On 13 June at 14:15 Kadri Soo will defend her doctoral thesis “School as a source of child subjective well-being in the framework of children’s rights: perspectives of children and young adults” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Sociology).
Associate Professor Dagmar Kutsar, University of Tartu
Professor Sabine Andresen, Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany)
Estonia joined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, taking the obligation to bring legislation into line with the convention and to develop measures to ensure children’s rights and well-being. Research on children’s subjective well-being is a relatively new field of knowledge where children’s well-being is considered within the normative framework of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This doctoral thesis focuses on the subjective well-being of children at school as an important setting in the children’s lives. The empirical data of the dissertation is based on the evaluations of 8-year-old children from the International Survey of Children Well-Being (ISCWeB), focus group interviews with 12-year-olds, and retrospective narratives of young adults about their school life. The theoretical starting point of the thesis relies on the approach of childhood sociology, according to which a child is an active social actor with age-appropriate competence and reliability in opinions and assessments. The aim of the doctoral study was to find out the aspects that increase and decrease the subjective well-being of children in the framework of the fulfilment of children’s rights.
The findings of the dissertation revealed:
1. Well-being is subjectively higher for those children whose rights are better fulfilled. It turned out that even for 8-year-olds, those who felt cared for, respected and safe at home and school had higher subjective well-being ratings than those who did not feel that way.
2. Children in Estonia score well in the PISA tests, but compared to other countries, they are among the most critical of the school environment. They distinguish from children from many other countries by a sharp decline in school liking with age. This doctoral thesis showed that considering children’s opinions and involving them in school-related decision-making processes is not common practice in Estonian schools. A heavy workload and the expectation of academic success make children feel like “learning machines” and reduce their enjoyment of school.
3. Problems related to school are persistent over time, i.e., the thesis revealed similar features in the answers of current and former school students. For example, bullying at school and lack of help around it, as well as authoritarian and unfair treatment, were essential aspects that reduced children’s self-esteem, learning motivation and sense of belonging at school.
In summary, the doctoral thesis indicated that children’s well-being is ensued, and their academic development better occurs in a supportive, cohesive and inclusive school environment. However, this expects adults/teachers to be more aware of and consider children’s rights.