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Personality differences affect young people's risk of social exclusion

School, social exclusion and social capital – is the reason for children’s ill-being in the school or in the pupil? report published. A study published and funded by Sitra examines the risk factors leading to young people’s social exclusion, both from the perspective of the pupil’s personality and from the structure of the school system.

Published

School, social exclusion and social capital – is the reason for children’s ill-being in the school or in the pupil? report published

When a young person faces social exclusion it is often preceded by a history of poor school performance and the ensuing exclusion from education. A study published and funded by Sitra examines the risk factors leading to young people’s social exclusion, both from the perspective of the pupil’s personality and from the structure of the school system. The part of the research that discusses the significance of personality factors was carried out by the University of Helsinki, while the National Board of Education focused on structural risk factors linked to social exclusion.

The University of Helsinki study revealed that personality differences explain to a large extent why some children’s school performance remains clearly poorer than their level of motivation or competence would lead one to expect. It was discovered that personal characteristics alone explain over 20% of the grades pupils receive. However, personality traits that have a positive effect on school performance, such as sociability, positiveness and general joviality, were according to the study strongly associated with gender. These characteristics helped girls to gain better grades, but the same is not true for boys.

– The findings raise two questions: what do the grades given to 7th to 9th graders ultimately measure, and what kind of pupils does the school system favour? It remained particularly unclear what the school expects from boys, says Professor Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen from the University of Helsinki, who coordinated the whole research project.

According to the research, it is now vital to identify measures by which to decrease the significance of personal characteristics that are independent of cognitive factors and balance the gender-related differences in school performance so that each pupil has the opportunity to perform on the level that his or her motivation and capacities allow.

The National Board of Education study sought to find solutions to the problems that may arise when children move from basic education to the upper secondary level. This stage is marked by a heightened risk of social exclusion. Approximately five per cent of those leaving comprehensive school in the spring do not continue their studies the next autumn.

One reason for being excluded from education is unrealistic study plans. Regional differences in educational provision are also linked with problems occurring during the transition stage. Those regions that have an extensive offering of options are particularly linked with problems at this stage. This would indicate that being excluded from education is mainly a problem of urban areas and other densely populated regions.

The study also revealed that the risk for a student to drop out of education is especially high in a situation when he or she has completed basic education through the so-called Individual Education Plan, which is used when the child is, despite supporting measeures, unable to attain the goals of the general syllabus. In addition, children with an immigrant background are at a considerable risk of being excluded from education.

The study also indicates that the risk for exclusion is partly explained by the educational background of the child’s mother. The lower the level of the mother’s education, the greater the risk for the child to be excluded from education.

The project on young people and educational exclusion was launched as part of Sitra’s Innovation Programme, which has been completed. The aim of the project was to support the measures that could alleviate the problem of young people dropping out of the educational system.
– Young people’s exclusion is a terribly important issue in terms of the well-being of both the individual and all of society. This research has provided a crucial insight into the risk factors behind young people’s exclusion and into areas of improvement in the school system, says Timo Hämäläinen, Foresight Director, who coordinated the project at Sitra.

Further information

Sitra
Timo Hämäläinen, Foresight Director
Tel. (09) 6189 9256, firstname.lastname@sitra.fi

University of Helsinki, Department of Psychology
Professor Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen
firstname.lastname@helsinki.fi

National Board of Education
Krister Karppinentel. (09) 7747 7115
Hannele Saviojatel. (09) 7747 7780
Kari Nyyssölätel. (09) 7747 7819
firstname.lastname@oph.fi

Publication details

Koulu, syrjäytyminen ja sosiaalinen pääoma – Löytyykö huono-osaisuuden syy koulusta vai oppilaasta? ( School, social exclusion and social capital – is the reason for children’s ill-being in the school or in the pupil?)
Saija Alatupa (ed.), Krister Karppinen, Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen, Hannele Savioja
Sitra Reports 75
Helsinki. Sitra 2007. ISBN 978-951-563-602-7.

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