Low socioeconomic status​ students

It is important to emphasise that an inclusive teaching approach does not entail singling out low socioeconomic status (LSES) students, but rather understanding that students from LSES backgrounds form a significant proportion of enrolments (around 13%) and that your teaching practice is paramount to how they encounter and experience their tertiary studies.
In other words, it not about who in your class is LSES but asking yourself: ‘What can I do differently to meet the needs of all of my students?

Ways of knowing your students

What are the challenges these students face? How might you as a teacher provide a learning environment that offers them the best chance at not only retention but success?

Students are identified as having ‘LSES background’ if the home location they provided on their enrolment form is in the lowest socioeconomic quartile of the population, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It is an imprecise description for individual students, but is used to keep track of overall trends in outcomes for this group.

Build awareness of LSES students’ contexts and challenges, as well as acknowledging the skills and knowledge they bring to university. This helps foster a greater sense of student belonging and engagement through making them feel valued and respected.

We are not always aware when people are struggling financially or whether they have overcome financial hardship in their lives. However, it is important to recognise our own financial privilege where relevant. Language matters: instead of referring to ‘disadvantaged’ areas or students, the term ‘financially disadvantaged’ is clearer; also, the term ‘financially advantaged’ may be appropriate to recognise the advantages that some people have.

Challenges often faced by students with financial hardship

Students who are experiencing financial hardship may struggle to complete work on time as they may also be working to support their study and having difficulties balancing work and study. They may also have to wait to borrow books for their assignments if they can’t afford to buy these. They may not have extra time to put into some activities and may not have the flexibility of more financially advantaged students to engage with relevant extra-curricular activities.

In addition, if students come from a background in which financial disadvantage has been entrenched, they may:

  • come with a diversity of student preparedness and social capital
  • be unfamiliar with the successful higher education student role as many are the first in their families (referred to as ‘first in family’ students) to go to university
  • have expectations of university life that do not reflect the reality. Such disjunct can create a sense of alienation and lack of belonging and impede their academic journey.
  • find the tacit expectations and language of the university challenging and present difficulties.

(Devlin, Kift, Nelson et al. 2012 CC 3.0)

Ways of offering your students flexibility, variety and choice

Having learned about you students and being aware about challenges faced by students with financial hardship there are a range of approaches you can take to be more inclusive for all students. While upholding academic standards, offer LSES students flexibility, choice in assessment and variety in teaching and learning strategies. The aim is not to ‘dumb down’ but to enhance learning and success in ways that assist students to negotiate their individual challenges and constraints. You can achieve this by offering your students flexibility, variety and choice by teaching with technology, employing a wide range of teaching strategies, making teaching and learning interactive while also offering choice and flexibility in assessment design. To dive deeper into these approaches, check out the information below.

Ways of making expectations clear using accessible language

Having considered flexibility variety and choice it is also important to make expectations clear and to scaffold your students’ learning. Look at this as constructing a framework through which different learners can navigate your content. When setting expectations for your students be sure to use clear and accessible language, use examples, avoid jargon, review your teaching practice and asking for feedback to see how well things are working. When scaffolding your students’ learning take a step-by-step approach to teaching to ensure students build on what they bring to higher education and are taught the particular discourses necessary to succeed. The term ‘scaffolded learning’ takes its name from the idea of a support structure that is gradually removed as the central entity becomes strong enough to stand on its own. Scaffolded learning refers to learning that is tailored to meet student needs, helps students reach their learning goals and provides the necessary degree of support to assist students in their learning. When scaffolding your learning consider what extra or different resources you could use to supplement your teaching, create a developmental staged approach to assessment promote formal and informal peer learning, promote student mentoring and be sure to provide formative feedback.

Ways of making the online learning environment inclusive

In addition to being available, be approachable so that students feel comfortable seeking your expertise and guidance to improve their learning and performance. Make time for your students, be friendly, check in, offer help in online learning spaces, direct students to support services and provide formative feedback and feed forward. Direct to student support services where appropriate. Familiarise yourself with the wide range of student support services that are available, including the Disability Resource Centre, and those provided by the Division of Student Life, such as: Academic and Peer Support, Career Education, and Health and Wellbeing.

Online learning presents different challenges to the provision of inclusive education. Based on extensive Australian and UK research, Cathy Stone (2016) notes that teacher presence is vital to building an inclusive online learner community that encourages students to feel a sense of acknowledgementbelonging, and connectedness.

Reflect on your practice

Reflect and seek to act on your own reflections, those from peers and feedback from students, to continuously improve your teaching practice and your students’ learning. You can do this by reflecting on each class, seeking informal feedback, reviewing your online interaction as well as formal feedback.

Read about a student’s success story: The Next Chapter—Ruby Walsh (NCSEHE 2019).


Be sure to see below to find out more about teaching and supporting lower socioeconomic status students.


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