Understanding the psychological and cognitive well-being of the student population is a priority task for the Costa Rican educational system.
The pandemic not only contributed to the educational blackout, affecting the development of key skills in reading and mathematics, but also the mental health of the adolescent population in the Latin American region (UNICEF, 2019). In particular, because the prolonged closure of educational centers during 2020 substantially limited interaction with their peers and introduced significant changes in their habits and routines.
Although the country currently does not have information that accounts for the magnitude of this impact, the PISA 2018 evaluation (Program for International Student Assessment) of the OECD, in which a sample of young people participated 15-year-old Costa Ricans, allows us to approximate the situation of psychological and cognitive well-being of this population prior to the pandemic.
Based on this, the State of Education built a student well-being index that incorporates two dimensions: psychological and cognitive. The first included the point of view that students have about their lives, their commitment to school and the goals and ambitions they have for their future (OECD, 2019). In the second, the knowledge, skills they have to actively participate in today’s society as lifelong learners, to be effective workers and to train as committed citizens were addressed.
A cluster analysis performed for this indicator found that there are two groups of students: 32% of the student population (1,082 students) reported having a low or medium level of well-being, while the remaining 68% (2,221 students) had a high level of well-being.
Graph 1 presents a profile according to the level of well-being reported. Those who reached lower levels of psychological and cognitive well-being expressed less satisfaction (54%) and less meaning (70%) in their lives, showed greater fear of failure (45%) and more frequently experienced negative feelings or moods ( they felt terrified, despondent, scared, or sad).
This finding deserves special attention, a low development in socio-emotional skills generates greater difficulties in concentrating and thinking clearly, negative emotions significantly limit the learning potential that people can achieve (Dahene, 2019 and Goleman, 1995).
The foregoing also raises alarms when considering that students who historically register more educational inequalities are those who presented the lowest levels of psychological and cognitive well-being. As shown in graph 2, they are mostly women (57%), and come from households with lower levels of cultural capital (53%). In contrast, young people who report high levels of well-being are mostly men (52%) and come from households with higher levels of cultural capital (53%).
Emotional well-being and characteristics of schools
When the profiles of the groups mentioned are analyzed based on some characteristics present in their schools, there are relevant findings as shown in graph 3. The group with lower levels of psychological and social well-being reported being more exposed to situations of bullying (15%), in their classrooms there was more presence of negative climates for learning characterized by the presence of noise and disorder (40%), characteristics associated with empathy deficits and attitudes of violence in schools (Unesco, 2022).
They also expressed a low sense of belonging to the school (90%) and according to their perception, their teachers showed them less interest and pedagogical support (90%) compared to what was indicated by their peers who expressed better levels of well-being. This reveals the need to establish socio-emotional learning as an essential part of educational processes: progress in education occurs when cognitive and emotional facets are integrated (Dahene, 2019).
It is urgent to improve environments in educational centers and promote socio-emotional learning
Emotions affect the way in which people learn, encourage the development of analytical communication and collaborative processes, and, therefore, facilitate or become an obstacle for them to commit, achieve academic success, feel more satisfied with their lives and master mental habits that favor their productivity and personal potential (Lopes and Salovey, 2004; Casel, 2012; Goleman, 1995).
These skills can be learned and developed, but for this the country needs to advance in the development of specific educational policies that establish them in the teaching processes under the leadership of the teaching staff and the directors of the schools and colleges. Recent concerns about the increase in acts of violence in educational centers make this call more imperative. If prompt and differentiated measures are not taken to support the different groups of students according to their profile and needs, the risk of increasing the proportion of the student population with low levels of psychological and cognitive well-being may increase, especially students who are in situations of socioeconomic vulnerability and that require priority attention.
Source: Katherine Barquero, Researcher of the State of Education Report.