New data reveal inequalities in homeschooling and mental health of Slovenian adolescents

Slovenian adolescents from lower income households faced significant barriers to homeschooling in 2020, finds the WHO/Europe’s collaborative Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study. These adolescents also experienced greater feelings of loneliness than those from more affluent families.

In Slovenia, as across the WHO European Region, measures were taken to control the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of adolescents. School closures and restrictions on the movement affected their schooling and social interactions, distancing them from their peers and their primary social setting at this age. These measures did not affect all young people equally and had more serious consequences for particular vulnerable groups.

In autumn 2020, the HBSC team at the National Institute of Public Health conducted a survey to investigate the health behaviors and experiences of Slovenian adolescents during lockdown that spring and upon their return to school that autumn. The study collected data from 3052 adolescents aged 14 and 18 years.

Poor homeschooling conditions for adolescents from less affluent families

The study reveals inequalities in Slovenian adolescents’ homeschooling experience during lockdown in 2020. It finds that adolescents from less affluent families had suboptimal homeschooling environments, including a lack of personal space at home for studying and inadequate support for schoolwork.

Roughly 15% of adolescents did not have a dedicated space at home for schoolwork, especially those from non-nuclear families or those with an unemployed parent.

Approximately 10% of adolescents reported infrequent access to electronic devices, online tools and social media and communication platforms, with higher percentages being observed among those from non-nuclear families.

In addition, 26.6% of adolescents reported receiving little to no support from teachers and parents for their schoolwork during lockdown, particularly those from less wealthy families.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation are higher among adolescents from poorer households

“Adolescents from less affluent families not only have to deal with unfavorable homeschooling conditions, but they are also more likely to experience negative emotions such as loneliness, isolation and poor mental well-being. These factors can create significant challenges for their overall development,” says Dr. Helena Jeriček Klanšček, national coordinator of the HBSC study in Slovenia.

One in five adolescents reported feeling lonely frequently and rarely feeling a sense of belonging with their friends, while 16% reported never or rarely having someone to talk to. Adolescents from non-nuclear family structures and those from lower socioeconomic status households were more likely to feel lonely and experience social isolation.

These findings indicate that adolescents from less affluent families are a vulnerable group that requires continued attention and support to ensure equal access to education, well-being and healthy lifestyles during and after the pandemic. Addressing inequalities in these areas will require targeted prevention and support programmes.

“To reduce loneliness and promote healthy living, schools and governments and nongovernmental organizations must prioritize the needs of less affluent families and youth in their policies, programs and initiatives. By providing improved opportunities for education and social support, society can help to reduce disparities and ensure a brighter future for all adolescents,” added Dr. Helena Jeriček Klanšček.

About the HBSC survey

The HBSC study is a cross-national study of the health and well-being of adolescents across Europe and Canada, conducted in close collaboration with WHO/Europe. The survey is undertaken every 4 years for 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds.

The survey in Slovenia, financed by the Ministry of Health and supported by the Ministry of Education, was part of a series of national surveys conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic in countries across the Region, which WHO/Europe will release over the next months .

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