Schoolchildren in the North doing quite well

By: Sari Väyrynen / Translation: Richard Foley

A recent study done at the University of Lapland shows that schoolchildren in the Barents Region – northern Finland, Sweden and Norway, and Northwest Russia – enjoy better psychosocial well-being than their peers nationally.

Researcher Arto K. Ahonen notes that schoolchildren in the Barents considered their material well-being better and their social life more active than those of pupils at large in the four countries studied.

He observes, ‘Among other things, pupils in the Barents spend more time with their friends outside of school. Overall, they are more satisfied with their lives.’

In his doctoral thesis, defended in January, Ahonen examined the psychosocial well-being of schoolchildren and the factors affecting it, and compared the well-being of school pupils in different regions.

Large national differences

Although schoolchildren in the North enjoy a comparatively high level of well-being, the patterns of satisfaction with and enjoyment of school vary considerably in the four Barents countries. For example, pupils in Finnish Lapland were the ones most satisfied with their lives, yet they enjoyed school the least.

As Ahonen notes, ‘Finnish schoolchildren also felt the most pressured at school. By contrast, pupils in northern Norway enjoyed school the most but were the least satisfied with their lives – despite the fact that they have the highest material standard of living of the countries studied’.

He adds, ‘Pupils in northern Sweden enjoyed the best balance where the elements of well-being were concerned, but nevertheless showed the most psychosomatic symptoms’.

Pupils in Northwest Russia reported the poorest physical health and experienced the most bullying in school. Yet, of all the groups studied they had the most dynamic social interaction, the fewest psychosomatic symptoms and found school the least strenuous.

More emphasis on school atmosphere

In all four countries, the general atmosphere at school played a significant role in pupils’ well-being. Indeed, Ahonen stresses that this is something that should be given more attention.

He notes, ‘The key components of a school’s atmosphere are pupils’ experiences of security, cohesion and purpose. These are crucial in developing the school, whose task is to provide pupils with the knowledge and skills they need and to support their psychosocial well-being.’

Ahonen wrote his thesis as part of the ArctiChildren project, which ran from 2004 to 2008 in the Faculty of Education. The research is based on surveys conducted in 2004 and 2005 among 1,398 13- to 15-year-old pupils from 27 schools in the Barents. The comparative material is drawn from a 2002 WHO study on the health behaviour of school-aged children (HBSC), which included some 3,500 respondents in each of the Barents countries.

Arto Ahonen’s thesis may be ordered from the University at julkaisu(at)

Psychosocial Well-being of Schoolchildren in the Barents Region. A comparison from the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland and Northwest Russia (University of Lapland Press 2010, Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 173. ISBN 978-952-484-340-9. ISSN 0788-7604)

Focus on:
Research on Schoolchildren’s Well-being

The Faculty of Education has been conducting research on school-aged children’s well-being for a number of years.

Spearheading this focus, the ArctiChildren project developed methods by which teachers could promote the psychosocial well-being of schoolchildren in the Barents. The research revealed how crucial it is to children that the school provide a supportive social environment. Among the ways such a feeling can be reinforced is to increase the artistic and experiential dimension of the curriculum. This would contribute positively to children’s thoughts about and conceptions of themselves and their health.

A second, ongoing project in the Faculty is investigating factors relating to boys’ schooling in sparsely populated parts of Lapland. Throughout Europe it has been observed that boys show lower achievement than girls in such areas. In the North, the differences between the genders are more pronounced than in Europe on average. Given that school achievement has repercussions in adulthood, it is crucial that pupils who are, or are in danger of becoming, socially excluded learn to become active learners from the outset; the early grades are where attitudes toward studying and learning form.

The project ‘Boys of the North’ has set itself the goal of making school more enjoyable for boys and improving their motivation and achievement; achieving this aim would reduce inequality between the genders and between different regions and prevent social exclusion. One focus of the project is to develop activity-based and practically oriented teaching and learning methods that will support boys in their learning while benefiting girls as well. Additional aims are to foster school and team spirit, further group-oriented activities and broaden the scope of schoolwork to include more of the hobbies that interest boys.