Antecedents of Adaptation to School Among Australian and Japanese Primary and Secondary Students

Summary results of a paper in progress

Rosalind Murray-Harvey
Phillip Slee
Judith Saebel

Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Mitsuru Taki
National Institute for Education and Policy Research,Tokyo, Japan


In this study path analysis was used to examine Japanese and Australian students' experiences of school life in relation to their effect on adaptation to school. Adaptation was constructed to include information on enjoyment of school, feelings of belonging to school, and relationships with other students. Separate path models for males and females, in primary and high schools, were tested to compare questionnaire data from over 3000 Australian and 6000 Japanese students across years 5 to 10. The questionnaire was developed collaboratively by the authors to examine issues of common concern in both countries, namely, school-related sources of stress and support for students, their wellbeing, victimization, and bullying. Adaptation to School was found to be affected by a complex interplay of relationships involving, in particular, the level of support provided to students by family, peers and teachers, and their general sense of wellbeing. The stresses (family, peer, teacher, and academic) impacting on students' wellbeing in their turn, were found to have a detrimental indirect effect on Adaptation to School. The impact of stress on students' lives cannot be taken lightly. Less than satisfactory educational outcomes are a likely consequence of students holding negative perceptions of school. If students do not enjoy school, do not get along with their peers, and have little sense of belonging to school, then school is unlikely to be a place where long-term positive personal, social, and learning, can occur.


The study was initiated by the Japanese Ministry of Education as part of an international, longitudinal project on bullying (Taki, 1997a, 1997b, 1998) coordinated by the National Institute for Educational Policy Research.

The models developed for testing in this study were based on 24 common questionnaire items designed to elicit students' perceptions on a range of issues of joint concern to the researchers. In particular, the issue of bullying - bullying others and being bullied (victimized), and its relationship to stress (both sources of stress and responses to stress), was of mutual interest.


Australian participants. Twenty-two schools participated in the study, 11 primary and 11 secondary schools including rural, regional, and metropolitan areas in South Australia, and both the independent and government school sectors. Of the total sample population of 3145 students (46% males) who completed the 86-item Australian version of the survey, 35% of students were from primary schools and the remaining were secondary school students.

Japanese participants. Students from 12 primary and 6 secondary schools in metropolitan Tokyo completed the Japanese version of the survey. The total sample comprised 5518 students (51% males; 48% primary).

The selection of upper primary and lower secondary years of schooling is consistent with that of the larger scale, longitudinal study's focus on the middle years of schooling, of which this study is a part. We obtained information from students across six years of schooling, from Year 5 to Year 10. Years 5, 6, and 7 were defined as Primary School, and Years 8, 9, and 10 as Secondary School.


All the variables we used to build the models were taken from our "Your Life at School" questionnaire.

1. Stressors. Possible sources of stress for students were family, teachers, peers and academic concerns teachers.

2. Support. Three groups of people, Parents, Teachers, and Peers, represented possible sources of support for students. Students were asked about how much encouragement and understanding they got from parents, teachers and classmates when they felt left out, and when they expressed their troubles/problems.

3. Symptoms of Stress (Wellbeing). Questions were asked about Apathy, Somatic Symptoms, Depression, and Aggression. Students rated how well each of the statements described how they felt.

4. Victimization. Students were asked how often they had been bullied at school in the school term by being: (a) isolated, ignored, called names; (b) picked on by others; (c) pushed, hit, kicked on purpose (jokingly); and, (d) robbed, kicked, hit harshly (on purpose).

5. Bullying. Bullying indicated frequency of having bullied someone at school in the school term by: (a) isolating, ignoring, calling them names; (b) picking on others; (c) pushing, hitting, kicking on purpose (jokingly); and, (d) stealing, kicking, hitting harshly (on purpose).

6. Adaptation to School. Students rated their feelings about school in terms of how much they were enjoying school life, and getting along with the other students, and how proud they were of belonging to their school.

The models were tested using the PLSPath program to reveal which relationships were important and which were not.

For both countries, we looked for similarities and differences between males and females, and between primary and secondary years.


Several consistent patterns of influence across countries, sex of student and year level emerged from the model testing.

Stress is linked to Wellbeing in all models. Where students reported a poor sense of Wellbeing this was related to difficulties with family, peers, and teachers. In other words, along with academic difficulties, students' perceptions of problematic relationships with parents, teachers, and peers, as these related to life at school, affected their sense of Wellbeing.

This same pattern of results was evident between Stressors and Victimization. In all models Stressors predicted reports of being victimized. Primary school females appeared to be most vulnerable to the effects of problems with family, peers, and teachers (Stressors).

Victimization predicted Bullying. This relationship was particularly strong for Japanese secondary females.

Adaptation to School

Support and Wellbeing had an effect on Adaptation to School in all models. Lack of Support had a similar negative effect on Adaptation to School in both Australia and Japan. And poor sense of Wellbeing also predicted poor Adaptation to School.

It seems that Adaptation to School is strongly affected by students' feelings of being supported by their family, peers, and teachers - poor support predicts poor Adaptation to School. Similarly, a lack of Wellbeing, indicated by symptoms of stress (apathy, depression, somatic symptoms and aggression) is predictive of poor Adaptation to School.

Bullying, as a general rule, does not have an impact on Adaptation to School. The exception to this was the minor effect of Bullying on Adaptation to School for Australian primary males. Victimization did affect Adaptation to School for Australian primary females, Japanese primary males, and Japanese secondary females.

Students' feelings about school referred to as Adaptation to School, has been shown, through model testing, to be affected by a complex interplay of relationships involving, in particular, the level of support provided to students by family, peers and teachers, and their general sense of wellbeing. The stresses (family, peer, teacher, and academic) impacting on students' Wellbeing in their turn, have a detrimental indirect effect on Adaptation to School.


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