Every year the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development issues its PISA report that details how 15-year olds around the world are doing in school. Academically, ours are doing pretty well, relatively speaking, as our media reported a couple of weeks ago. What was not reported, however, is that they are doing much more badly in terms of their spiritual health than the average.
The OECD put the following three statements to 15 year olds: ‘My life has clear meaning or purpose’; ‘I have discovered a satisfactory meaning in life’; and ‘I have a clear sense of what giving meaning to my life.’
The percentage of Irish 15-years old who answered in the affirmative to those questions respectively were 60pc, 53pc and 60pc. This placed them sixth from the bottom out of the 36 OECD countries. For the record, Japan was at the bottom and Panama at the top.
In addition, over 18pc of Irish 15-year olds said they are not satisfied with life. On this score, Dutch teenagers fare best.
This exception aside, what stands out from the results is that the poorer countries in general seem to have happier teenagers and in general the richer ones have less happy ones.
What’s going on? Is it that poorer countries (remember, the poorest countries are not in the OECD at all) have stronger bonds of community, of religion, of family than their richer counterparts? Is Western individualism affecting the mental and spiritual wellbeing of our children?
Do we put too much emphasis on technocratic success? This seems strange when you consider that our schools spend more and more time on ‘wellbeing’ and addressing issues like anxiety and depression?
Is it that we haven’t taught our children resilience because we do too much for them and indirectly teach them that life is supposed to be easy rather than inherently challenging?
One way or the other, those figures should be setting off alarm bells and deserve at least as much attention as the one showing our 15-years old are doing relatively well, academically-speaking.