% of teenagers indicated that they felt part of the school community.  In the US, this sense of community is one percentage point above the average; however, the percentage drops to 67.8% in the UK. British children report a higher than average percentage of having been a victim of any type of harassment in the last month at 23.9%, compared with 18.9% in the US.

Of course, parents also play an important role, and 88% say they often talk to their children about school matters, according to PISA surveys in both the UK and the US. Almost all of the students consulted say that they notice that their parents are interested in how they are doing at school. Most also say that their parents support them when they have difficulties in class. Ultimately, regarding the relationships and support from families, the situation that the PISA survey paints is quite idyllic.

The differences between the expectations of US and UK students with regards to studying at university are curious. 76% of American students believe that they will go on to study at university, despite the cost – the subject of a political debate that is gaining momentum – while the figure drops to 41% in the UK. The OECD average is 44%.

“The education and career expectations of disadvantaged students are related to the socio-economic profile and composition of their school,” says the report.  Although it does not go into concrete policy considerations, this phrase seems to support the plan to increase the number of grammar schools championed by Theresa May’s government. It is further supported by this next statement: “This result suggests that in schools with a high concentration of students with pro-school attitudes and high expectations for themselves, students of all social status tend to develop higher ambitions for their future”.

On the subject of eating habits, it is striking that, according to PISA, more than a quarter of students in the United Kingdom and the United States do not eat breakfast before going to class, which is above the global average.

According to the report, children that abuse the use of the internet by being connected for more than six hours a day show lower levels of life satisfaction than those that moderate their usage. With cases of cyberbullying increasing, children’s online lives are something that should concern us all. And of course, since children connect to their internet for an average of 146 minutes a day, it’s clear that they have time for activities that bring benefits. Yes, like Smartick.

Learn More:

Fun is our brain’s favorite way of learning
Diane Ackerman
Smartick is a fun way to learn math
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Conchi has spent the last decade working in the children's digital space and following closely all the latest trends in educational apps. On the weekends, she loves exploring Boston with her three-year-old daughter and taking pictures of their time together.
Conchi Ruiz Cabello

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