5. Supporting student well-being in Dubai’s private schools

In the last decade, the Emirate of Dubai has placed well-being front and centre in its vision for the future, inspiring innovative Emirate- and nation-wide initiatives (see Chapter 2). Behind such efforts lie a widespread recognition of the importance of individuals’ well-being for strengthening the fabric of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) society, retaining the Emirate’s attractiveness to expatriates, and supporting high levels of productivity. Guided by Emirate- and nation-wide development strategies, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) has helped introduce and translate this vision into Dubai’s private education sector.

Since 2015, KHDA has become a strong advocate for student well-being, raising awareness of its importance, introducing data collection tools and encouraging stakeholder collaboration platforms. Following KHDA’s lead, school-level initiatives have been developed across the sector, with a focus on encouraging healthy lifestyles and enhancing students’ well-being (KHDA, 2020[1]).

Despite considerable progress, quantitative and qualitative evidence suggests that many students in Dubai still struggle on a physical, social and emotional level in and outside of school. As will be explored later in this chapter, some of the main concerns relate to bullying, poor lifestyle habits and schoolwork-related anxiety. Moreover, the data and stakeholder interviews suggest that some student groups are particularly vulnerable to these issues, notably Emirati boys (OECD, 2019[2]).

The challenge now is to ensure that policies and practices have a more significant impact in tackling these and other important well-being challenges. This chapter will examine how KHDA can facilitate these improvements. Policy Objective 5.1 discusses how the evidence at hand can be leveraged for research purposes and more strategic policy making that can ultimately support students’ quality of life. Policy Objective 5.2 argues that a more targeted approach is required to address priority issues and support at-risk student groups, which may be otherwise overlooked by broad initiatives. Finally, Policy Objective 5.3 explores the issue of student empowerment, as a way in which to equip children with the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions about their own health and well-being, and to enable them to become agents of change.

This section presents a brief overview of the research on student well-being, including the definition and analytical framework that will be used in this chapter, and key findings from the literature on the factors associated with well-being.

The OECD defines students’ well-being as the psychological, cognitive, social and physical functioning and capabilities that students need to live a happy and fulfilling life (OECD, 2017[3]). This definition combines a “children’s rights approach” that emphasises the right of all children to have a happy life, with a “development approach” that underscores the importance of students developing skills and knowledge to improve their well-being in the present and in the future (Ben-Arieh et al., 2013[4])). According to this definition, student well-being encompasses the following dimensions (see Figure 5.1):

  • The psychological dimension: this refers to students’ sense of purpose in life, self-awareness, affective states, emotional strength and mental health.

  • The social dimension: this includes students’ relationships with their family, their peers and their teachers, as well as students’ feelings about their social life in and outside of school.

  • The cognitive dimension: this comprises students’ proficiency in using academic knowledge to solve problems alone or in collaboration with others, and high-order reasoning skills (e.g. critical thinking).

  • The physical dimension: this includes students’ physical health and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

These dimensions are interrelated, meaning that students need to flourish in all these different areas to be able to develop and thrive. Traditionally, schools have focused primarily on the cognitive dimension of student well-being, often crowding out a focus on the other dimensions. Policymakers have an important role in helping counter-act this tendency to ensure a more holistic approach to student well-being (see Policy Objective 5.3).

As observed in Figure 5.1, the different dimensions of student well-being interact within a broader context (e.g. home environment, the macroeconomic conditions, social policies and global issues). This has important implications for policy making, as this means that it is not enough to focus on individuals’ attributes; well-being policies and practices also have to act on and/or take into consideration the other factors that impact students (e.g. societal norms). For example, efforts to change individuals’ attitudes to health have often called for broad policies that use multi-faceted and complementary measures (e.g. advertising campaigns, building appropriate venues for sport and physical activity, regulatory policies on the food industry, and subsidies). Moreover, in terms of research and analysis, this implies that cross-country comparisons must be undertaken with careful consideration of different contextual factors. In light of this, Chapter 1 identified and discussed some of the distinctive features of Dubai’s socio-economic context that need to be accounted for when examining the state of student well-being in the sector, as well as existing policies and practices.

A large body of research documents the importance of student well-being. Evidence shows that children who thrive across the different dimensions of well-being are more likely to perform better academically, be more motivated in school and report higher life satisfaction (OECD, 2019[5]) (Felez-Nobrega et al., 2017[6]) (Gutman and Vorhaus, 2012[7]). From a government perspective, strong well-being can help strengthen the fabric of society, support higher levels of productivity and reduce the costs associated with poor health and anti-social behaviours (Maughan, Collishaw and Stringaris, 2013[8]) (OECD, 2017[3]).

Research shows that mental and physical health issues that develop during childhood and adolescence – such as depression and obesity – often carry into adulthood (Collishaw, 2015[9]), and so do many health-promoting (or undermining) behaviours. This highlights the importance of strengthening students’ physical and mental health and encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviours from an early stage (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]).

This section will provide an overview of some of main trends and factors associated with student well-being. For a full review, please refer to the OECD reports Educating 21st Century Children: Emotional Well-being in the Digital Age (Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[11]) and Education in the Digital Age: Healthy and Happy Children (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]).

In addition to gender and age, research has identified some key factors associated with children’s well-being, which include their:

  • Home environment: evidence suggests that children thrive in caring families, where they feel safe and happy, and receive support to learn about themselves and their social, cultural and physical environments. Conversely, family disruptions, distress and conflicts can have a negative impact on child development and well-being (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]), including later in life (Carlson and Corcoran, 2001[12]).

  • School environment: research reveals that a positive school climate can promote students’ academic achievement, well-being and self-esteem (Hoge, Smit and Hanson, 1990[13]; Angus, MacNeil and Busch, 2009[14]; Way, Reddy and Rhodes, 2007[15]). Schools with safe, respectful and caring learning environments also protect students from engaging in maladaptive behaviours, such as truancy, smoking, drinking, using drugs, and other deviant and risky behaviours (Catalano et al., 2009[16]; Gase et al., 2017[17]; La Russo, Romer and Selman, 2008[18]). Two important elements of students’ experience in school include their:

    • Relationship with teachers: the literature suggests that students who have good relationships with their teachers tend to be happier, and those who perceive high levels of teacher support tend to handle stress better at school (Malecki and Demaray, 2006[19]; Goldman et al., 2016[20]). Positive teacher-student relationships are also associated with better emotion regulation and positive peer relationships (Goldman et al., 2016[20]). There is some indication that strong teacher-student attachment is associated with lower levels of delinquency (Bergin and Bergin, 2009[21]).

