Feng, Y. (2007) Are the voices of students heard: a case study of the impact of parental and school expectations on the emotional well-being of students in China. Paper presented to: British Educational Research Association New Researchers/Student Conference (BERA), Institute of Education, University of London, 5-8 September 2007.
Parental and school expectations on children can be influenced by a range of factors (Marjoribanks, 2005, Short, et al. 2001, Chen, et al. 1997, Forrester, et al. 2006). Whether children could eventually meet the expectations depends on their understanding of the expectations, their social and cultural background and their cognitive and behavioural development (Vygotsky 1978, Little, 2005, Canney and Byrne, 2006, McInerney, 2005, Tardif and Miao, 2000, Webster-Stratton, 2002, Aldgate, et al 2006, Jones, 2003, 2006). To illuminate the complexity of issues related to parental and school expectations and the relationships between expectations and students’ emotional well-being, this essay focuses on the identification of the impact of the expectations on the emotional well-being of middle school students in China. Taken the concerns that students may vary in interpreting the expectations, the author investigates the perceptions from students on the expectations. The research aims, first, to provide opportunities for students to articulate their perspectives on the expectations; second, to draw attention from the educators, families and society as a whole to the emotional well-being of students and finally to provide implications for promoting emotional well-being through empowerment. Currently, an overwhelming amount of research shows that emotions are very much part of the life experience and the knowledge of it can lead to success (Buchanan and Hudson, 2000, Salisch, 2001, Goleman, 1996, 2002). Giving children a voice makes them visible in decision-making processes (Jeffs, 1986). The last two decades has witnessed a significant shift from professional ‘knowing best’ towards a culture where students have their views listened and respected to. The shift in the 1980s from advocacy to self-advocacy is seen as a natural extension of the process of empowerment (Garner and Sandow, 1995). The Encouraging Voices Project (Shevlin and Rose, 2003) highlights this shift to a much greater extent. Through empowerment, some research (Canney and Byrne, 2006, Kelly, 1999) demonstrates that children with emotional and behavioural difficulties seem to bring about a marked positive change. Under the current educational reform in China, there is also a call for the listening and responding to student voices. However, research has not yet attached great importance on children’s perspectives because very little exist that describe the feelings and thoughts of children (Sherman 1996). Empirical research has not been conducted as much as that in the developed countries (Wo, 2000, Wo, et al. 2003). The researcher analyses data qualitatively drawn on a questionnaire survey and a semi-structured in-depth interview with a case from junior middle schools in China. She also incorporates multi-methods approach of written work and journal analysis in data triangulation. The self-reflective thinking and perceptions of the researcher as a Chinese parent and educator is also scrutinised. The findings indicate that students regard expectations as either motivations or pressure depending on the nature and degree of expectations. Whilst some students feel quite supported by their parents and schools when communicating about expectations, a large number of students still find it difficult to be understood or listened to. This inevitably influences their emotional well-being negatively. The findings are consistent with much of the previous research conducted internationally but reveal some significant factors which indicate the area of the correlation between student voices and the impact of expectations on them needs further exploring in China. The findings are discussed in light of Chinese cultural values and their influence on the expectations for students. With this small scale research, the author tends to argue that there should also be a paradigm shift in the Chinese educational system in terms of empowerment to students.