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Across the world, schools are introducing programmes aimed at enhancing the well-being of students and helping them flourish. Such programmes aim to teach students how to cultivate positive emotions and relationships, find meaning and feel a sense of achievement in their work—as well as look after their physical and mental health.
But despite this progress, recent research conducted in the Republic of Ireland has found that the well-being of students steadily declines as they progress through secondary school, up to their final exams. And the decline is sharper for girls than for boys.
Research - Colleague - Students - Groups - Years
For the research, my colleague and I surveyed nearly 3,000 students, aged between 12 and 19. We divided them into three groups. Junior years were aged 12 to 13, and had just started secondary education. Middle years (14- to 16-year-olds) were either well-established in secondary school, or opting for a transition year (a non-compulsory programme where students take time out from academic aspects of their education and focus on work experience or community service activities). Senior years (17- to 19-year-olds) were busy preparing for their final school examinations—the gateway to studying at university.
Traditionally, students' well-being has been evaluated by measuring a lack of mental health problems like depression or anxiety. But more recent research has shown that having higher levels of well-being can help people cope better with adversities—so for our study, we sought to measure levels of well-being, as well as mental health issues.
Results - Decrease - Well-being - Junior - Middle
Our results indicated a small but steady decrease in well-being from junior, through to the middle and senior groups. Perhaps predictably, we also found age-related increases in measures of negative emotions and loneliness. In comparison to boys, girls reported lower levels of well-being across the board, and higher levels of negative emotions and loneliness.
We can only speculate about the reasons for this decline in well-being....
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