    • Relationships with peers: research shows peer relations can affect children in terms of their cognitive, social, emotional, behavioural and developmental outcomes (Hay, 2005[22]; Haynie and Osgood, 2005[23]; Hinde et al., 1985[24]; Ost, 2010[25]; Reitz et al., 2014[26]).

  • Socio-economic context: the social and economic conditions of a country, community or household can also play a role in children's well-being by affecting individual families and their overall financial resources and concerns about the future (Ottová-Jordan et al., 2015[27]).

Typically, interventions carried out by education stakeholders – including schools – focus on students’ home and school environments, which they can influence directly or indirectly. For example, to address students’ nutrition and eating habits, education systems often rely on changes to school meals. Tackling the socio-economic context is possible, but often beyond schools’ or education stakeholders’ reach. Given the importance of students’ socio-economic context, comprehensive and multi-sectoral approaches are crucial to strengthening students’ well-being in and outside schools. Keeping with the previous example, a concerted effort between education stakeholders, media regulators, the food industry and health authorities would be necessary to effectively support students’ nutrition and eating habits. This partnership could, for instance, help protect children from junk food marketing and ensure all children have access to nutritious, affordable food choices.

Data collated by the OECD, the World Health Organization and other research reveal that in most high-performing education systems some well-being trends and health behaviours are improving. For example, rates of accidental child mortality, alcohol and tobacco consumption and bullying are becoming less prevalent1. Other trends however paint a less promising picture. Obesity rates are increasing, and physical activity is decreasing on average (Aston, 2018[28]). Diseases like cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes, generally thought of as diseases of adulthood, are now being diagnosed in children as young as 2 years old. Evidence suggests that there has been a significant increase in the number of children and adolescents reporting symptoms of mental health problems and psychiatric disorders over the past few decades (Costello, Copeland and Angold, 2011[29]; Olfson et al., 2014[30]; Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[11]). These trends are also evident in Dubai, though with a couple of notable differences, which will be discussed in the next section.

An analysis of well-being policies and practices in Dubai’s private sector first needs to examine the main issues related to student well-being in the sector, or in other words, the challenges that policies and practices need to act upon. This type of analysis, if undertaken regularly and systematically (see Policy Objective 5.1), can inform the development of targeted approaches and responses to specific issues (Policy Objective 5.2). See Table 1.1 in Chapter 1 for a discussion on the methodology and main data sources used for this purpose.

Quantitative and qualitative evidence offer an overview – albeit incomplete – of the state of students’ well-being in Dubai, how it differs across nationalities, gender and age groups, and patterns. Overall, self-reported data suggest high rates of life satisfaction on average. Results from PISA 2018 show that over a quarter of 15-year-old students (27%) in Dubai can be classified as very satisfied with life (OECD average: 33%). Evidence from the 2020 Dubai Student Well-being Census (DSWC) reveals that around 50%% of students in Grades 6-12 reported high levels of happiness, and, in line with this, an absence of sadness.

However, the evidence suggests that students often face certain issues in and outside school:

  • Bullying is relatively common and damaging: DSWC 2020 reveals that only between 65%-80% of students in Grades 6-12 had not been exposed to bullying in the previous year (KHDA, 2021[31]). Data suggest that boys are more likely to be victims of physical or verbal bullying. PISA 2018 data confirm such findings (see Figure 5.2) and reveal that physical abuse appears more common than in other countries: around 9% of students reported having been hit or been pushed around by other students at least a few times a month, compared to 7% in OECD countries. PISA data also suggest that overall exposure to bullying is more prevalent among Emiratis and boys (KHDA, 2021[31]). High rates of bullying are concerning because the evidence shows that children who bully or are bullied are more likely to have depressive and anxiety symptoms, low self-esteem, feel lonely, and lose interest in activities. These adverse effects can persist into adulthood (Choi, 2018[32]). DSWC data have, however, revealed some reason for cautious celebration: the share of boys reporting exposure to physical bullying had been declining over the years, with a significant drop in 2020. Further monitoring will be needed to check whether the return to in-person instruction will bring back bullying acts. An in-depth analysis could also help identify the main factors behind this trend.

  • Poor habits and lifestyles can put students’ health at risk: data from DSWC 2020 suggest that 47% of Dubai students do not get a good night’s sleep (KHDA, 2021[33]). Nearly one-third of students in the Emirate fail to attain recommended levels of fruit and vegetable consumption (i.e. eating fruits and vegetables at least five times a week) (KHDA, 2019[34]). PISA 2018 data suggest that only a small share of 15-year-olds attain optimal levels of physical activity – the WHO advocates for 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, playing basketball or football, bike riding etc.) for children. Table 5.1 shows that girls are less likely to take up regular moderate or vigorous physical activity outside of school. This is all the more concerning because around 9% of 15 year-old students do not attend weekly physical education classes (OECD, 2015[35]). There is an abundance of literature demonstrating the harm of physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits and inadequate sleep for children’s physical and emotional well-being as well as their cognitive development (see (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10])).

  • Some students report weak social connections at school: according to data from DSWC 2020, 62-68% of Grade 6-12 students feel highly connected to adults at school, and 57-64% feel they are in caring and respectful school environments (KHDA, 2021[31]). These figures have increased remarkably since the start of the pandemic, suggesting that efforts by schools and teachers to support students have been highly appreciated. However, less than half of students felt they could communicate about their well-being (KHDA, 2021[33]). According to PISA 2018 data, around a quarter of students disagree with the statement “I make friends easily” and a similar share report feeling like an outsider in school (Table 5.2). In almost all respects, Emirati students and boys seem to have weaker engagement with school. This is concerning because students’ sense of belonging can have an important impact on their learning outcomes and life satisfaction. PISA 2018 results reveal that students2 who feel like an outsider at school score on average 30 points lower in reading, and were over three times as likely to report that they are not satisfied with their life3.

  • Schoolwork-related anxiety: anecdotal evidence from the OECD fact-finding interviews suggests that students are under significant pressure from their parents to obtain high grades and perform well in school and in exams (see Chapter 1). This translates into high levels of stress and anxiety. Data from PISA 20154 on students’ schoolwork-related anxiety indicate that Dubai students report higher anxiety levels than peers in OECD countries (Box 5.3). Moreover, similarly to what is observed in most OECD countries, girls are significantly more likely to experience schoolwork-related anxiety.

