PIRLS 2016: correlations between the incidence of bullying, students’ sense of belonging and learning outcomes

13 March 2018

In December 2017, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released at UNESCO Headquarters the results of its 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), conducted amongst Grade 4 students every five years since 2001. Findings also included data on the incidence of bullying and correlation with reading skills.

Incidence of bullying

The 2016 results collected in 50 countries and territories reveal that 29 % and 14% of Grade 4 students reported that they were bullied monthly and weekly, respectively. The percentage of students who said they were bullied weekly ranged from 5% in Finland up to 42% in South Africa.

Correlation of sense of belongingness with not being bullied and learning outcomes

The data suggest that as the incidence of bullying decreases, students’ sense of belongingness to a school increases. Likewise, in most countries, the stronger the students’ sense of belonging, the better their learning outcomes. This relationship is stronger in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and weaker in Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia. While these relationships do not constitute causal links, they draw attention the potential impact of bullying on learning outcomes, which merits further investigation.

Globally, the majority of fourth grade students were in safe school environments, according to their principals and teachers. However, students who attended schools with disorderly environments had much lower achievement than their counterparts did in safe and orderly schools.

This article was prepared based on the recent publication titled; “IEA-UNESCO booklet, Measuring SDG4: how PIRLS can help”  at the request of UNESCO to make available data evidence on the SDG Target 4.a.2. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and should not be attributed to UNESCO.

As the world moves forward on the implementation of the Education 2030 Agenda, UNESCO is committed to monitoring the progress towards the achievement of Target 4.a.2 focusing on School based Violence and Bullying. UNESCO has published its School Violence and Bullying Global Status Report as the reference for prognosis and response framework.