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Study: Parents heavily influence children's attitude towards school

Children of parents with low educational attainment are likely to dislike school, fresh research finds.

Koululuokka.
Parental support is closely tied to school satisfaction. Image: Carmela Walder / Yle

The higher parents' educational level and socioeconomic status, the more positive children feel about school, according to research published in public policy journal Yhteiskuntapolitiikka on Friday.

Inequalities in educational opportunities begin before a child begins schooling, according to the study. As a result, policy alone is not enough to promote educational equality, as family background plays an important role.

Helsinki University education sociologist Sonja Kosunen has argued that despite Finland's veneer of an equitable education system, well-off families have an upper hand in helping their kids secure a spot in Finnish universities, as their location, status and pocketbooks give their offspring a tangible advantage.

Pessimism high among low-income groups

The study divided pupils into three groups according to their commitment to schooling.

Of the ninth graders in the study, 29 percent had a positive outlook on school and 11 percent a negative one. The third or middle group made up 60 percent of the pupils.

While the same number of boys and girls shared a pessimistic outlook towards school, more girls felt optimistic about their education.

About one in five young people who came from a low socio-economic family background had an unfavourable view of school. The corresponding number in other groups was about eight percent.

More than a quarter of parents with kids who had a negative attitude towards school had at most a basic degree and less than a tenth held a university degree.

In contrast, nearly one-third of parents of school-loving kids had academic qualifications.

Involved parents, happy kids

The differences between the groups also reflected how involved parents were in their offspring’s schooling.

While 86 percent of kids who liked school said their parents joined parents' evenings, the corresponding number among those who don’t enjoy school was 60 percent.

The majority of school-positive students also reported that their parents oversaw their homework. This was, however, the case for only half of the pupils in the negative group. Researchers, however, pointed out that these parents are not necessarily indifferent towards their children's schooling. They may lack the necessary resources to support schooling — one-fifth of kids who feel negatively about school said their parents were often hard up.

On the other hand only nine percent of parents whose kids enjoy school had financial problems, the study revealed.

Uncertain future

The overall outlook towards school also had an effect on the kids’ higher education plans, the study revealed.

While more than three-quarters of those who favoured school intended to go to academic high school, among kids who shared a negative view, only one in five were planning to do so.

In Finland children around the age of 16 can choose either an academic high school or a vocational education leading to a trade.

A pessimistic outlook can also lead to uncertainty among these kids — one in five such kids said they were unsure about what to do after their compulsory basic schooling, which ends after ninth grade.

Only four percent of the kids with a positive view of schooling felt the same.

The research suggested that young people who don’t view school favourably run a greater risk of exclusion from further education and employment.

Markku Vanttala, Piia af Ursin and Tero Järvinen authored the study, which is part of a research project on education systems funded by the Academy of Finland. They drew on Finnish survey data collected in the International Study of City Youth in 2014. Just over 1,000 ninth-graders from twelve upper secondary schools in the Turku region answered the online questionnaire.

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