Student Wellbeing Conceptualisation and Practice: Policy Overview, Stakeholders’ Perceptions and a Proposed Evaluation Tool for UAE Private Schools

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
There is a world-wide increasing interest in the study of wellbeing of children and its related practices in the context of schools. Policy efforts have also been witnessed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to engage public and private organisations in the promotion and measurement of wellbeing among individuals and communities. Despite the resulting academic and policy interest that revolves around wellbeing, it is still a narrowly defined concept that lacks definition and practice guidance. This study investigates conceptualisation of student wellbeing and related practices in the UAE private school sector through (1) identifying and analysing the relevant policy frame that guides student wellbeing promotion, (2) exploring the perceptions of parents, teachers, school leaders and students regarding their understanding of student wellbeing and the practices followed by schools to enhance it, (3) determining significant factors that underline student wellbeing conceptualisation and practices, and (4) proposing a tool to facilitate schools’ self-evaluation and enhancement of student wellbeing. A multi-disciplinary theoretical framework was adopted. A sequential multilevel triangulated mixed methods research design was applied through the conduction of 617 online surveys and administration of 43 semi-structured and open-ended interviews with teachers, parents and school leaders in addition to open-ended questions to 92 students. Factor analysis findings indicate five main latent factors underline the conceptualisation domain and explain 75.099% of the total variance, whilst five main latent factors underline the practices domain and explain 71.407% of the total variance. All identified factors and the composite tool demonstrate adequate construct validity and internal consistency. Other findings indicate that most stakeholders understand student wellbeing as a multi-dimensional concept that is important but not consistently and systematically promoted in the private schools. Adopted policies are increasingly geared towards valuing wellbeing; however, they do not provide a clear definition of student wellbeing and do not ensure coherent and consistent guidance about priorities and practices to follow in schools. Stakeholders identify a need to build capacity, knowledge and communication in these areas. This thesis contributes with a culturally oriented conceptual framework that interlink policies and stakeholders’ perceptions to student wellbeing conceptualisation and practices. The initial results obtained from the developed Student Wellbeing Evaluation & Enhancement Tool (SWEET) are considered a relevant addition to the field of education and based on the context of the UAE private school sector. It is hoped that the findings of the thesis as a pioneering research study in this rather virgin area in this region will pave the way for further studies and support cross-cultural research.
student wellbeing, evaluation tool, UAE private schools, United Arab Emirates (UAE)