Snapshot of life for 12-year-olds in Aotearoa

Issue: Volume 102, Number 10

Posted: 3 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAb6R

A series of reports and webinars has been released to share the findings of the latest Growing up in New Zealand research – Now We Are Twelve.

The report looks at growing up in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The report looks at growing up in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand.

More than 6,000 children and their families are part of Growing up in New Zealand – a longitudinal study of child development. 

The cohort of children, recruited prenatally in 2009 and 2010, reflects a broad ethnic and socioeconomic makeup. About every three years, the University of Auckland visits the children and their parents to gather information and build a picture of what it’s like to grow up in 21st century New Zealand.  

The latest data was collected from online interviews conducted with 4,500 young people aged 12.  

Now We Are Twelve provides insights into the lives of the young people on a range of subjects including mental health, experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, ethnic identity, gender identity, housing, and hardship.  

Food insecurity 

In June, Education Gazette attended a webinar on food insecurity and school engagement in which Dr Sarah Gerritsen, senior research fellow and lead author of the food insecurity research, discussed patterns of food insecurity and the role of school food programmes for this 12-year-old cohort.  

The research team was interested in what had changed for tamariki and their whānau between the ages of eight and 12 – particularly as much of this period was during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The overall proportion of families that were food secure, or food insecure during this time didn’t change, but families did move into, or out of, food security and insecurity.  

“We uncovered that government assistance is generally not enough to move families out of food insecurity. Half of families on a benefit were food insecure and 17 percent of families on benefits became food insecure over the three years between the two data waves,” explains Sarah.  

The Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme is the largest food in schools programme, delivered to the bottom 25 percent of schools in the equity index, but Sarah says the University of Auckland research shows that 40 percent of tamariki with food insecurity weren’t eligible, or attended schools not receiving the programme.  

“We recommend that the number of eligible schools is increased and that Government policy responses should be tailored to Māori and Pacific communities,” says Sarah.  

Lisa Te Morenga from Health Coalition Aotearoa is not surprised that a significant number of families are still experiencing food insecurity.  

“We are concerned that a number of families have problems accessing a variety of foods – which usually means they have less fruit and vegetables and healthy foods.  

“Schools are helping to identify those kids in need. School lunches model healthy food and give students a chance to try new foods,” she says.  

School engagement  

Molly Grant, research assistant and PhD candidate, spoke about some of the factors that enable school engagement, commenting that school and family contexts influence learning and engagement.  

The school engagement research looked at who was engaged at school at the age of 12, how emotional engagement had changed, and the contextual factors that enhance school engagement.  

Rich data was gathered from 17 questions, and a school engagement score was given to each young person. The scores ranged from one for low engagement, to five for high engagement. The average was 3.76, which showed that in general most of the 12-year-olds in the study reported positive engagement.  

Key findings of the research are:  

  • Student-teacher relationships and students’ academic efficacy (believing in their own capabilities) had strong positive associations with school engagement.  
  • Cisgender girls had the highest levels of engagement. Young people who were transgender/nonbinary reported the lowest school engagement, compared with cisgender boys and girls, showing schools need more support to foster inclusive environments for all students.  
  • Neurodiverse young people or those with social and emotional difficulties reported lower school engagement, highlighting the need for better practices at schools for these students.  
  • Depression symptoms had a strong negative association with school engagement, indicating that early support for mental wellbeing is vital.  

Positive relationships matter  

The research shows that students who report positive relationships with their teachers are more engaged in school. The research also shows the importance of students’ self-belief as learners, and the need for inclusive school environments.  

Josie Tait, a lead author on the study, said, “We found that positive student-teacher relationships were one of the most important factors for young people’s engagement in school. Students were much more likely to be engaged in learning activities when they felt their teacher listened to them, helped them, respected them, and was fair to them.”  

These findings highlight areas where schools and policy makers can focus efforts to promote attendance and engagement in schools.  

“There needs to be a focus on building connections between teachers and students, so that students feel their unique needs and identities are respected and valued. Schools must be a place where young people feel safe, and where they can see their identity and culture reflected in their school environment.  

“We’d also like to see young people getting more access to services that support mental wellbeing because we found that depression symptoms, like feeling down and feeling lonely, are associated with lowered school engagement.”  

“We want all our young people to thrive. We know that, on average, more engaged students are more motivated learners, have a deeper sense of connection with school, and have better achievement outcomes,” concludes Josie.

Life in lockdown

Snapshot of life for  12-year-olds in Aotearoa

Snapshot of life for 12-year-olds in Aotearoa

In May 2020, 42 percent of eligible 11–12-year-olds in the study completed an online Covid-19 Wellbeing Survey as part of Growing up in New Zealand – a longitudinal study of child development.

Findings about lockdown experiences include:

  • Children showed an impressive ability to adapt to new ways of life, with 64 percent still feeling connected to their school or kura.
  • Some children enjoyed having increased independence, more free time and increased self-regulation in their learning.
  • Device use and screen time was frequent with 76 percent of children using YouTube (most popular app) and 67 percent using devices for school or homework.
  • Children in the least socioeconomically deprived areas reported the highest average screentime during the week (5 hours/day); while children from the most deprived areas reported the highest average screentime during weekends.
  • Engagement with both academic and non-academic activities were key to boosting enjoyment in schooling during lockdowns.
  • Experiences of remote schooling differed across demographic groupings.
  • Lockdown was socially and emotionally challenging for some children who may not have received the support they required andreduced social contact may have had negative implications for mental and emotional wellbeing.

COVID-19 Experiences of the pandemic and young people’s wellbeing can be read here(external link).

More reading

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:00 pm, 3 August 2023

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