Scotland's happy teens may have their schools to thank

The relative buoyancy of this country's young people is not necessarily such a mystery

Brian Monteith, Political Commentator

Young Scots are among the happiest in Europe, proclaims an international study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - and suddenly there's confusion about why. Sadly no one seemed to say it was thanks to our Scottish education system.

As a regular critic of the ways we do things, especially in our public sector, I have no difficulty in beating my patriotic chest when the mood takes me.

The WHO surveyed 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds across nearly 40 countries in Europe and North America between 2009 and 2010, but could not explain why the sons and daughters of Scotland seemed so relatively happy and content with their lot.

Funded by the NHS in Scotland, the report pointed to lower incidences of smoking tobacco or cannabis as good news, without explaining why this might make young people happy, given they often take up these habits for the natural pleasure they find in them. Likewise, why drinking less Irn Bru and cleaning one's teeth more often might have produced a sense of happiness leaves me puzzled.

Scottish girls were found to have a higher-than-average liking for under- age, unprotected sex and high alcohol consumption, but this was flagged as a health concern rather than a contributory factor to feeling happy. Without underestimating the risks of such behaviour, I thought people generally looked for pleasure from sex and alcohol and some even preferred the thought of it being bad behaviour.

This leads me to conclude that these behavioural issues are more likely to be neutral in their effect across youths from different countries; if there is a negative impact, it would surely be from the feeling that authority figures are trying to impose their lifestyle choices rather than leaving teenagers to make their own minds up.

This then leaves the part of the report that Scottish school-aged children can point to at least three friends, feel they perform well at school and rank themselves highly in using Facebook and texting each other. The researchers thought such close communication with their pals could explain greater happiness, an argument I would give more merit than whether they do sex and drugs and alcohol - or clean their teeth.

And who is responsible? Take a bow, the much-maligned Scottish teacher. Despite concerns about literacy, the fact remains that to use Facebook or text each other (even with annoying abbreviations) requires knowledge that is learnt at school.

I have no doubt that Scottish schools can be improved, but wherever I go in the world I continue to find that Scots of any background are communicating easily with locals and holding down jobs they probably never dreamt of - and owe a great deal of this to their school.

It is often said that one's time at school is the happiest of our lives; maybe that saying was thought up in Scotland?

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Brian Monteith, Political Commentator

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