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Australian kids losing sense of belonging

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If you want kids to come to school their sense of belonging is key, inclusiveness is the basis of most educational theorists’ ideas about improving school performance.

Australia apparently is still not great at promoting a sense of belonging in schools, according to the latest PISA research we’re in the bottom half of the countries surveyed.

Things are getting worse with Australian students’ sense of belonging declining significantly between PISA 2003 and 2015.

PISA has established a profile of what 15-year-old students can do and what they are like as learners. Gaining an understanding about the non-cognitive aspects, including students’ motivation, engagement and beliefs, for achieving success in school and in the future is another important goal of PISA.

Results for Australia

Australian students, on average, reported having a significantly poorer sense of belonging at school compared to students across the OECD, though a significantly higher proportion of Australian students compared with the OECD average agreed that they made friends easily at school and that other students liked them.

A significantly lower proportion of Australian students than the OECD average agreed that they felt like they belonged at school, however significantly lower proportion of Australian students than the OECD average disagreed that they felt like an outsider or felt left out of things, that they felt awkward and out of place, and that they felt lonely at school.

Students from Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania achieved mean scores on the sense of belonging index that were not significantly different from each other; however, students in Victoria achieved a mean score that was significantly higher than Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Students in New South Wales achieved a mean score that was significantly higher than the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

A sense of belonging organised around gender; male students reported a significantly greater sense of belonging at school than did females.

Unfortunately, and maybe predictably non-Indigenous students reported a significantly greater sense of belonging than Indigenous students.

Students from metropolitan schools reported a significantly greater sense of belonging than students from provincial schools and remote schools, while there was no significant difference in students’ sense of belonging between students from provincial and remote schools.

Students from the highest socioeconomic quartile reported a significantly greater sense of belonging than students in the other three quartiles.

Australian-born students reported a significantly lower sense of belonging than first-generation and foreign-born students, while there were no significant differences in students’ reported sense of belonging between first-generation and foreign-born students.

How sense of belonging is measured in PISA 2015

Sense of belonging ‘has to do with feelings of being accepted and valued by their peers, and by others at their school’. In 2015, PISA collected information on the students’  reports about their sense of belonging at their school. Students were asked to rate their level of agreement, with responses made on a four-point Likert scale: strongly agree; agree; disagree; and

strongly disagree, to the following statements:

  • I feel like an outsider (or left out of things) at school
  • I make friends easily at school
  • I feel like I belong at school
  • I feel awkward and out of place in my school
  • Other students seem to like me
  • I feel lonely at school

The second, third and fifth statements were worded such that ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ indicated a stronger sense of belonging. The first, fourth and sixth items were worded such that ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ indicated a stronger sense of belonging.

Students’ responses to these six statements were combined to construct the Sense of Belonging index.


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