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A sense of well-being at school is important. Pupils who enjoy themselves seem to do better academically as well.

The more comfortable students feel at school, the better they feel they are mastering the subject matter

New research emphasises how important children’s well-being is for their sense of achievement.

Pupils’ sense of how good their results are at school is linked to how well they are thriving, both in the school setting and with the subject matter.

“We’re finding a connection between pupils’ well-being at school and the subject matter, and with how well the pupils think they’re able to do the school work in all the subjects we examined,” Hermundur Sigmundsson says.

He is a professor at NTNU’s Department of Psychology.

Sigmundsson is part of a research group that wanted to see if there is a connection between pupils’ well-being and their sense of competence. The results have recently been published in an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Hermundur Sigmundsson

Questionnaire developed by the researchers

Researchers at NTNU have developed a test to look at the connection between well-being and how students perceive their own skills. Students used emojis to enter their responses.

The survey included 378 Icelandic pupils ages 6 to 15. Sample questions from the survey were:

  • How do you like school?
  • How much do you like reading, maths, science, and physical education?
  • How well are you doing in reading, maths, science, and physical education?

The researchers then investigated whether they found any connections between pupils’ well-being at school and reading, mathematics, science and physical education performance, and whether this had any effect on how well the pupils perceived their competence in the various subjects.

They found clear connections.

The test uses emojis to make it easy for pupils to answer.

Found gender differences

The researchers found some gender differences.

“Girls generally like reading better than boys do,” Sigmundsson says.

It is well known that girls are, on average, much better at reading than boys. Many boys never learn to read well enough, which is true both in Iceland and Norway.

“Girls also feel that they are better at science than the boys. But boys like physical education more than girls,” he says.

The researchers also found a striking development.

The oldest score the lowest

The older pupils appear to be less comfortable at school and in all subjects except physical education. They also felt that they did worse in the subjects than the younger did.

“The oldest pupils seem to enjoy reading, mathematics and science less, whilst they also feeling less competent in those subjects,” Sigmundsson says.

It is difficult to say why the oldest students feel this way.

It may have something to do with a lack of choice, which in turn can lead to less passion for the subjects. More passion can engender more courage and more flow.

Have to look at schooling holistically

The connection between well-being and a sense of competence should make us think about how we view schools.

“This shows how important it is to see the school as a holistic system where the view of the various subjects is reflected in the view of the school itself, and vice versa,” Sigmundsson says.


Sigmundsson et al. Well-Being and Perceived Competence in School Children from 1 to 9 Class, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 20, 2023. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph20032116

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