High-performing education systems tend to regard reliable evidence and systematic analysis as key mechanisms that underpin strategic policy making and help drive improvements. As part of its journey to support well-being policies and practices in Dubai’s private sector, KHDA has introduced a range of sophisticated instruments that collect data on students’ – and teachers’ (see Chapter 4) – psychological, social, cognitive and physical states. The challenge now is to make fuller use of this data to support students’ holistic development. In KHDA, this is a matter of developing the technical skills and research culture that encourage and support a more systematic, data-led and evidence-informed approach to policy development and regulation. In schools, this will mean supporting school leadership and school staff to understand the information and offering evidence-based guidance on how it can be used to action change (discussed in Chapter 3). While this section focuses on students, many of the points and considerations raised are also applicable to other stakeholders.

KHDA has made important efforts to collect and monitor information on students’ cognitive, psychological, social, and physical well-being in recent years. The DSWC, which was introduced in 2017, is one of the most noteworthy of KHDA’s initiatives in this area. The DSWC is an annual survey conducted for all students in Grades 6-12, which covers many areas of interest, including students’ sense of belonging, habits, and satisfaction levels. Student identification means that results from DSWC can be used to track students and student cohorts over the years (see Box 3.5 in Chapter 3). The DSWC is conducted in collaboration with the South Australian Government (SAG), which is responsible for designing the survey, cleaning and analysing the data and producing system- and school-level reports and dashboards. The survey methodology appears to follow best international methodological practice (OECD, 2013[36]) and has consistently had high student response rates. Over the years, KHDA and SAG have worked together to adapt the instrument, which is based on a survey originally conducted in South Australia, to Dubai’s local context. For example, the questionnaire captures information on students’ nationality and is offered in three different languages. This is particularly important given the specificities of Dubai’s student population and socio-economic circumstances (see Chapter 1).

Other instruments also allow KHDA to collect evidence on students’ well-being, including results from the school inspection and ad-hoc surveys sent out to education stakeholders (e.g. one-off survey conducted in 2020). Dubai’s participation in international student assessments, including PISA, means that the Emirate also has internationally comparable data on the topic, enabling benchmarking and offering a perspective on the association between well-being and learning outcomes. The Emirate’s potential participation in the OECD Survey of Social and Emotional Skills could contribute to expanding this database further with information on the social and emotional skills of school children of 10 and 15 years of age and how these relate to academic performance and well-being.

Through its different data collection instruments, KHDA has built one of the largest multicultural datasets on student well-being in the world, similar to those of world-class education systems in rigour and quality, such as the Netherlands and regions of Australia. However, at present, there are no sector-level efforts to gather objective data on specific dimensions of students’ well-being, in particular on their physical health, or to undertake relevant triangulation of the existing data (e.g. teachers’ and parental perspective), which could provide stakeholders with a more comprehensive perspective on the issue.

There is growing data, analysis and research capacity within KHDA. This includes, for example, the KHDA data and research team, responsible for conceiving and overseeing dozens of research projects. The DSWC team, which manages the implementation of the student survey, also plays a role in the analysis and dissemination of the survey’s findings. For example, the team is responsible for repackaging the system-level report KHDA receives from SAG into more user-friendly products (e.g. brief reports and infographics) that are shared with different stakeholders.

Stakeholder interviews also suggest that KHDA is increasingly drawing on the data collected to inform their policies and practices. For example, KHDA’s awareness-raising campaigns aimed at encouraging better sleeping habits are based on evidence from DSWC that a good night’s sleep was positively associated with students’ well-being in Dubai.

Within the organisation, at the time of the OECD fact-finding mission, there were only six-eight individuals working in the data and research and the DSWC teams, most of whom are spread across multiple teams/projects. The number of staff devoted to research, analysis and data collection is inadequate relative to the complexity and scope of the work and not in keeping with international staffing numbers. Most of the research work is commissioned to external research institutes, consultancies or researchers. While this is a deliberate – and legitimate – approach, it poses some challenges to the organisation that need to be carefully managed.

Stakeholder interviews revealed that there is inadequate expertise in key areas of education research, including psychometrics, econometrics, and statistics. A wide range of in-house technical skills can support KHDA’s ability to guide and supervise external experts’ work, in particular more technically complex projects such as the DSWC. More importantly, it can support the organisation to make fuller use of the evidence collected for policy-making purposes. Most education systems with a mature data culture develop teams focused exclusively on data collection, analysis and research, which include sufficient staff with relevant technical skills and knowledge.

Moreover, perhaps because KHDA’s priority has been mainly on regulatory mechanisms and data collection (see Chapter 2), less emphasis has been placed on research and/or analysis. As a result, there does not yet seem to be a strategic direction for the research being conducted by the data and research team. Projects are carried out on a mostly ad-hoc basis. While a certain degree of flexibility is important, a more sustained approach could be beneficial to foster improvement in the sector.

With the exception of the DSWC summary reports and infographics, evidence suggests that KHDA conducts limited analysis of its well-being data. This is a significant missed opportunity for the organisation and the sector. As observed in the Student well-being in Dubai section above, the results from the surveys can be used to identify, monitor and track improvements, as well as specific well-being concerns and at-risk groups (e.g. bullying among boys). With adequate statistical and methodological skills and tools, more sophisticated analysis can also be carried out. For example, longitudinal data from the DSWC can be used to establish causal inferences and reveal the impact of the COVID-9 pandemic on student well-being. As will be discussed in Policy Objective 5.2, this type of analysis can be instrumental in policy making.

Given that schools and school networks have primary responsibility for student well-being in Dubai’s private sector, there is a common understanding that they are the main users of the DSWC data (see Box 3.5 in Chapter 3). However, the potential of data collection tools and their results to support KHDA remains less acknowledged. As a result, evidence gathered by the OECD review team suggests that, at present the data collection tools and their results remain under-utilised by KHDA for its own activities and planning. This is a significant missed opportunity.

Internationally, data collection tools play a key role in the education policy cycle by informing the appraisal of policies before they are fully designed or implemented, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of policies during and after full roll-out (Golden, 2020[37]). By gathering and analysing the evidence, policymakers are able to make the necessary adjustments that strengthen the impact and effectiveness of policies and practices. Successful interventions – at the sector or school level - can be identified, analysed and disseminated more widely. In the case of Dubai, for example, the DSWC could be adapted to investigate in greater depth areas that are of interest to KHDA. The information collected could help support the identification or development of targeted and evidence-based interventions (see Policy Objective 5.2).

