Many policymakers and educators focus on enhancing youth’s emotional engagement in school to address issues of underachievement, truancy, and school dropout . However, no study has examined the trends in school burnout over a longer time and how the concurrent trends in socioeconomic factors are associated with school burnout among lower and upper secondary school students. School burnout, defined as students’ exhaustion, cynicism about the value of school, and feeling of inadequacy to be successful, influences students’ engagement with schoolwork, well-being, and adjustment . Currently, our understanding is limited in part by the fact that most of the research in the emotional engagement at school focuses on adolescents in the United States , where many students experience declines in emotional engagement, as well as academic and psychological outcomes, over the course of secondary school . Studying changes in school burnout in a country such as Finland—where students attain consistently high levels of academic achievement throughout secondary school despite recent evidence showing that students may not enjoy school—could provide some unique insights into the issue of student burnout. Moreover, changing socioeconomic trends, such as larger proportions of adults gaining higher education degrees, increasing immigration, urbanization and unemployment, and the concurrent policy changes, such as the education budget cuts in the past years, may also affect the patterns of school burnout.
In 1970, the government of Finland decided to overhaul its traditional education system in favour of a “modern, publicly financed education system with widespread equity, good quality, and large participation—all at a reasonable cost” . After the reform, Finnish students became one of the best performers on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), consistently achieving top scores in mathematics, science, and reading. However, the evidence also shows that Finnish adolescents may not be emotionally engaged in school. The 2012 PISA results reveal that 15-year-old Finnish students ranked 61st out of 65 countries for how happy they feel at school . Many Finnish secondary school students report school burnout . While evidence of school burnout among Finnish youth is mounting, researchers have yet to investigate the trends in school burnout both in the lower and upper secondary schools during the last decades and to what extent personal and school-related demands and resources explain these changes . The current study can shed light on whether school burnout differs by time, educational contexts, or gender, and whether the socioeconomic demands and resources play a role in trends in school burnout. Most importantly, this study can help us determine the extent to which the trend of school burnout is modified by the socioeconomic demands and resources, informing the design for targeted interventions.
According to the demands-resources model in the school context , personal- and school-related demands, and resources influence school burnout. The more both school and personal demands, the more school burnout the students experience and, in turn, the more resources, the less school burnout the students experience. In addition, higher resources can attenuate the effects of higher demands, that is, the more resources a student can capitalize on, the more demands can be handled without overtaxing. For instance, the protective effect of higher educational level of the parents may buffer against the possible adverse effect of parental unemployment (or immigration). In the current study, we focus on the sociodemographic demands and resources: person-related (gender, immigration status, parental education, and unemployment) and school-related (school level and urban–rural area).
Of the person-related factors, the previous research shows that school burnout is higher among girls compared to boys in the secondary school . When following up the same students in secondary school in Finland, school burnout has been found to be increasing [10,11,12], especially among girls . Both female gender and low academic performance have been associated with school burnout . Although girls often show better school performance compared to boys suggesting a lower likelihood of burnout, girls may experience more pressures related to ambitious educational and occupational goals in association with higher academic attainment and aspirations . These, in turn, may contribute to school burnout.
Within the family, parents burnout and their children’s burnout have been shown to be shared . The more economic hardship there is in the family, the more burnout in the family which may contribute to school burnout in children [16, 17]. Parental unemployment, immigration, and urban area may contribute to higher stress levels and burnout [11, 18]. A higher parental educational level in turn may act as a buffer against school burnout , and may also alleviate the adverse effects of the other demands.
These socioeconomic factors were also known to change over the time of the study 2006–2019. The great recession hit globally during 2008 and beyond, but in Finland, the economic crisis hit later: the peak of the unemployment (10.2% in men and 9.0% in women) was in 2015, while in 2019, the rates were about the same level as in 2006 (7.4% in men and 6.3% in women in 2019 vs. 7.5% in men and 8.1% in women in 2006) . In addition to unemployment, Finland has also experienced small but increasing numbers of individuals and families immigrating to Finland with a peak of 34,900 immigrants in 2016 . About 8% of the population in Finland in 2019 had a foreign background. A recent entry to the country, especially among boys, has been found to be associated with school burnout . Finland like many other Western countries has also experienced internal migration from rural to urban areas. In 2006, 34% of the 15–18 years old lived in rural areas in Finland, but in 2019, this proportion had dropped to 28% . At the same time, educational level has increased in Finland: a larger proportion had attained a higher education degree in 2019 compared to 2007 (47 vs. 39% among those aged 40–49) . To take into account these trends, we included the effect of the year of the survey on parental unemployment, immigration status, urban–rural area, and parental educational level in the models. We also investigate whether the school burnout trends coincide with school budget cuts carried out from 2011 onwards , totaling about €1.5 billion, and potentially jeopardising equal access, quality, and quantity of teaching and affecting students’ well-being.
The aim was to examine changes in school burnout using data among almost one million students during the last two decades:
(a) To identify the changes of school burnout for Finnish adolescents in lower (grades 8–9) and upper secondary schools (grades 10–11) during years 2006–2019. Based on the findings from the previous research, we expect that the overall trend of school burnout over the period from 2006 to 2019 would be increasing, especially from 2011 onwards along with the school budget cuts.
(b) To examine the associations of personal—(gender, family socioeconomic, and immigrant status) and school-related (school level and urban–rural area) sociodemographic demands and resources with school burnout. School burnout has been found to be gendered and vary between the school levels [9,10,11,12]. We expect high and increasing school burnout, especially in girls in upper secondary school. Personal demands related to parental unemployment, immigration status, and urban–rural area are expected to be associated with higher school burnout. Parents’ higher educational degrees may in turn act as a buffer against school burnout. Although there is no previous research specifically on the interactions of gender, school level, and other socioeconomic factors on school burnout trend, it is possible that those groups who have experiences increasing school burnout (girls, upper secondary school) would be more affected by adverse socioeconomic circumstances but also may benefit from family resources such as higher parental education.