Jihyun Lee, University of New South Wales Sydney – Student Attitudes Toward Schooling

Good students have a favorable view of school – right?

Jihyun Lee, associate professor in the school of education at The University of New South Wales Sydney, determines why this might not always be the case.

Jihyun is a survey methodologist, applied statistician, and educational psychologist. She is interested in national and international, large-scale assessments. Her main research area is developing methodology to increase psychometric properties and usability of survey instruments. She has developed numerous survey instruments for more than a decades of post-PhD professional services in the US, Singapore, South Korea, and Australia.

Substantively, she investigates theoretical and practical utility of education-related psychological constructs. In her research, a wide range of education-related psychological constructs are reviewed in relation to student achievement in various subject domains (reading, writing and mathematics). The constructs that Dr Lee has most extensively studied are interest, motivation, confidence, attitudes, self-belief, self-efficacy, and anxiety.

Her publications have been on the issues of whether students’ non-cognitive qualities have significant value addedness above and beyond what is expected from assessment results based on cognitive abilities; identification of best non-cognitive predictors of student achievement; validating theoretical frameworks for psychological structure of non-cognitive constructs; developing new methodologies for assessing non-cognitive constructs; improvement of psychometric properties of non-cognitive constructs; evaluating the best evidence to answer these questions in large-scale assessments and more broadly in cross-national assessments.

She comes to UNSW from the National Institute of Education in Singapore, where she worked as Assistant Professor. Prior to that, Jihyun was a key member for test/questionnaire/survey development at Educational Testing Service (ETS), Princeton New Jersey, U.S.A. for several years, working on large-scale projects such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). She was also ETS liaison to the US federal government bureau, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education. She received a PhD in Measurement and Applied Statistics from Columbia University and a Master in Human Development from Harvard School of Education.

Student Attitudes Toward Schooling


It would be logical for us to think that students who are doing well in school would have high opinion about their school experience, and students who are not doing well in school may not see the value of their schooling.

Surprisingly, my research shows that this pattern does not hold. Across the world, students who are doing well in school do not hold particularly positive attitude toward school. Conversely, students who are not doing well in school do not hold particularly negative attitude toward school, either. Therefore, there was no linear relationship between students’ attitude toward school and how they perform academically. The finding was based on data collected through the Programme for International Student Assessment conducted by the OECD, which analyzed responses of 15-year-old students from more than 60 countries.   

Attitude toward school was measured by four items: whether school has been a waste of time and whether school has taught them useful things, prepared them for their adult life, and helped them gain confidence. Students were given four choices (strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree) to answer each of the four statements.

Only three countries (Qatar, Iceland, and Australia) showed a mild positive relationship. Furthermore, in countries such as Germany, Poland, and Israel, the pattern was reversed: brighter students showed more negative attitude toward school than their less bright counterparts. 

Thus, students seem to persist in learning regardless of their attitude toward school. This is not bad news. However, youth’s positive views about a formal institution such as school may later influence their trust in others and, more broadly, their perceptions and desire to build, support, and meet certain societal goals.