Last spring, we decided to take part in the Project Passport competition with our project plan called Wellbeing at School. We were fortunate to get the chance to travel to Australia in order to carry out our project, in which we aimed to find similarities and differences in the ways our school Oulunkylän Yhteiskoulu and Camberwell Girls Grammar School take care of student wellbeing. We started our project in Finland by writing down our own experiences, interviewing the students, doing a survey and taking photos to visualize the project. By using the same methods, we continued our research in Australia. This article represents our findings.
Along with every school in Finland, our school is a co-educational school and funded by the local government. Because of that the students differ from each other more. A free school lunch is offered for the students in Finland every day. The nutritious and filling lunch helps the students to feel energetic throughout the day and eating snacks is not as common as in Australia. In Camberwell Girls Grammar School the lunch time is later compared to our school; at 1 pm whereas in our school it is at 11 am.
During our stay we got to see that Camberwell Girls Grammar School offers a great deal of different programs and activities related to wellbeing. Different kinds of themed weeks and events are organized and many of them are planned by the students, such as the diversity week and the wellbeing week. Whereas in Finland most of the events are organized by the staff and the students only take part in organizing some fun events, such as costume days.
The Camberwell Girls Grammar School has a wellbeing club, which is one of the clubs available for the students. By taking part in it the students have possibilities to affect the student wellbeing in their school. It seems that the school in Australia encourages the students to be creative. Especially the younger students have many projects that improve their creativity, self-awareness and thinking.
We got the impression that in Australia the students are generally more active in extra curriculars organized in the school. There are a lot of different clubs and possibilities to get into positions that require responsibility and leadership, such as school captains and mentors. One of the programs is called the House program, in which all the students are divided into four houses. They have the house meeting every two weeks and throughout the year the students are trying to collect points for their house by taking part in house competitions.
In Finland most of the activities organized are for the students in the same year level. It seems like in Australia the students from different year levels interact with each other more often, which surely improves the school spirit. With the activities like clubs and the House program the students from all year levels come together to form connections.
We find that upper secondary school in Finland is in some ways closer to university, as it gives the students more freedom. For example, the students choose the courses by themselves. Choosing the courses allows the students to decide whether they want to have early mornings or late afternoons. Yet there are a lot of compulsory courses that you must take in order to graduate high school. There is a specific website for keeping up with everything school-related from homework to schedules. If the stress feels overwhelming at times, the students also have the possibility to choose less courses for one term. The students are likely to be more motivated to wake up earlier or go home later when knowing they are the ones selecting the courses.
Finnish students don’t wear school uniforms, which is one differing thing between the two schools. Having to wear the uniform time in the mornings is saved as the clothes are already chosen. The students being equal in terms of clothing is a rather good thing since it can prevent students from bullying. However, we think letting the students express their own style has good aspects as well.
Most days the students must sit for long periods of time in classes. According to what we heard there are few teachers in both schools who encourage the students to do break exercising during the classes. One class lasts an hour in Australia and 75 minutes in Finland, which is why it is important for schools to encourage students to move not only during the breaks but in the middle of the class.
We did a survey that was filled in by 41 Australian students and 48 Finnish students at the age of 16 or 17. Most of the results were predictable but some of them were unexpected. The Australian students sleep more than the Finnish students, yet more of them said they feel they don’t get enough sleep. We found out that the Finnish students spend less time on doing their homework. However, the results can’t be fully compared because the school systems and year levels are different in both countries. We also found that the school days are a bit shorter in Finland.
The Australian students have a lot more hobbies according to the survey. In both countries the students answered that their hobbies make them feel more relaxed rather than stressed. In Finland half of the students and in Australia more than half of the students said they feel that they have enough time for themselves. Both in Finland and in Australia two thirds of the students said they sometimes feel that they aren’t able to cope at school.
We find that in Camberwell Girls Grammar School there are better places to relax during the school day than in our school. Camberwell Girls Grammar School has many open areas where the students can relax and spend their breaks in. In addition, the school library provides the students a peaceful environment for reading and studying. In our school the corridors and the little library are usually noisy. In both schools, there is a gym where the students can work out.
Australian students also seem to spend more time outside during the breaks than Finnish students. The climate in Finland is colder, which certainly is one reason for students to stay indoors during the breaks. We also noticed that Finnish students use their mobile phones more often than Australian students, and therefore the Australian students were more social during breaks. When it comes to commuting to school, most of the Finnish students go to school by public transport, bike or foot, whereas in Australia many students are also taken to school by car.
In Camberwell Girls Grammar School the mental fitness training class is organized every two weeks for all of the students. The aim of the 30-minute-long class is to help the students find their strengths, improve their goal setting skills and learn ways to deal with stress. There are different mental fitness activities the students can choose from depending on their year level, for example drawing, kick boxing, yoga and mindfulness. There isn’t a mental fitness training class in our school in Finland, but at times we talk about the mental health on theme days or health classes. The senior year students can also choose an elective relaxing course. In addition, in both schools there is a class called health.