"Non scholae, sed amicis discimus!"

Why students go to school.
Friends are key to enjoyment of school.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, something became evident in a way that hadn't been seen so clearly before: students missed their school. Typically, it's assumed that students aren't particularly fond of going to school and might wonder, "Why should I go to school?" The Seneca Study attempts to delve into this question and arrives at an interesting conclusion:

'At the Chair of Educational Science at the University of Augsburg, a larger group of students was surveyed about their main motive for going to school. The study is named after Seneca, who criticized schools with his statement "Non vitae, sed scholae discimus." He believed that much of what was taught in schools was irrelevant and nonsensical for the younger generation. Since then, the transition to "Non scholae, sed vitae discimus" has been considered a pedagogical call to bring more relevance to life into schools and teaching. In total, in 2021, over 2,200 students from grades 7 to 12 were asked to evaluate whether it's the joy of learning at school (educational reason), escaping from home (family reason), or friends (social reason) that most motivate them to go to school.'

Across all classes, peers come first: 93 percent of students indicate that friends are the determining reason why they enjoy going to school. Only 72 percent agree that they enjoy going to school because they learn there. Given the long period during which adolescents had to stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the survey also asked whether students were excited to finally get out of the house. Only 24 percent agreed with this.

The result shows that across all grade levels, peers are the most important catalysts for educational processes. Against this background, the phrase inspired by Seneca and often quoted, "Non scholae, sed vitae discimus." must be corrected to read: "Non scholae, sed amicis discimus." So, we learn not for school, but for friends.

It's noteworthy that the mentioned agreements vary depending on the age of the students: Friends, learning, and getting out of the house each reach their highest agreement in the 7th and 12th grades, while the 10th grade sees the lowest point: Going to school for learning is only considered by 55 percent in this age group. Obviously, between 15 and 16 years old, many things are far more important than school, and school loses its significance as a place of life. One reason for this is seen in the abundance of curriculum content that appears almost meaningless to many students. The Seneca Study thus confirms the well-known Jenkins Curve, named after the educational researcher Lee Jenkins. This curve had teachers assess how much joy students have in school learning. According to his analysis, it starts high at the beginning of the school career, then steadily declines to about 30 percent agreement, before slightly increasing towards the end.

Especially in times when, as a result of unchecked digitization, more and more learning takes place individually and in front of a computer, this result is important. Because education is more than just imparting knowledge, and it's crucial to ensure that social interactions are not severed. Otherwise, not only does further decline in academic performance threaten, as PISA 2022 underscores from a global perspective, but also the integrity of educational processes as a whole. Additionally, schools must continuously ask themselves how to instill a lifelong attitude towards learning. This is at the heart of the educational mission and responsibility.

Image by Scott Webb