A report by Nick Morrison for Forbes.
Happiness does not equate to material comfort or success, but even so it may surprise you to learn where the world’s happiest students live.
Students from Central America are the happiest on the planet, according to research published today.
The Dominican Republic, Mexico and Costa Rica top the list of countries with the happiest students, with near-neighbour Colombia also featuring in the top 10.
But the U.S. comes well down the rankings, only just above the average, while the U.K. is lower still, making its students among the world’s unhappiest.
Significantly for policy makers and school leaders, countries that have been held up as models for educational achievement in recent years find themselves right at the bottom of the list, with Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and China all performing poorly.
The data was compiled as part of the OECD’s Pisa survey, that aims to compare performance in education across a range of countries.
For the happiness index, 15-year-olds in 48 countries or regions were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0-10.
Highest ranked was the Dominican Republic, with a score of 8.50, followed by Mexico on 8.27 and Costa Rica on 8.21.
Top ranked European country was Croatia, at 7.90, while the U.S. came in 29th at 7.36, just above the OECD average of 7.31.
Turkey came bottom of the table at 6.12, but was followed, in ascending order, by countries or provinces normally seen as education powerhouses: South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Japan and China, in the shape of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdon.
Perhaps it is no surprise that apparent success in education – or at least in international comparison tests – has come at the expense of happiness, with the implication that students are being driven hard to succeed.
But Finland, a perennial high achiever in international tests, even though it is not hitting the heights it once was, shows this does not have to be the case, coming 5th in the happiness ranking with a score of 7.89.
The full top 10 is:
1. Dominican Republic – 8.50
2. Mexico – 8.27
3. Costa Rica – 8.21
4. Croatia – 7.90
5. Finland – 7.89
6. Colombia – 7.88
7. Lithuania – 7.86
8. Netherlands – 7.83
9. Iceland – 7.80
10. Russia – 7.76
Source: OECD Pisa 2015, Vol III: Students’ Well-Being
Of course there are difficulties with an index that asks students to rank their own happiness. Expectations may be higher in some countries, for a start. But the study does contain important information for policy makers and school leaders, as well as for parents.
Happier students tended to report positive relations with their teachers, including a higher level of support, than those in schools where life satisfaction was below average.
Students who spent more time with their parents, whether it was eating a meal together or talking about school, tended to be happier than their peers, the report found.
Issues which caused unhappiness included anxiety about school work and testing, and bullying, with around 4% of pupils – about one per class – reporting being pushed or hit at least a few times every month.
“These findings show that teachers, schools and parents can make a real difference to children’s well-being,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD chief of staff. “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.”
Education is not all about making students happy, of course, but neither is it something we should ignore, and in the quest for school improvement, searching for the formula that combines success with happiness is not a bad place to start.