Time Variables Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

On average, students spend more time outside of school than in school and the nature of their daily out-of-school pursuits affects school engagement, academic achievement, and behavioural and cognitive development (Dotterer, McHale, & Crouter, 2007; Jordan & Nettles, 2000; Valentine, Cooper, Bettencourt, & DuBois, 2002). After-school activities that are directly related to learning bolster student achievement; conversely, activities that displace learning, have a negative impact (Cooper, Valentine, Nye, & Lindsay, 1999).

The Learning Bar’s framework on student engagement includes measures of social, institutional, and intellectual engagement. The time variables are a component of social engagement, situated alongside participation in sports and clubs, sense of belonging and making positive friendships at school.

Why is it important?

  • Out of school learning activities, such as reading for pleasure, are linked to higher student achievement (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001).
  • The amount of time students spend watching television is negatively associated with academic achievement (Cooper et al., 1999).
  • Heavy internet use by adolescents is associated with poor mental health (Bélanger, Akre, Berchtold, & Michaud, 2011).
  • Working long part-time hours can result in a decrease in academic achievement (Singh, 1998).

How do we measure it?

In OurSCHOOL, in both the primary and secondary school surveys, students are asked about how much time they spend on a typical week-day:

(a) watching television or videos online,
(b) reading books, eBooks, magazines, comics or newspapers for fun,
(c) using interactive communications technology (ICT) such as a computer, tablet or smartphone for e-mailing, chatting, or playing games, and
(d) talking on the phone or texting friends.

The results are reported as “the average number of hours per day spent watching TV”, “the average number of hours per day spent reading books for fun”, “the average number of hours per day spent using ICT”, and “the average number of hours per day spent using phone”.

In the OurSCHOOL secondary school survey, students are also asked about how much time they spend on a typical week-day working part-time and volunteering. The results are reported as “the average number of hours per day spent working part-time” and “the average number of hours per day spent volunteering”.

For more information how these items are laid out in the survey read our article on Understanding Why Time Variables are Bundled 


Bélanger, R. E., Akre, C., Berchtold, A., & Michaud, P. A. (2011). A U-shaped association between intensity of internet use and adolescent health. Pediatrics, 127(2), e330-e335.

Cooper, H., Valentine, J. C., Nye, B., & Lindsay, J. J. (1999). Relationships between five after-school activities and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2), 369-378.

Dotterer, A. M., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2007). Implications of out-of-school activities for school engagement in African American adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(4), 391-401.

Hofferth, S. L., & Sandberg, J. F. (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(2), 295-308.

Jordan, W. J., & Nettles, S. M. (2000) How students invest their time outside of school: Effects on school-related outcomes. Social Psychology of Education, 3(4), 217-243.

Singh, K. (1998). Part-time employment in high school and its effect on academic achievement. The Journal of Educational Research, 91(3), 131-139.

Valentine, J. C., Cooper, H., Bettencourt, B. A., & DuBois, D. L. (2002). Out-of-school activities and academic achievement: The mediating role of self-beliefs. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 245-256.


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