What you get out of schooling is often what you put in

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education 
Does having a positive attitude towards school make it more likely that a student will get good marks? Or does getting good marks make it more likely that a student will have a positive attitude towards school? The latest edition of PISA in Focus reports that the answer to both of those questions is yes: positive feelings about school are often linked in a virtuous circle with high performance. According to results from PISA 2009, across OECD countries, nearly nine out of ten students think that school has taught them things that could be useful in a job, and around three-quarters of students think that school has prepared them for adult life and has helped to give them confidence to make decisions. In most countries, students who think school is useful are more likely to have high PISA test scores in reading; and students who have high scores in reading tend to report that they think school is useful. In 48 countries and economies, those students who performed well in reading tended to report more positive attitudes towards school than those who had lower scores.

In all participating countries and economies, students’ positive attitudes towards schooling are related to positive attitudes towards their teachers and to their perceptions that the classroom environment is conducive to learning. In fact, these associations are mutually reinforcing: Students who have good relations with their teachers and who study in classes that are conducive to learning tend to think that school is useful – and their positive attitudes make the climate for learning at school even better.

Perhaps surprisingly, PISA also found that a student’s background or the type of school he or she attends is only weakly related to his or her attitudes towards schooling. In 21 participating countries and economies, socio-economically advantaged students tended to report more positive attitudes towards school, but the opposite was noted in nine countries and economies. And students attending private schools don’t necessarily have better attitudes towards school than public-school students: students in private schools tended to report more positive attitudes towards school than students in public schools in only nine of 49 countries and economies with comparable data.

In many countries, the one student characteristic that is associated with positive attitudes towards school is gender. In 28 of 65 participating countries and economies, girls tended to report more favourable attitudes towards school than boys (when the questions involved classroom atmosphere and various student and school characteristics were considered together). Only in Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom did boys tend to report more positive attitudes towards school than girls.

While it’s a little difficult to pin down exactly what influences students’ attitudes towards school, results from PISA clearly show a link between positive attitudes towards school and good performance in reading, and between positive attitudes and an atmosphere in the classroom that is conducive to learning. This implies that, to a greater or lesser extent, students’ own attitudes towards school can shape the quality of their learning experiences.

For more information on PISA: www.oecd.org/pisa/
PISA in Focus No. 22:How do immigrant students fare in disadvantaged schools? 
Photo credit:  Student showing thumbs up / Shutterstock


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