Healthy settings for young people in Canada – School
by Don Klinger and Steven McLagan
The importance of the school environment
Young people spend a substantial portion of their lives at school. Research has shown that their experiences in school settings have a significant influence (both positive and negative) on their global development and health, including health behaviours.1
In addition to the direct teaching of knowledge and skills through academic subjects, schools can provide opportunities for young people to develop social connections having a lasting impact on their lives.
Schools can offer positive experiences with teachers and peers, helping students to develop strong emotional bonds and self-confidence. Students who feel connected to the school or believe their school is a positive place are less likely to engage in health-compromising activities.Footnote 1 Footnote 2 Young people need to feel accepted by their peers and rejection can deeply affect an adolescent’s confidence and sense of self.Footnote 3 Footnote 4 Hence, the activities that students engage in are closely aligned with the activities of the peers with whom they connect.
Unfortunately, for some young people, school is a threatening and uninviting place. As we will see reflected in this report, these students are prone to becoming involved with peers sharing similar negative attitudes. Furthermore, health-risk behaviours are more common among these students, and their future educational and societal attainments are much lower.Footnote 6 Footnote 7
A large part of the school experience is affected by students’ perceptions of their classrooms and teachers. Previous research shows that teachers who create a supportive classroom environment are more likely to have students who are more satisfied with school.Footnote 8
The study asked respondents about their most recent marks, teachers’ perceptions of their school performance, student participation and perceived fairness at the school, feelings of satisfaction, safety, and belonging, acceptance by classmates, teachers’ attitudes towards them as people, feelings of pressure, and availability of parental help and encouragement regarding school.
This section discusses data related to the school experience that reflect the academic and social development of school-aged young people and that may have implications for their emotional and physical health. These are: student achievement, feelings of satisfaction, belonging, and safety at school, aspects of relationships with teachers, peers, and parents that impact on the school experience, and feelings of pressure.
Figure 2.12 illustrates the proportion of students who believe that their teachers think their school work is good or very good as compared to the work of their classmates. Differences are visible across age groups, with more students in earlier grades placing themselves in one of these two categories. These numbers are lower than those from the 1994, 1998, and 2002 cycles of the HBSC (not shown), but continue to indicate that Canadian students have positive views about teachers’ perceptions of their school work.
The students provided another indication of their achievement by reporting the average mark on their last report card (Figure 2.13). The proportion of students reporting higher marks declines slightly in the higher grades. Girls report higher levels of achievement at all grade levels, a gender pattern consistent with students’ perceptions of teachers’ opinions (see Figure 2.12).
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