Dominican Republic's Teens: The happiest students in the world

Who are the happiest students in the world?

According to a new study, they’re fifteen-year-old students in the Dominican Republic. These findings are part of a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD Programe for International Student Assessment, PISA is best known for its data on learning outcomes but, for the first time, PISA analysed students’ satisfaction with life, their relationships with peers, teachers and parents, and how they spend their time outside school. 

The report, Students’ Well-Being: PISA 2015 Results, found that teenagers who feel part of a school community and enjoy good relations with their parents and teachers are more likely to perform better academically and be happier with their lives. The report defines student well-being as “the psychological, cognitive, social, and physical qualities that students need to live a happy and fulfilling life.”

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PISA quantified which countries’ students are the most motivated, the most stressed out, and the happiest. The study asked 540,000 students across 72 countries to rate their lives on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 was the worst possible life and 10 the best. The average was 7.3.

Overall, PISA found that most 15-year-old students are relatively satisfied with their life, but students in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Lithuania, Iceland and Finland were among the happiest, with more than one in two students reported being very satisfied with their life. 

Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the percentage of students who reported being very satisfied with their life.  Source: OECD, PISA 2015 Databes, Tables III.3.2 and III.3.8

Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the percentage of students who reported being very satisfied with their life.
Source: OECD, PISA 2015 Databes, Tables III.3.2 and III.3.8

Students in some of the countries that top the PISA tables in science and math reported low satisfaction with life, except for Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, countries that seem able to combine good learning outcomes with highly satisfied and happy students. 

Although the tendency is to believe that long study hours, the frequency of tests and heavy loads of homework are the cause of low levels of satisfaction and anxiety in students, the report found that there is “no relationship between the time students spend studying, whether in or outside school, and their satisfaction with life.” The data showed that there are other factors that make a difference to student well-being: teachers, parents and schools.

PISA found that “happier students tended to report positive relations with their teachers.” Students feel less stress and anxiety, even in test season, when they have a supportive teacher they can rely on. 

But parents can make a difference too. Simple activities like talking and eating together in the same table can make a big difference in children’ well-being. PISA results show that “spending time just talking” is the parental activity most frequently and strongly associated with students’ life satisfaction. 

Teachers and parents can work together to encourage students’ motivation to learn and help them overcome excessive fear of failure. “These findings show how teachers, schools and parents can make a real difference to children’s well-being,” said OECD Chief of Staff Gabriela Ramos, launching the report in London. “Together they can help young people develop a sense of control over their future and the resilience they need to be successful in life. There is no secret, you perform better if you feel valued, if you feel well treated, if you are given a hand to succeed!”

Although improving students’ well-being is not an easy task, these findings show that teachers, parents and schools can make a real difference. “Together they can attend to students’ psychological and social needs and help them develop a sense of control over their failure and the residence they need to be successful in life,” said Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills. 

For more information, download the full report.

Source: OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students' Well-Being, OECD Publishing, Paris.