Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Students' Well-Being, Coping, Academic Success, and School Climate

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Students' Well-Being, Coping, Academic Success, and School Climate

Article excerpt

This article presents the results of a student survey conducted in 2004 at Tallinn University within the framework of the project "School as a developmental environment and students' coping." The questionnaire was completed by 3,838 7th, 9th and 12th grade students from 65 Estonian schools. The project arose from the need to prevent students from school drop-out and repeating grades. The main hypothesis was that by modifying a school's social climate, one can either help or disable the development of students' constructive coping strategies and thus support, or not, students' academic success. Our most important conclusion is that the school climate parameters, especially the school value system and teachers' attitudes toward students as perceived by the latter, influence students' optimistic acceptance of life, their psychological and physiological well-being, and academic success.

Keywords: students' psychological and physiological well-being, school climate, coping at school, school-related optimism, academic success.

The transition of Estonia to a liberal market economy by way of shock therapy brought, in addition to positive aspects, coping difficulties and the social deprivation of many people (Human Development and Social Coherence, 1997). Amongst these difficulties were a rapid economic stratification of the population, and unemployment. The risk of becoming unemployed is highest among people with a basic education and below, and the same group has much less hope of struggling out of their unemployment situation (Saar & Helemae, 2005, pp. 24-25). By official data, the 8-14 year-old children enrolment rates fluctuated around 97% in the period 1993-2000, although education is compulsory for all children aged 7-16 (Rebane, 2002). As reported in the Population and Housing Census for 2000, the number of persons with no basic education was 2.4% for the age group 20-24 but only 0.9% for those from 30-39 (Statistical Office of Estonia, 2000). Clearly drop-out rates from compulsory education have increased since the restoration of national independence in 1991.

It is well known that students' academic success and school behavior are influenced by many factors such as the students' abilities or socioeconomic background. Also, pedagogical beliefs have their own role to play (e.g., Morris & Maisto, 2003). Estonian educators for students in their open discussions quite often express a viewpoint that school cannot do anything if the home is weak or if the student has limited abilities. The practice of redirecting problematic children out of their regular class is widely used (Maanso & Ormisson, 2004). Almost two thirds of teachers and principals questioned in this project agreed that every school at every age level should have a class for children with problems or should get rid of troublemakers: about 40% of teachers and 36% of schoolmasters thought that a problematic child should change school (Ruus, 2005).

This project focuses on the factors under the control of school that are presumably connected to students' school avoidance behavior and limited or unsatisfying academic success. The study was planned in three phases. The goal of the first phase was to determine how the school supports students in following its academic demands. Relevant data about the views of students, parents, teachers and principals on different aspects of school life were collected in a survey in order to reach reliable generalizations. A school typology is formed according to the extent to which these generalizations represent characteristics which (in line with our empirical data) are important in preventing students from experiencing academic failure and dropping out of school.

In the second phase, it was planned to observe dominant pedagogical discourse in a number of schools that represent different school cultures in our empirically defined school typology and to examine more closely the coping strategies and academic performance of the at-risk and successful students. …

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