Other than an overview of system-level results of the DSWC, summarised in brief infographics and short videos disseminated online, little student well-being data are made available to the general public and the research community. In part, this reflects KHDA’s understandably cautious approach to disseminating DSWC school-level results, mindful that this information might be misused by the press or investors. However, there are many ways in which to process the data and report results to avoid such risks (for example of Australia’s MySchool platform). While the OECD review team was told that initial discussions are being carried out within the organisation about making the DSWC database publicly available, it is still unclear whether – and if so, when – this would take place, and what type of information would be released. For the time being, schools are free – and encouraged – to make their own results available with staff and the school community. However, many schools do not. Limited access and transparency can make it very difficult for stakeholders, including teachers and other school staff who often are not able to see the school-level reports (see Chapters 3 and 4, to use the data effectively, or to exchange views about the issues at work.

The UAE and Dubai’s research community is small in comparison to what is typically found in OECD countries, such as Estonia, Ireland or the United Kingdom. This is in part because most local higher education institutions focus predominantly on teaching rather than on research activities (Gallagher, 2019[38]). Given limited local capacity, KHDA relies heavily on foreign expertise. While international institutes and consultants can bring useful knowledge, they usually lack local insights and are often unable to provide support on a daily basis that is critical for the successful implementation of initiatives.

In addition, the field of student well-being is still maturing in Dubai and worldwide. This is not only true of academia but also of policymaking. With limited reliable information available on effective interventions, education stakeholders – including school leaders, teachers, parents and others – are more likely to fall for unproven claims. This is particularly likely when schools’ capacity to interpret and use data is limited, which is the case in many of Dubai’s private schools (see Chapter 3). To add to this, market competition can put significant pressure on private schools to display their efforts to support student well-being (see Chapter 1), which can lead them to adopting ineffective or dubious tools and/or programmes.

In this context, KHDA could play an important “clearing house” role, to help distil and present evidence from educational research to stakeholders in an easily accessible way, and to identify and disseminate high-quality products and service providers, as well as relevant and effective interventions (see some examples in Table 5.4).

The KHDA Chatter blog, developed in 2018, was a step in the right direction. The website hosts short briefs on key education research and topics (e.g. inclusive learning) as well as case studies from local schools (although many are no supported with impact evidence). Due to a lack of resources, KHDA chatter is currently inactive. More recently, KHDA developed the New Days New Ways portal, which offers links to apps, websites, services and other resources, targeted at specific issues (e.g. tech tools, ‘edutainment’, well-being) and specific audiences (e.g. educators, parents and students), is another notable initiative. While the platform may be helpful for some stakeholders (see Chapter 3), there are few suggestions directed at students on well-being. Moreover, not all of the recommendations come with sufficient guidance on how and in which context resources can be used, or seem to have been adequately curated or scrutinised, in particular in light of Dubai’s specificities. Strengthening KHDA’s in-house research and technical skills would ensure that they are able to take on these tasks effectively.

At present, KHDA is missing an important opportunity to leverage the data it collects on student well-being to inform policies and practices in Dubai’s private sector. By mining the data available, KHDA would be able to identify, monitor and communicate the key well-being concerns and how they may differ across the sector. As will be discussed in Policy Objective 5.2., this is key to ensure a more targeted approach to addressing priority issues. Strengthening the organisation’s research and analysis capacity would be key to ensuring that KHDA is able to undertake relevant and sophisticated data analysis and other types of research.

Mobilising the evidence available and in-house technical capacity throughout the policy cycle – before, during and after a policy is implemented – would enable KHDA to develop a more evidence-led approach to policymaking, which can, in turn, support more effective and impactful interventions.

This could have other important advantages for the organisation and the sector as a whole. With stronger technical expertise and more in-house capacity, KHDA would be in a better position to discuss technical issues with external partners assess the quality of what is being proposed/delivered by external experts, and ensure it is context-appropriate. KHDA would also be better able to act as a clearinghouse for the private school sector, conducting and summarising relevant research, identifying, mapping and disseminating effective practices and resources. This can ensure that stakeholders invest their limited time and resources on what is proven to work (see Chapter 3).

KHDA should consider the following actions:

  • Establishing larger in-house technical capacity. This would involve expanding the KHDA data and research team, incorporating statisticians and psychometricians with the skills necessary to conduct and oversee research projects and large scale surveys, pilot and evaluate interventions, appraise the costs, benefits and risks of actual and planned policy initiatives, etc. If possible, staff should be dedicated exclusively to research and analysis activities.

  • Partnering with research centres and experts. Given COVID-19 pressures on KHDA’s budget, consideration should also be given to alternative ways of expanding the organisation’s research and technical capacity, including by reallocating KHDA staff in other projects to the data and research team or developing secondment programmes with external partner organisations through which secondees with relevant skills would be sent to work in KHDA over a specific period of time or KHDA staff would be sent to work in external organisations to develop specific competencies. However, it important to note that in-house capacity will be critical for KHDA to make the most of these partnerships, and to be able to guide and oversee partners’ work.

  • Elevating the role of research and analysis within the organisation. It will be key for KHDA that the data and research team be more closely engaged in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies and initiatives. This will enable KHDA to pursue policy objectives in an evidence-based fashion.

  • Identifying and agreeing on KHDA’s main research priorities. This can be carried out through an organisation-wide consultation and discussions with key stakeholders. The main research priorities should be communicated to the entire organisation. This should inform and be informed by an in-depth analysis of the evidence available (see below).

  • Developing a planned and sustained approach to research and data analysis, based on KHDA’s main research priorities. The data and research team could establish a calendar, outlining different topics to be explored in more depth (e.g. impact of students’ socio-economic background or schoolwork-related anxiety), and identifying which projects can and should be undertaken in-house and where external support would be required and preferable.

  • Carrying out an in-depth analysis of the evidence available. The quantitative and qualitative evidence available should be analysed to identify and monitor system-, sector- and school-level emerging issues, patterns and trends, as well as relevant correlations between different dimensions of well-being. As evidence is collected, KHDA should consider undertaking continuous and in-depth analysis of the information similar to what it does with data from international student assessments. This can be carried out by KHDA or in collaboration with external partners (e.g. universities in the UAE).

