Negative classroom environment bad for mental health

Children in classrooms with inadequate material resources and children whose teachers feel they are not respected by colleagues exhibit more mental health problems than students in classrooms without these issues, finds a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour.

"Sociologists and other researchers spend a lot of time looking at work environments and how they are linked to the mental health of adults, but we pay less attention to the relationship between kids' well-being and their 'work' environments—namely their schools and more specifically their classrooms," said Melissa A. Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, who led the study.

"Our research shows that the classroom environment really matters when it comes to children's mental health."

According to Milkie, policymakers typically measure school quality and teacher effectiveness in terms of academic outcomes, such as test scores.  But, she added, their study demonstrates that schools and teachers also impact children's mental health, making it a barometer that deserves more attention.

Society to child mental health

"I think parents care a lot about their children's mental health—their emotional and behavioural well being—but we as a society don't tend to focus on that as an important educational outcome nearly as much as we talk about and think about academic outcomes," said Milkie.

The study relies on a nationally representative sample of approximately 10,700 first graders, whose parents and teachers were interviewed.

As part of their study, the authors considered how the classroom environment impacted four components of mental health: learning (e.g., attentiveness), externalising problems (e.g., fights), interpersonal behaviour (e.g., forming friendships), and internalising problems (e.g., anxiety and sadness).

Children in classrooms with inadequate material resources and children whose teachers felt their colleagues did not respect them experienced worse mental health across all four measures.

The material

The material resources ranged from basics such as paper, pencils, and heat to child-friendly furnishings, computers, musical instruments, and art supplies.

"Being in a classroom with a lack of resources might adversely impact children's mental health because children are frustrated or disheartened by their surroundings," Milkie said. "Teachers also may be more discouraged or harsh when they can't teach properly, due to the fact that they are missing key elements."

Regarding children whose teachers felt their colleagues did not respect them, Milkie suggested there is an adverse trickle-down effect on students.

"For teachers to get the support and encouragement that they need from colleagues, including the principal, is likely to be important for whether the teachers are able to create a classroom climate that helps children thrive," Milkie said. "If teachers are feeling stressed out because they aren't getting what they need from their colleagues, that stress may carry over to the kids."

While the study focuses on first graders, Milkie expects similar results for older children. "I would be surprised if there were different findings for older children, but our study only looks at first graders, so we can't be certain," Milkie said. (EurekAlert/ March 2011)

Read more:  
Classroom air-con: yes or no? 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
29% - 9758 votes
No
71% - 24112 votes
Vote