Does PISA success come at the expense of life satisfaction?

Those in England who are unhappy with government education policy have a new strategy for spinning the recent PISA results. The suggestion is that the small improvement in reading, the significant improvement and maths and the small decline in science have all come at the expense of students’ life satisfaction. All that testing and cramming is getting them down.

This is an interesting argument.

The OECD have even produced one of their strange graphs that seems to back this claim. I am never entirely sure what they are plotting on the axes of such graphs until I have done a great deal of investigation, but it does at least suggest that higher performance is associated with lower life satisfaction. Ignorance is, perhaps, bliss. Maybe that’s why Adam and Eve were warned off the Tree of Knowledge:

You will notice that UK students seem particularly gloomy, albeit that this is based upon a score of six-and-a-bit on a ten point ‘life-satisfaction’ scale on which seven-and-a-bit is above the OECD average. There are, of course, alternative hypotheses as to why this may be the case. How do we control for national temperament, for instance? And maybe it’s not about cramming exams but the fact that students who know more about the world are understandably gloomier? Maybe they are worrying about Brexit and climate change?

And maybe it is a result of having a growth mindset.

Apparently, upwards of 70% of students in the UK have a growth mindset. Nick Rose ran the numbers on this and found that having a growth mindset is negatively associated with a change in levels of ‘life-satisfaction’.

By Nick Rose (@Nick_J_Rose on Twitter) with permission

Perhaps all those posters and assemblies claiming that achievement is the result of hard work and not natural talent have fueled a dissatisfaction with life? Perhaps it has convinced some students to be harder on themselves? It’s about as plausible as any of the other speculation in this blog post.

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One thought on “Does PISA success come at the expense of life satisfaction?

  1. I think you might be right here – more knowledge of the world is likely to lead to feelings of unhappiness in the young. And being able to read well leads to more knowledge. Brexit certainly depresses me – it has not yet happened and the UK is still chained to the undemocratic neoliberal fortress EU. Love Europe, not the EU. Depresses me so many young people think the EU is a bastion of enlightened thinking, socialism and harmony – movements like the gilet jaune suggest it is far from that.

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