    KHDA’s main research priorities should steer the analysis that is carried out. For example, if KHDA opts to focus on positive learning environments, the data and research team would draw on the available data and literature to investigate elements that support or hinder the development of conducive and positive learning environments, their potential associations with well-being and learning outcomes, how this may differ across the system and population groups, etc.

  • Considering adaptations to the DSWC and other data collection tools to ensure KHDA and schools have access to the data needed to make improvements (see Chapter 3). Following on the steps above and in collaboration with school stakeholders, KHDA’s data and research team should:

    • Identify overlaps in the data collection tools, including the DSWC, the school-developed surveys, Pupil Attitudes to Self and School surveys (PASS) and other student well-being measures used by schools.

    • Identify data gaps. Inviting a wide range of school-level stakeholders to provide input to the design and data collection phase can help ensure that the data being collected is useful and actionable.

      This could help inform revisions to the DSWC, including with regards to the questionnaire and the survey’s frequency. For example, this may mean collecting more detailed data on specific topics (e.g. schoolwork-related anxiety) or population groups of interest (e.g. Emirati boys).

      KHDA might also consider:

    • working with partners to gather more objective data on students’ physical well-being.

    • participating in the next round of the OECD Study on Social and Emotional Skills.

    • undertaking the PISA 2022 parent questionnaire.

      Changes could potentially bring important efficiencies by enabling schools to discontinue or to space out their own school-level surveys, thereby allowing them to focus on using the data they receive and/or collect.

  • Sharing findings from the data analysis and research activities with schools and other stakeholders in the community. This could imply, for example, developing a public annual system-level report that summarises the results from the DSWC and other surveys. This would enable greater transparency in the system and strengthen awareness around important issues.

    In parallel, KHDA should keep encouraging schools to share DSWC data with their staff and community.

  • Using, for example, the KHDA Chatter website or the New Days New Ways portal as a clearinghouse/knowledge brokerage platform. The existing platforms have significant potential to support stakeholders in developing effective interventions in well-being and beyond. Similar to what was done in the KHDA Chatter, this will require directing stakeholders to rigorous and evidence-based resources and tools, and offering guidance on when and how to use these. KHDA might consider highlighting examples of interventions that have proven to address commonly identified well-being concerns. The DSWC and other data collection tools can be useful in this endeavour.

    This platform can also collate international and national educational research in a way that is useful and accessible to the general public, following, for example, the UK’s EEF toolkits. Box 5.2 is another example of the type of useful summary stakeholders may benefit from. Given stakeholders’ different needs and expertise, articles and resources can be labelled for easier access.

    This exercise can be undertaken by KHDA or by a separate autonomous or semi-autonomous agency in collaboration with UAE universities, research centres and independent consultants.

Developing a tailored brokerage platform for Dubai’s private schools (rather than re-directing users to an existing platform) has some advantages. First, it can ensure that the resources and articles are context-appropriate and relevant for the sector’s needs (see Policy Objective 5.2). Second, it can help strengthen research knowledge and capacity in KHDA and Dubai. However, should KHDA opt to direct users to an existing clearinghouse platform, it will be key that KHDA select the platform carefully to ensure that the material on offer is rigorous, relevant and objective. Table 5.4 offers some suggestions. Policy Objective 5.2. Developing a more targeted approach to address priority issues and support at-risk population groups

At present, student well-being initiatives in Dubai’s private school sector tend to be relatively broad in scope and target a wide audience. While there is considerable evidence supporting a whole-school approach to well-being (see Chapter 3), relying exclusively on these types of initiatives may not be enough to address some key challenges, such as mental health disorders, and to reach some specific at-risk population groups, such as bullying victims or perpetrators. For this reason, comprehensive well-being policies can and should be complemented by more targeted initiatives focused on key issues and at-risk student populations.

A more focused approach could be advantageous for KHDA and the sector in two key ways. Firstly, by concentrating efforts on the relevant student populations and/or priority issues, interventions can be more impactful. Secondly, targeted interventions can also offer significant cost efficiencies, because resources are allocated according to the identified needs. This is particularly relevant in light of fiscal and spending constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession (see Chapter 1).

Greater visibility on the state of student well-being in Dubai’s private sector (following Policy Objective 5.1) will enable KHDA and other stakeholders to identify the sector’s and/or individual school’s main priorities, and agree on the steps needed to address these.

As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, the UAE and Dubai governments promote a comprehensive vision of student well-being, which encompasses students’ physical health, civic engagement, national values, social connections and emotional resilience, among others. This largely aligns with the OECD’s own definition of student well-being, discussed earlier in this chapter, and those of other high-performing education systems, including Ireland, Singapore and Wales (United Kingdom) (see Box 5.1).

A comprehensive understanding of well-being can support a holistic approach to policymaking, in which different stakeholders work collaboratively to enhance the many and interconnected dimensions of well-being. There are indications that different Dubai agencies work closely on some issues. For example, the Dubai Health Authority and KHDA have collaborated on multiple occasions, more recently to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus as schools in Dubai re-opened.

While Gallagher (2019[38]) suggested a functional approach to well-being exists in the Emirate, arguing that “by focusing on the well-being of students and improving students’ feelings about themselves and their schools, [students] will in turn achieve a higher level of academic performance”, in interviews with the OECD review team, Dubai and the UAE leadership did not approach students’ well-being from such a perspective. Instead, all stakeholders reported valuing students’ well-being for its own sake.

In interviews with the OECD review team, interviewees revealed a sophisticated level of understanding of the different dimensions, factors and implications of student well-being. This suggests that the federal and Emirate-level governments have been successful in disseminating the concept of well-being and highlighting its importance, in particular among school leaders and administrators (see Chapter 3).

Schools have also played a key role is raising stakeholders’ awareness. School-led activities, such as Wellness Wednesdays and Mindfulness Mondays and their active engagement in wider campaigns, such as the Dubai 30x30 Fitness Challenge or the UAE Bullying Prevention Week have been instrumental in introducing the topic of well-being into students’ and parents daily lives (see Table 2.1 in Chapter 2). As was the case across the world, the COVID-19 crisis is also seen to have elevated the importance of well-being in the Emirate.

In interviews with the OECD review team, members of Dubai’s leadership or other policymakers avoided identifying Dubai’s main well-being concerns with respect to students. Government documents and programme strategies also rarely pinpoint specific issues related to students’ well-being, with the exception of bullying and physical inactivity. There seems to be a few reasons for this.

