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International school pupils face attitudinal blocks to learning – GL Education

A “significant minority” of students enrolled in international schools in the Middle East and South East Asia display attitudinal blocks to learning and struggle with low self-confidence, a report by GL Education found.

Balance between academic rigour and student wellbeing is a "basic necessity". Photo: Jeshoots/Pixabay

The report points out that student attitudes to learning and the school community are particularly pertinent issues in international schools

Based on a sample of more than 95,000 students, the report found that pupils in these regions mostly struggle with feelings of low self-worth as learners, low motivation for curriculum tasks, negative attitudes to teachers and general work ethic.

“They lack confidence if they don’t have the language skills to join in activities”

GL Education used its own Pupils Attitudes to Self and School survey to gauge a series of indicators, from students’ attitude to the school community, curriculum and staff to their perceived learning capability and work ethic.

Observing the mean scores on 9 indicators, GL found that 13% of students across the Middle East and South East Asia expressed low satisfaction with their self-regard and their connection to the school community, while around 14% flagged up problems with their work ethics and their relationships to teachers.

One in six children also indicated low motivation to curriculum tasks. Percentages varied substantially between the schools that participated in the study.

Students who participated in this study showed “slightly more negative attitudes” to learning compared to students in the UK where GL Education conducted a similar analysis.

The report points out that student attitudes to learning and the school community are particularly pertinent issues in international schools, where many students speak English as a second or third language and move between countries frequently.

Finding a balance between academic rigour and wellbeing is “a basic necessity – if not a moral obligation”

These students may not only experience difficulties with learning in their second (or third) language, but their self-confidence may be at risk, and they may have difficulties expressing their problems.

As GL Education international director James Neill told The PIE, “[EAL students] may not able to express the concerns that they have within the school. Quite often, they lack confidence if they don’t have the language skills to join in activities in the school.”

The interventions schools need to put in place for EAL students encompass not just literacy, but also pastoral support to develop self-confidence, Neill explained.

The study adds that the high staff and student turnover in international schools, a by-product of high mobility, may not give enough time for students and teachers to form a relationship and may cause further problems.

The report also flags up the need to keep student wellbeing at the forefront of schools’ policies.

David Gleason, author of book At What Cost? Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools, states in the introduction to the report that finding a balance between academic rigour and wellbeing is “a basic necessity – if not a moral obligation – that has both immediate and lifelong implications.”

“Wellbeing is now very high up on the agenda,” Neill said. But with some schools having over 5,000 students, it can be hard for teachers and school leaders to know their pupils individually.

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