Why a student's sense of belonging matters

Why a student

Research shows that a student’s sense of belonging plays a significant part in their academic success at school, however a new report shows that this is lacking among Australian students.

The report, released on Wednesday by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) – the managers of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in Australia, asked students to rate their reaction to six statements on how they feel about school.

Student responses (strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree) were combined to construct the sense of belonging index.

This allowed the researchers to compare Australian students with their OECD counterparts and with their peers in different states and territories, socioeconomic groups, and between genders.

Across the full spectrum of PISA participants, students in Spain had the highest levels of sense of belonging. This was followed by students in Austria and Albania.

Students in Turkey had the lowest sense of belonging, followed by students in Macao (China) and the Dominican Republic.

Ten countries were selected for further comparison with Australia. These included seven high-performing countries – Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China) and Singapore – who performed significantly higher in scientific, reading and mathematical literacy than Australia, and three culturally similar English-speaking OECD countries – New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Students in the high-performing countries did not necessarily report a greater sense of belonging than Australian students. Macao (China), Hong Kong (China), Singapore, Canada, Estonia and Japan came in below, and Finland above, the OECD average. Students in the other English-speaking countries also reported a sense of belonging below the OECD average.

Australia performed close to the OECD average on most questions except “other students seem to like me” (88% compared with the OECD average of 82%) and “I feel like an outsider (or left out of things) at school” (77% against the OECD average of 83%).

Fewer Australian students disagreed with the remaining negative statements than the average. This indicates more Australian students feel awkward, out of place, and lonely in school than their OECD peers.

Sue Thomson, ACER's deputy CEO of research, said that for some students, a sense of belonging is indicative of educational success and long-term health and well-being.

“It has also been found to promote positive attitudes towards students’ learning,” Thomson wrote in The Conversation.

“What’s more, students who feel part of, and accepted by, their school community are not only more likely to participate in school activities, both academic and non-academic, but will be actively engaged in these activities.”


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