Japan’s 15-year-olds struggle with life satisfaction, OECD survey finds

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Staff Writer

Japanese 15-year-olds may top their international peers in science and math, but when it comes to a sense of satisfaction with their lives, they rank near the bottom, according to a first-ever global assessment of student well-being released Wednesday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Japan ranked No. 42 among 47 participating countries or regions in “students’ satisfaction with life,” followed by South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and Turkey.

In the survey, conducted in 2015 alongside triennial assessments of science and mathematics, students were asked to rate their overall life satisfaction on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 the most satisfied.

Average life satisfaction for Japanese students was 6.8, lower than the OECD average of 7.3.

Latin American countries dominated the top spots, with the Dominican Republic scoring the highest at 8.5, followed by Mexico at 8.3 and Costa Rica at 8.2. In those countries, more than half of all students surveyed said they were very satisfied with their lives, according to the report.

Among the 10 counties or regions ranked the lowest, six were in East Asia, a stark contrast with the latest science literacy assessment in which all of the participating East Asian nations were in the top 10.

But the results should not be interpreted as “evidence of a trade-off between high achievement and student well-being,” the report said. “The results might, in fact, partly reflect cultural differences in response styles and self-presentation.”

“In some cultures, for example, it might not be desirable to say that you are happy, while in others it might be highly desirable to say so,” the report said.

The National Institute for Educational Policy Research (NIER), which conducted the survey in Japan, agreed, saying such sociocultural differences should be taken into consideration when interpreting the data.

The NIER added that even though Japanese students ranked low among their international peers, the average score of 6.8 was “not necessarily low” on a scale of zero to 10.

The assessment also found that Japanese students’ schoolwork-related anxiety was higher than the OECD average. In the survey, 78.1 percent of Japanese students said they often worried about the difficulty of tests, but the global average was just 59.3 percent.

Moreover, 81.8 percent of Japanese students said they worried they might get poor grades, while the global average stood at 65.7 percent.

On bullying, 17 percent of Japanese students said other students made fun of them, compared to a 10.9 percent OECD average. But Japan saw lower-than-average numbers in other areas, such as being left out on purpose or being threatened by other students.

About 540,000 students in 72 countries and regions took part in the latest PISA. The number of participating countries varies by category in the well-being assessment because some countries only took part in selected subjects. In Japan, roughly 6,600 randomly selected 15-year-olds from 198 high schools participated.

In the PISA academic survey released in December last year, Japan topped the 35 OECD member countries in both scientific and mathematical literacy.