  • KHDA has adopted a strengths-based system approach, also known as an “appreciative inquiry” approach (see Box 2.1 in Chapter 2). In practice, this means that stakeholders often refrain from identifying specific well-being concerns (e.g. eating disorders) or at-risk student groups, and instead prefer to emphasise successes or what is working well. See Box 5.2 on the drawbacks of positive education, which also discusses how this approach could be damaging.

  • KHDA is mindful that a “one size fits all” approach to well-being cannot and should not be imposed in Dubai’s private sector. According to stakeholders in KHDA, the cultural values, experiences and challenges students face in school and at home differ so significantly across the sector that it would be practically pointless to look for or discuss common issues. While there is indeed considerable variation across the system, an analysis of the data and qualitative evidence points to some sector-wide issues, including school-related anxiety and bullying, as well as some specific at-risk populations, including Emirati boys.

  • Limited analysis and dissemination of the data (see Policy Objective 5.1) means that KHDA has not yet been able to identify or communicate system-wide priority issues. Given that much of the information is not publicly available and the research community in the Emirate is small, this task has not been carried out by anyone else.

While KHDA’s choices are legitimate and internally coherent, they can create significant risks at the sector- and school-levels, which, in the long run, can limit the effectiveness and coherence of Dubai’s well-being policies and practices and, ultimately, hinder students’ well-being. The first potential risk is that without commonly identified priorities, stakeholders may be more likely to invest their precious time and effort in initiatives that, while potentially relevant, do not tackle the most urgent or important issues facing the sector and/or the school, such as the ones mentioned above. Stakeholder interviews revealed that this may already be the case in some schools in Dubai. This is especially concerning at a time when resources are particularly limited. Second, the inconsistency in the use of terminology that emerges from this situation can hinder communication and measurement efforts. This can, in turn, limit collaboration, accountability and transparency in the system.

While a holistic approach is also adopted by several private schools in Dubai, in particular those following UK or International Baccalaureate curricula, in others there is a tendency to narrow the concept of well-being to one or two of its multiple dimensions (e.g. physical health). While a narrower focus or tailored approach to well-being can help promote improvements in areas that matter to the school community, it can also create risks that need to be carefully managed. First, it may lead schools to overlook key concerns and aspects of student well-being (e.g. psychological well-being) when developing and implementing interventions. Second, it may also encourage an instrumentalist view of well-being. In interviews, school-level stakeholders, including students, repeatedly highlighted the cognitive dimension of well-being or emphasised the impact of strong well-being on academic achievement. Building a common – and comprehensive – vision of well-being, as suggested in Chapter 3, will be key to help mitigate this risk.

In interviews with the OECD review team, stakeholders preferred not to identify Dubai’s key well-being concerns or at-risk student populations. While this is understandable, in particular to avoid generalisations or prejudices, this type of inhibition could unintentionally create or strengthen stigmas around issues or student groups. Students may not feel comfortable reaching out for help in these circumstances. Breaking stigmas, as many OECD countries have attempted to do (see Box 5.3), can be difficult but will be key to strengthen student well-being for all in Dubai.

Identifying a select number of well-being issues, which are considered particularly important or urgent for the sector, can support more strategic policymaking. This should not detract from a holistic vision and approach to well-being (see Chapter 3) but integrate and complement it.

With a greater understanding of the main areas or audiences of need, KHDA will be better positioned to develop and implement fit-for-purpose and targeted policies. This has the potential to raise the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of undertaken measures. In addition, with clearer targets, KHDA will also be better able to monitor and measure programmes’ impact, which can enable improvements and support greater accountability.

By communicating the main well-being priorities to others in the sector, KHDA will also provide much-needed guidance to schools and school-level stakeholders. As discussed above, with clearer aims, stakeholders will be able to focus their efforts and resources in key areas or groups. This has the potential to raise the impact of interventions, and support cost-efficiencies in the system.

KHDA should consider:

  • Carrying out a series of discussions to agree on a select number of priorities for the sector for the short-, medium- and long-term. For this purpose, KHDA should consider convening key sector stakeholders (e.g. school leaders, teacher representatives, a select number of school well-being committees).This discussion should be informed by – and, later, feed into – qualitative and quantitative research carried out by KHDA and external partners (see Policy Objective 5.1). In addition to sector-wide issues, this exercise could also look into significant concerns that impact specific population groups (e.g. Emirati boys) or sub-sectors.

  • Communicating key well-being priorities to the Dubai private sector community. For example KHDA might insert a special focus on its priority issue/groups in its annual well-being report (see Policy Objective 5.1). KHDA might also consider developing an awareness-raising campaign (e.g. on bullying among boys).

  • Mapping existing initiatives in relation to the priorities to identify overlaps and gaps. This analysis can inform policy adjustments and development.

In recent decades, child rights and empowerment have made their way onto policy agendas around the world. Education systems and schools can play a key role in this endeavour. First, by developing the competencies students require to become responsible and informed individuals who are able to make decisions for the good of themselves and their communities. Second, by offering some of the first opportunities for them to actively participate in societal conversations and to engage in decision making (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]).

Once again, Dubai’s private education sector has been ahead of the curve in many respects. Students’ voice – directly captured and disseminated by the DSWC – have been the backbone of Dubai’s well-being policies and practices. While this is still a relatively new phenomenon, there are some examples of well-being initiatives being led or co-led by students. Multiple initiatives at the school and sector levels aim to raise students’ awareness, build their knowledge and encourage healthy habits.

Despite these efforts, more could be done to empower students and ensure their engagement with the well-being agenda. At present, opportunities for children to contribute to decision making remain rare, in particular at the school level. Despite limited evidence on students’ health literacy, data suggest that a large share of Dubai’s student population still engages in poor sleeping and dietary habits, and have inadequate physical activity levels. The COVID-19 pandemic has also placed a huge toll on children’s physical, mental and social conditions.

This section looks at some of the steps KHDA could take to enhance children’s quality of life. First, ensuring students develop strong well-being and health literacy – i.e. the knowledge and competences that enable them to make the best choices to meet the demands of health in today’s society – can help support their well-being in the immediate and long-term. Second, engaging students in decision making in a more deliberate and inclusive manner can not only empower them, but ensure that initiatives are more impactful. Students will be key partners in the next steps of KHDA’s and Dubai’s well-being journey.

