How do relationships affect the wellbeing of Dubai’s private school students?

A sense of connectedness with others is a fundamental necessity for children; directly influencing their sense of wellbeing. Important connections are formed through a sense of belonging with adults and peers at home, in school and the community. During middle childhood, peer relationships become very important. Children who feel excluded by their peers and do not have a sense of group identity are at-risk of anxiety and depression, as well as low school attendance and future school drop-out.[1] Students who feel that they belong at school and have positive experiences at school tend to have higher school attendance and higher academic achievement.[2],[3],[4] Feelings of belonging are associated with lower emotional distress, less negative behaviour (such as bullying and mental health issues) and higher resilience in later life.[5]

PISA finds that one major threat to students’ sense of belonging at school is their perception of negative relationships with their teachers. Findings from PISA 2015 show that students in schools where students’ life satisfaction is above the average in the country reported much greater support from their teachers than did students in schools with below average life satisfaction. Findings from PISA 2015 also show that relationships with parents influence student sense of wellbeing too. Students whose parents reported “spending time just talking to my child”, “eating the main meal with my child around a table” or “discussing how well my child is doing at school” regularly were between 22% and 39% more likely to report high levels of life satisfaction. “Spending time just talking” is the parental activity most frequently and most strongly associated with students’ life satisfaction.[6]

Findings from the first year of the Dubai Student Wellbeing Census in 2017 mirror the findings from PISA 2015 in terms of the key ingredients to fostering student wellbeing. The census measured relationships and learning in school and at home by asking students about their levels of connectedness with teachers, parents, peers, school climate/belonging, engagement in learning, academic self-concept, and victimisation. Over three quarters of all Dubai students participating in the census reported high levels of connectedness with adults at home (77%) and friendship intimacy (76%).  Social support from adults at school was measured by asking students to rate the degree to which an adult at school cared about them, believed that the student would be a success and listened when the student had something to say. Dubai students were also likely to report high levels of connectedness to adults at school and having at least one important adult at school (56% and 58% respectively). Students also reported similar levels of emotional engagement with their teachers, with 59% of all Dubai students in the high band. Students overall reported higher levels of peer belonging, with two thirds of all students (67%) in the high band. Over half of all students (53%) reported a strong sense of belonging to their school.

Initial results from the second year of the Dubai Student Wellbeing Census in 2018 show similar results to the first year regarding the importance of relationships to wellbeing. For the first time, senior year students participated in the 2018 census. Results showed that the decline in high levels of emotional engagement with teachers in Grade 6 to Grade 9 did not continue into senior high school. Emotional engagement with teachers actually increased significantly in Grades 11 and 12.

Analysis of the Census results is continuing and will be shared in later Chatter posts! Stay tuned!


How do you think students’ relationships with parents, teachers and other influential adults can be strengthened? Please share your thoughts!


[1] Veiga et al, 2014. When adolescents with high self-concept lost their engagement in school. Revista de Psicodidáctica, 2015, 20(2), 305-320

[2] Shochet et al. 2006. School connectedness is an underemphasized parameter in adolescent mental health: Results of a community prediction study. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, p.170-179.

[3] Roeser at al. 1996. Perceptions of the school psychological environment and early adolescents’ psychological and behavioral functioning in school: The mediating role of goals and belonging. Journal of Educational Research, 88, p. 408-422.

[4] Daraganova. 2012. Is it OK to be away? School attendance in the primary school years. LSAC Annual Statistical Report. Chapter 5, p.59-76.

[5] van Harmelen A-L, Gibson JL, St Clair MC, Owens M, Brodbeck J, Dunn V, et al. (2016) Friendships and Family Support Reduce Subsequent Depressive Symptoms in At-Risk Adolescents. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0153715. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0153715

[6] OECD 2018. PISA 2015 Results in Focus.

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