Work needed to improve wellbeing among students

19 November 2013

More education work needs to be done to improve the importance of teaching the skills of happiness in schools, a University of Canterbury (UC) researcher says.

Work needed to improve wellbeing among students

More education work needs to be done to improve the importance of teaching the skills of happiness in schools, a University of Canterbury (UC) researcher says.

Dr Annie Soutter says her research suggests that more needs to be done to give effect to important wellbeing goals in schools, inside and outside of the health and physical education curriculum, for the positive benefit of students.

The youth suicide rate is higher in New Zealand than in most other countries for which comparative data is available. New Zealand has the second highest male youth suicide rate and the third highest female youth suicide rate out of 14 developed countries, according to the Ministry of Youth Development.

"How have the earthquakes impacted on youths' understanding and experience of wellbeing, both within and outside of school? Understanding this may help inform those seeking to integrate youth voice and perspectives in the redesign and rebuild of Christchurch communities.

"Leading wellbeing scholars have begun to argue the importance of teaching the skills for happiness.  The New Zealand curriculum has a place for this in its language and in its vision of students as `confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners’ who will be `contributors to the wellbeing of New Zealand – social, cultural, economic and environmental’.

"Wellbeing is a buzzword often associated with wealth, health and happiness. My research, based on a review of the economics, sociology, psychology and health sciences literature, found a much broader and more complex interpretation of wellbeing than how it is typically represented in policy and programming.  

"My work addresses a gap in the literature by focusing on students, whose wellbeing is a centre of policy and programming attention, but who have not been adequately consulted about whether current scholarly, political or media conceptualisations of wellbeing are relevant to or resonate with them.

"This is particularly true in the context of school where wellbeing is often equated with academic achievement, positive behaviour, safety (bullying-free) or attendance.

"Wellbeing in schools is presented as integral to the educational experience, as a taught concept in health and physical education curriculum and a desired product of tertiary students’ experiences.

"When students and teachers in my research discussed wellbeing in relation to school, there was a notable shift in emphasis. 

"Certain aspects of wellbeing , those focusing on doing well, relating well and having what one needs, were given more attention than how one’s thinking or feeling contribute to wellbeing.

"Given the increasing rates of teen suicide, depression, self-harm and the increased emphasis on building resilience in youth, the school experiences reflect little emphasis on developing the skills or gauging the extent to which students feel well or think in ways that support their wellbeing.’’

Soutter’s research engaged with the community and was supervised by UC senior lecturer Dr Billy O’Steen.

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168

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