This week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) published the latest results of its programme for international student assessment (PISA). Whilst Wales is making great progress in the ranking, the low life satisfaction level of Welsh students is worrying, says Trish D’Souza.
Every three years, the PISA compares reading, maths, and science skills, as well as a range of attitudes, amongst 15-year-olds from the participating countries. The latest results are largely positive for the UK, which ranked 14th of the 79 nations and regions that took part this year. Both Wales and England have risen in the international rankings, with Wales’ scores improving faster than the OECD average.
Welsh students achieved their best scores in mathematics and reading, since Wales began participating in PISA in 2006. Science scores are still below where they once were, but have improved over the last three years. The gap in performance between the least and most deprived students in Wales was also reportedly low, which suggests that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are increasingly able to overcome those disadvantages.
This is very encouraging, but the results also displayed a more worrying trend. 63% of Welsh students reported sometimes or always feeling worried (OECD average: 50%), while 54% reported feeling miserable (OECD average: 39%). Overall, students in the UK have experienced the largest decline in terms of life satisfaction since the previous PISA survey in 2015.
The media have repeatedly reported that young people are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety and mental ill-health – at a time when availability and access to treatment and other resources can be limited. This has prompted both the UK and Welsh Government to develop policies that seek to include mental health and well-being within future curricula, to de-stigmatise depression and anxiety, and ensure that children, from primary level onwards, are aware of how to go about seeking support.
The lack of well-being focus in previous versions of English and Welsh curricula could indeed explain why the current swathe of 15-year-olds were so honest about their impression of life satisfaction. As university students also report unprecedented levels of anxiety and ill-health, it is hoped that a re-focused curriculum will provide society as a whole with a greater appreciation and understanding of what it takes to ensure personal well-being. This hopefully will feed into more positive and improved PISA results in three years’ time.
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