There are several initiatives at the UAE and Emirate-level to give students a voice on well-being issues. The most remarkable is the DSWC, which has given young people “the opportunity to tell adults about how they think and feel about their wellbeing”. This is considered important to give schools “more accurate information about the prevalence, importance or impact of issues” and to offer students “the opportunity (…) to actively participate in decision making” (KHDA, 2018[51]). In addition, many schools report conducting their own surveys (see Policy Objective 5.1) and developing student councils. According to stakeholder interviews, these resources can be very useful to identify and monitor issues among the student population.

In recent years, some opportunities for students to take on a more active role have also emerged. A noteworthy example is that of the “Dubai Student Wellbeing Summit – Being Well and Doing Well: Empowering Ourselves and Others to Flourish”, which brought together over 300 students from over 150 schools. Held for the first time in 2019, the Summit was organised by a committee made up of students and KHDA staff. The Summit gave an opportunity for students to lead the conversation on student well-being. While the Summit has not been held since – because of the COVID-19 pandemic the summit that was scheduled to occur in 2020 was cancelled – it inspired the development of six initiatives, which are being led by students within their own school contexts.

Education is an important space in which children can learn about their own health and well-being, as well as that of others in the community (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]). High-performing education systems use a number of avenues to do this (see Table 5.5). Curricular methods are a common way of educating children to develop healthy habits and improve wellness. In Dubai, schools often incorporate health studies (e.g. the Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education curriculum subject in the British Curriculum) and/or learning about healthy habits as part of Physical Education courses into their curriculum.

As is common in many OECD countries, several private schools also attempt to develop specific attitudes, values, and social and emotional skills (e.g. self-awareness) as part of a specific course or as an inter-disciplinary component of the curriculum. Moreover, since the 2017/18 academic year, schools are required to implement the UAE Moral Education Curriculum (see Box 5.4), which covers key pillars of social and psychological well-being, including tolerance, resilience and civic duty.

While it is beyond the scope of this review to assess the implementation and impact of curricula in Dubai’s private sector, the widespread focus on character building is encouraging for the well-being agenda. Raising students to become responsible and engaged adults can help enhance their quality of life in the long-term as well as strengthen the Emirate’s social fabric.

Internationally, healthy habits (e.g. a balanced diet) are commonly promoted, learned and reinforced in and by schools and classrooms. For example, Scotland (United Kingdom) has updated regulations and guidelines on nutritional requirements in schools, and improved food provision and food education to encourage more healthy food choices (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]).

This approach is also common among Dubai’s private schools. Most have introduced and/or joined wider initiatives to promote healthy habits and well-being, such as the Dubai Fitness Challenge 30x30 or regular mindfulness sessions. Many of the initiatives in place have engaged children’s parents and families, which research suggests can have positive effects on students (Burns and Gottschalk, 2020[10]).

However, it is unclear whether these campaigns are sustained all year round, which would be key to helping children build healthy habits. Moreover, while seemingly popular among interviewees, there is limited evidence available on these interventions. This means it is not possible to monitor participation levels across age groups, gender and socio-economic background or over time. Collecting and analysing data on interventions to inform their design and implementation could ultimately strengthen its impact. For example, given low levels of physical activity among girls in the Emirate, it would be beneficial to learn whether – and if so, which – fitness campaigns are succeeding in engaging girls. The information collected could be used to target the communication of the campaigns or even the design of the initiative (e.g. adjustments to the offer of physical activities).

Surveys can offer valuable channels for students to express how they feel. However, multiple choice questionnaires, such as those used in the DSWC and many school-developed surveys, are unable to capture the whole picture of students’ well-being. With these types of surveys, students cannot raise other issues, or go into more depth when discussing topics that may be relevant to them.

Policymakers and school staff who are responsible for these questionnaires may often be unaware of important dimensions of students’ daily lives and developments that might impact their well-being. In the past, KHDA has undertaken focus group discussion to collect students’ insights into the cultural differences that exist between student groups (e.g. Indian and Emirati contexts), and used these insights to update the DSWC questionnaire. These efforts are laudable and could be expanded or, in the case of schools, taken up. Engaging students in the development of these surveys more broadly could ensure their relevance.

In addition, even though the DSWC response rate is very high, a considerable number of students does not take part in the survey. At present, it is unclear who is not taking part in the survey and what their reasons for this may be. It is important that all students be encouraged to speak up. The feedback of those who may be struggling in their academic or personal lives or feel disconnected with school can be particularly valuable for policymakers and school staff to develop fit-for-purpose interventions.

Moreover, while students’ voice is considered important to help identify issues, reports suggest that it is relatively uncommon for students to contribute to developing solutions. For example, students are rarely involved in the interpretation of the DSWC data or in policy development at the school and sector-level. This can not only limit the effectiveness of initiatives, but also contribute to students feeling disempowered and undervalued. The Welsh experience might be relevant for Dubai as it considers ways in which to encourage young people to participate more actively in policy debate and decision making at the school and system levels (see Box 5.5).

Current data collection tools do not capture students’ health literacy levels (see Box 5.6 for the full definition). Given the wide diversity of curricula and how much the focus on well-being differs across schools in Dubai (see Chapters 1 and 3), it is unclear whether all students are able to develop the necessary skills, knowledge and competences to make informed decisions about their own health and well-being. This is an important blind spot for Dubai. Addressing this can provide KHDA and schools with useful information to develop appropriate policy responses.

While well-being policies and practices are widespread in Dubai’s private sector, fact-finding interviews suggest that they have often been introduced as an add-on to schools’ existing activities (see Chapter 3). For example, many schools opt to include measures targeted at raising students’ well-being (e.g. sports) as part of the schools’ extra-curricular activities. As a result, many students are unable or unwilling to participate in these activities regularly, struggling to balance these on top of their heavy academic workload. For these interventions to be more effective, schools and school networks will need to embed these more deeply into their regular activities and ethos as part of a whole-school approach to well-being (see Chapter 3). This may mean, for example, re-prioritising the curriculum and school day to give other activities sufficient time and adequate prominence.

It will be equally important to identify and address policies that may undermine students’ well-being or send different signals of what matters. As discussed earlier, an overemphasis on students’ academic achievement can not only contribute to students’ stress and anxiety levels, but also contrasts with Dubai’s well-being agenda. A number of reforms in Singapore, as well as in other countries in East Asia, have aimed at reducing the emphasis on standardised tests and, instead, instilling a “passion for learning” in students (UNESCO, 2016[66]) (see Box 5.7). Shifting the focus to students’ happiness and well-being need not result in any lowering of learning outcomes. The key is building in students the curiosity to learn, the resilience to persist in the face of challenges and the value of effort.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) underlines the importance and expectation of children as actors in their own right concerning matters that affect them, suggesting that adults should engage in dialogue and respond to the views of children when making decisions concerning them (Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[11]).

