TDSB student census reveals higher stress levels, greater sense of disconnect

The kids are not all right.

That’s according to the Toronto District School Board’s 2017 Student and Parent Census Data released Tuesday, which provides insight into how students feel about their educational experience, physical health and emotional well-being.

When compared with the last census from five years ago, fewer kids in Grades 7 to 12 enjoy school, feel a sense of belonging and a connection with their teachers. Also, fewer students are physically active and report feeling good about themselves or their appearance, but more say they’re nervous, stressed and worried about grades. And, the amount of time spent on screens, especially socially media, is on the rise.

More than 220,000 students and parents completed the census in April 2017, which is done every four or five years to help the TDSB identify changes, trends and needs. The data — provided by kids in Grades 4 to 12 and parents of children in Junior Kindergarten (JK) to Grade 6 — sheds light on what kind of supports are needed system-wide and at individual schools.

“The value of this rich data is unparalleled and is a critical tool in determining where support should be focused, where change is required, and also, what is working well,” according to a TDSB report on the overall findings. “Taking action on the data allows the TDSB to respond directly to student and parent voices to develop learning environments that are engaging, inclusive, opportunity-driven and lead to increased learning outcomes.”

The findings of this most recent census is compared with data from previous years, with other board research, and with national and international figures. Overall, students in Grades 4 to 6 were more positive about their relationships with the school and teachers, than those in Grades 7 to 12. Feelings of emotional well-being dropped incrementally by age and over time. Many more middle and high school students, compared with the last census, reported feeling nervous, stressed and worried about their physical and mental health.

When looking at this census data, compared with figures from 2011-2012, some of the statistics are startling.

There was a decline of 4 to 7 per cent in the number of Grades 7 to 12 students who feel a sense of belonging in school, and a 10 to 14 per cent drop in the number of kids who enjoy school. Just 49 per cent of high school students, and 59 per cent of Grades 7 and 8 students said they like school; and 62 per cent of secondary students, and 69 per cent in Grades 7 to 8, reported that they feel like they belong.

When it came to relationships with teachers, fewer Grades 7 to 12 students feel encouraged (7 to 10 per cent), supported (6 to 9 per cent), or satisfied with the teaching (8 to 12 per cent), compared to students in 2011-2012. Overall, just 59 per cent of high school students said they feel encouraged, 62 per cent feel supported and 56 per cent are satisfied with the teaching.

Physical activity is on the decline, with 43 per cent of kids in Grades 7 and 8, and 32 per cent of high school students, reporting being active for one hour each day. This is about 10 per cent less, when compared with the last census.

However, screen time is increasing. About 40 per cent of Grades 7 to 12 students watch TV or videos for more than two hours on a school day, up by about 10 per cent. More Grades 7 and 8 males and females — 5 and 11 per cent, respectively — and Grades 9 to 12 males and females — 8 and 16 per cent, respectively — use social media “almost constantly.” Thirty-eight per cent of high school girls, compared with 26 per cent of boys, are on social media almost round-the-clock.

Feelings of well-being dropped by about 10 per cent, among students in Grades 7 to 12. For instance, in the last census, 87 per cent of Grade 7 students, and 69 per cent of Grade 12 students, reported being emotionally well. By comparison, now 80 and 60 per cent per cent, respectively, say that. While emotional well-being declined for both male and female students, it was more significant among females at 12 per cent, than males at 6 per cent.

Fewer Grades 7 to 12 students reported feeling good about themselves — this is down about 10 per cent — and pleased with their appearance, which is down about 5 per cent. Also, there was a 4 per cent drop in the number of Grades 9 to 12 students who are hopeful about the future. Just 60 per cent of high school kids feel good about themselves, 54 per cent like the way they look and 58 per cent are hopeful about the future.

More Grades 7 to 12 students, about 5 per cent, say they’re often lonely, about 4 to 7 per cent more are often nervous or worried, and about 11 per cent more report feeling under a lot of stress or pressure. Negative emotions were highest among high school students, with 19 per cent saying they often feel sad, 22 per cent lonely, 41 per cent nervous and 49 per cent under a lot of pressure.

In its report, the TDSB says its multi-year strategic plan prioritizes well-being. They include creating a culture of student and staff well-being, transforming student learning and building a partnership within school communities that promote learning and well-being.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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