Low socioeconomic status 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
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
Ways of making expectations clear using accessible language
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 acknowledgement, belonging, and connectedness.
Reflect on your practice
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.