Engaging students and connecting their voice to conversations with families, teachers and schools can also support policy development by enabling policymakers and schools to obtain accurate information on the prevalence and importance of certain issues; raise awareness; assess the relevance of certain programmes and practices before rolling them out; adjust interventions based on student feedback to best meet their needs; and build traction for these initiatives to take root.

Moreover, inviting children and adolescents to participate in policy discussions and decision making is critical to empowering students, encouraging them to take charge of shaping their schooling and future lives, and fostering a stronger sense of responsibility to others (Wong, Zimmerman and Parker, 2010[68]).

However, it can be difficult to engage students effectively and, despite efforts, Dubai has not yet found the perfect recipe. While some stakeholders lack the adequate skills, knowledge and tools to involve students meaningfully, others may remain unaware of its value. KHDA can address both issues.

KHDA might consider:

  • Encouraging and advising schools on how to empower and engage students effectively: this could include the following actions:

    1. a. Drawing on SAG’s and local expertise, develop guidance on the best strategies for schools to share DSWC results with students. This can be developed as a how-to guide and be accompanied by an evaluation rubric. SAG and/or other experts may also be invited to develop and provide training to school leaders. Local schools that are considered good models – according to the requirements established in the evaluation rubric – could be asked to share their experience with others in What Works X events. Their case studies could also be made available on the clearinghouse platform proposed under Policy Objective 5.1.

    2. b. Encouraging schools to engage students in decision making. The following options can be considered:

      1. i. Encouraging schools to develop well-being committees made up of staff, teacher and student representatives. Committee participants would be elected by their peers on a regular basis (see Chapter 3).

      2. ii. Encouraging and/or mandating that all schools develop student councils. Box 5.8 discusses some of the pitfalls commonly associated with this approach, and offers some guidance on how to make it work.

      3. iii. Encouraging and/or requiring that school governing bodies include student representatives.

    3. c. Providing schools and school actors with information and guidelines outlining the most effective strategies to engage and empower students, and risks that need to be mitigated. Guidelines would summarise evidence from international and national research and highlight relevant experience from other education systems. Box 5.5 is an example of the type of information and resources that could be offered to schools.

      The clearinghouse platform proposed in Policy Objective 5.1 can be leveraged for this purpose.

      The information collected during schools inspections carried out by the Dubai Schools Inspections Bureau (DSIB) can be leveraged to identify outstanding case studies in Dubai’s private sector that can be disseminated more broadly. KHDA’s data and research team could be made responsible for developing these resources, in partnership with DSIB and other relevant stakeholders.

  • Optimising communication channels with students to strengthen their engagement: developing a trusting and constructive relationship with the school community will require sustained efforts. The following actions can set KHDA up for success:

    • Following the KHDA Well-being Reference Group and the KHDA Mums, KHDA should create multiple KHDA Student Reference Groups. KHDA Reference Groups should include students from different nationalities, socio-economic backgrounds, gender, ages, regions and curricula, as well as high- and low-achieving students. KHDA may consider having a reference group exclusively for Emirati students.

    • Consideration could be given to the establishment of an elected student body/council, similar to the Welsh Youth Parliament (see Box 5.5), in the long run. This body could have subcommittees that look at well-being or other issues.

    • Engage the KHDA Student Reference Groups and student body/council in policy development and evaluation, including notably in:

      1. i. the development of the vision for well-being in schools (Chapter 3).

      2. ii. regular Student Summits. Topics can be selected through online polls to encourage greater involvement.

      3. iii. the DSWC.

    • KHDA should partner with schools to build these activities into students’ schoolwork or schedules (e.g. as school credit) so their participation in these activities can become more manageable and is fully recognised, regularly take stock of the approach being used to engage students, and make modifications as needed.

    • Investigate participation in DSWC to understand which students/student groups are not taking part in the survey, or avoid responding to most questions. Based on this information, develop communication and dissemination strategies targeted specifically at these students.

While KHDA has compiled extensive data on students’ habits and well-being concerns in Dubai’s private sector, there is limited evidence on student’s well-being and health literacy. This information can help KHDA, as well as schools and teachers, understand what gaps in students’ skills and knowledge need to be addressed in the classroom or through school-level or Emirate-level campaigns. Early interventions to educate children can be more effective and cost-efficient than addressing issues at a later stage.

The following steps deserve consideration:

  • Adopt a definition of well-being and health literacy and agree on its multiple dimensions. KHDA should consider partnering with other relevant authorities, notably the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), to take this exercise forward. If considered appropriate, this could be undertaken as a national effort, with the support of the Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Ministry of Education, and others.

  • Collecting and disseminating data on students’ well-being and health literacy.

    1. a. Drawing on the UAE’s definition of health literacy, KHDA and its collaborators would identify what information is required for policymaking and for schools.

    2. b. KHDA and collaborators would compare the types of surveys/tools that exist in the Emirate and elsewhere, assessing their advantages and disadvantages. If an existing survey/tool is considered adequate, KHDA should work with partners to adapt it to the local context and needs before implementing it in Dubai. Otherwise, a tailored tool could be developed in-house and/or in partnership with UAE universities and research centres.

    3. c. Once the information has been collected and thoroughly analysed by the KHDA data and research teams, deliberations should be made about what information should be provided to schools and the general public and in which format. Utmost care should be taken to protect students’ identity.

    4. d. In parallel, the DSIB school inspection process could also be leveraged for this purpose. Future school inspections could focus, for example, on physical education and personal and social education courses (or similar).

    5. e. Evidence from the surveys should be used to inform KHDA’s policies. For example, information and awareness-raising campaigns can be carried out to address students’ knowledge gaps.

  • Providing tools and resources to schools to support students’ well-being and health literacy. The brokerage platform can be leveraged for this purpose.


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← 1. Rates of cyber-bullying, however, remain relatively steady (Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[11]).

← 2. Author’s calculations for the private sector in Dubai.

← 3. This refers to a comparison between students who strongly agree and who strongly disagree with the statement: “"Thinking about your school: I feel like an outsider (or left out of things) at school".

← 4. PISA 2018 did not collect information on students’ schoolwork related anxiety.

← 5. Acronym refers to four provinces/municipalities of China that participated in the PISA 2018 study – Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (B-S-J-Z).

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