How do relationships affect happiness of Dubai private school students?

A sense of connectedness with others is a fundamental necessity for children which influences 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 cast out 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 “happy” schools (schools where students’ life satisfaction is above the average in the country) reported much greater support from their teachers than did students in “unhappy” schools. 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 Dubai Student Wellbeing Census mirror the findings from PISA 2015 in terms of the key ingredients to fostering student wellbeing. The consensus 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 victimization. Over three quarters of all Dubai students participating in the consensus 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 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.


[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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