Globe and Mail

Schools must 'engage the disengaged'

Health, social cost of students whose needs are not met could be substantial, study warns

VIRGINIA GALT
Education Reporter
The Globe and Mail
Thursday, October 7, 1999

One quarter of school children in Grades 6 to 10 feel depressed at least once a week and have trouble getting to sleep, one-third have been bullied and many, in turn, have bullied others, Health Canada says in a report to be released today.

Schools are the source of a lot of stress, with the less-engaged students more inclined to smoke, get drunk, skip out and experiment with drugs, says the report Trends in the Health of Canadian Youth.

"For many young people school is richly satisfying, but for others school is an unpleasant or threatening place where they feel criticized and excluded," says the report, written by a research team led by Alan King of Queen's University. "If students do not feel supported and accepted at school and their needs are not being met, the health and social costs to both the students and society could be substantial."

The challenge for schools and parents is "to engage the already disengaged," Health Canada added.

Previously reported excerpts from the study contained some alarming statistics from the cross-country survey: 43 per cent of 15-year-old boys and 42 per cent of girls had been "really drunk" at least twice in their lives and, in that same age group, 23 per cent of girls and 17 per cent of boys smoked daily.

"Pressure is a big thing," 18-year-old Piragash Velummylum, a student trustee with the Toronto District School Board, said in an interview yesterday. Competition for marks is intense. "There are expectations on the part of your parents . . . and a lot of stress, you put on yourself."

How well students cope with that pressure is determined, to a large degree, by school culture and how much social support they get, both inside and outside of school, said Mr. Velummylum, who is in his final year at Leaside High School.

Leaside has established a caring climate, he said. The school keeps track of attendance and older students are paired with new students to help them adjust. "Not all schools are as welcoming."

In the Health Canada survey, 43 per cent of Grade 8 boys and 35 per cent of Grade 8 girls reported that they had been recently bullied, with bullying described as physical, verbal or psychological intimidation. In turn, 56 per cent of Grade 8 boys and 40 per cent of Grade 8 girls reported that they had bullied others.

"Bullying is particularly harmful behaviour because it has negative implications both for those being bullied and the bullies," the report says. "There is little evidence that efforts to reduce bullying in Canadian schools have been effective."

Rates of depression increase by grade level for girls. In Grade 6, 22 per cent of boys and 23 per cent of girls, reported they had been depressed at least once a week over the last six months. By Grade 10, 21 per cent of boys and 35 per cent of girls reported problems with depression -- with the girls more inclined to withdraw and develop sleeping problems and the boys more inclined to become irritable and quick to anger.

As students advance through the grades, they report less satisfaction with school, probably because classes become more specialized and competitive, and teachers have less time for individual students in the upper grades, Health Canada said. By Grade 10, 26 per cent of girls and 21 per cent of boys reported feeling a lot of pressure because of their school work.

"It is difficult for parents and teachers to strike a balance when they set expectations for their children and students," the report says. "Too much pressure and unrealistic expectations create stress that can contribute to headaches, sleeplessness and even withdrawal. Not unexpectedly, students who say they are experiencing too much pressure related to school are typically achieving at a below-average level or at a lower level than teachers or parents expect."

BULLYING BEHAVIOUR

Percentage of students who were bullied in school this school term.

Grade 6                  1994           1998


Male                     39               42


Female                   30               35

Grade 8

Male                     36               43


Female                   29               35

Grade 10

Male                     26               29


Female                   20               28

Percentage of students who bullied others in school this school term.

Grade 6                  1994           1998


Male                     40               35


Female                   28               28

Grade 8

Male                     45               56


Female                   32               40

Grade 10

Male                     42               50


Female                   23               30

Source: Health Canada

STUDENT DEPRESSION

Percentage of students who felt depressed once a week or more during the past six months.

Grade 6                  1994             1998


Male                      25               22


Female                    27               23

Grade 8

Male                      22               20


Female                    32               28

Grade 10

Male                      25               21


Female                    39               35

Source: Health Canada

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