Self Esteem and Academic Success

The current school system is designed in a very straight forward, almost formulaic manner. Follow the curriculum, complete the assignments, study and perform well on the exams, and proceed to the next grade if the grades met were satisfactory. Early adolescence is a period that places the student in a stew of erratic emotions, surging hormones, and unanswered questions. Thus, it is no surprise to find out that the black and white design of the current educational institution does not mesh with the adolescent process of brain and body development. While primary education establishes an environment that is caring and supportive (in most cases), it seems that teaching academic independence to prepare for high school takes precedent over catering to the valid emotions and changes that middle school aged adolescents are going through. It is the introduction to serious standardized testing, and as a result, the multiple ways of answering a problem in primary school gets whittled down to only using learning methods that cater to passing the standardized tests.

During the discussions that took place on Wednesday morning, a common trend in the conversation was how to foster self esteem in juvenile and adolescent students while still achieving academic success. During the conversation, there was a consensus that the object of education should be learning, and not being indoctrinated into a culture of confidence destroying academic success. A study from the University of Michigan states that at least eighty percent of first year university students based at least some of their self worth on grade performance. Surprisingly (sarcasm) even though the university students that were sampled from based their self worth on the grades they received, “having their self worth on the line didn’t help their performance.” (Dittman, 2002)

If first year, or “freshman” university students already base their self worth — and futher, their health– on academic grading, clearly it was a thought process that was planted in their brain earlier in their academic career. In the educator’s guide by Jeb Schenck on Teaching and the Adolescent Brain, he devotes a whole chapter to the emotional process of early adolescents, and ways that educators can start to cater their curriculum to work with these processes– not against them. Emotions affect learning, and learning is normally inseparable from emotion. Emotional changes within the body have varying degrees of intensity of intensity, but emotions can also range from pleasant to unpleasant. In turn, these emotions can be used to remember different lessons.

In a separate article more related to self esteem and academic success, it has been proven that children who perform poorly academically have large means of protecting their self-confidence. This is apparent in conversational phrases such as “I don’t care”, “I don’t know when I’m going to use this?” “This is boring.” These deflections are created to mask the deep rooted insecurity instilled by years of standardized testing and the traditional academic model. On the other side of the academic spectrum, when students who perform successfully in the traditional educational model face harder challenges and get lower grades than they were used to, they are not used to the academic “failure” so they have no masks in place to deal with the disappointment. What can occur instead is that the tendency to take it as a reflection on their self worth. (Alves-Martin, et al. 2002)

Uzunkul and Yel suggest that the solution to preserving self esteem in the current academic system is to scrap the traditional institution, and build something called a “value education program” instead. The purpose of the value education program is to base education on respect, responsibility, self-esteem, social problem solving skills, and empathy. While the hypothesis for the paper was based on the academic achievement of grade three students, I think the data collected can be used to re-test their hypothesis on an adolescent group of students. The experiment compared the academic achievement of grade three students who were being taught under the value education program, versus the traditional institutionalized program. It became apparent that not only did the grade three students in the experimental group perform better academically, they also graduated grade three with better interpersonal skills, reasoning, metacognition, and the rest of the values demonstrated by the teacher. (Uzonkol & Yel, 2016) One way this experiment could have been improved is that the experimenters found that when the value education system was put into place, some teachers would choose to teach certain morals and not others. The solution to this kind of harmful behaviour is using the actual values outlined in the value education system with out improvisation. Once guidelines are put into place, it is possible that this value education program could lead to decreased extrinsic motivation, decreased social loafing, and an increased chance to actually learn and absorb the content they are taught instead of the traditional binge and purge of information.

Academic Sources:

Alves-Martins, M., Peixoto, F., Gouveia-Pereira, M., Amaral, V., & Pedro, I. (2002). Self-esteem and Academic Achievement Among Adolescents. Educational Psychology22(1), 51–62.

Dittman, M. (2002). Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences. Journal of Social Issues (Vol. 58, No. 3). Retrieved from

Schenck, J. (2011). Teaching and the Adolescent Brain :An Educators’s Guide. New York, W.W.Norton &  Company.

Uzunkol, E., & Yel, S. (2016). Effect of value education program applied in life studies lesson on self-esteem, social problem-solving skills and empathy levels of students. Egitim Ve Bilim, 41(183) Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “Self Esteem and Academic Success

  1. Pingback: Alberta’s Code 80 Program: The Way We Handle Gifted Youth | An Exploration Into Psychology of Education: Anthony Devasahayam

  2. Pingback: Rough Draft Classroom Plan | An Exploration Into Psychology of Education: Anthony Devasahayam

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