Australian students are becoming increasingly disengaged at school – here's why

February 5, 2016 by Pearl Subban, Monash University, The Conversation
How can we keep students engaged at school? Credit:

Around one in five Australian school students don't find school engaging, which means they are less likely to learn properly.. It's an issue that tends to worsen as students become older.

A study showed that in year 7, 70% of observed found engaging, but in year 9, this dropped to 55%.

Part of the reason is that the brightest kids are not being challenged enough, leading to students becoming disconnected and disengaged from their studies.

Disengagement has resulted in Australian classrooms becoming rowdier and bullying becoming more prevalent.

A 2012 study revealed that just 60% of students in South Australian secondary schools found school engaging. While over two thirds of teachers reported disengaged behaviours on an "almost daily basis".

Why are students not engaged at school?

There are many possible reasons for disengagement. Among these are the possibilities that the tasks being set are too challenging or too boring resulting in students being easily distracted; or that lessons being taught are perceived as uninteresting or irrelevant.

This has marked implications for the academic progress of these students, who are then at risk of dropping out of school prior to completion.

Disengagement can lead to dropping out

Around 25% of disengaged young people do not complete school, with some variation nationally from primary to secondary school. This should be concerning.

Of the 25% who did not complete school in 2013-14, one in four students indicated that they did not like school, with some indicating that their disinterest was on account of not doing well.

Of concern is the quietly disengaged student, who sometimes goes unnoticed because they are usually compliant, but not as productive as they could be.

How to make students more engaged

While engaged students are keen to perform well, achieve highly, and consequently look forward to successful post-school lives, disengagement can lead to poorer academic performance for some students, and therefore limited success. This can in turn affect their quality of life.

Personalised learning approach

Teaching children in the same way means some of the brightest kids often are not challenged enough. Personalised learning has been identified as one of the essentials to school success. This involves using individually designed strategies which tap into student strengths to help increase the level of student engagement. This could include, using open learning spaces, student developed timetables and behaviour guidelines.

Add sense of purpose to learning

Getting students involved with projects and using real-life scenarios could contribute to a sense of ownership and bring enjoyment to learning. Through these approaches, students are more likely to feel that school is relevant, important and prepares them meaningfully for life outside school.

Foster student wellbeing

Positive interactions between teachers and students can help create classroom stability, feelings of security and overall gratification with the learning process. Forming positive relationships at school can also contribute towards a student's emotional and social wellbeing.

Teachers need to compare their strategies with their peers in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the different methods they use to increase student engagement at schools.

Explore further: Gifted students could be accelerated to keep them challenged

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2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 05, 2016
When school leads to more school, and it is all the child knows and understands, it's pretty damned difficult to convince them to be 'engaged' in something that feels and looks like an enforced slavery.

School has no context for those who've suffered under it's umbrella for their entire lives.
2.8 / 5 (5) Feb 05, 2016
When school leads to more school, and it is all the child knows and understands, it's pretty damned difficult to convince them to be 'engaged' in something that feels and looks like an enforced slavery.

School has no context for those who've suffered under it's umbrella for their entire lives.

I'b be very curious to know what the basis for this comment is. I find this comment to be much like I would imagine the first communication from a life form from another galaxy to be like - you know there is some sort of meaning there, but you also know that the meaning comes from a source no human could ever understand.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2016
Part of what leads to that disengagement is a as stated above, a lack of context against which students can understand the subject matter.

Try as we might, that context is still very difficult to bring in to the class room. Some students, like me, learned through summer jobs. Summer jobs these days are considerably limited. The list of places where it is "safe" for a teen to work is not all that large.

So they sit there, look at reading, math, history, and science, and they wonder what it's all for. It seems pretty plain to them, from their limited understanding of the world around them, that none of these things will be needed when they graduate.

Or will they? And then we wonder why STEM oriented students are less and less common...
Manfred Particleboard
3 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2016
Apologies in advance for an' In my day...' anecdote, however; I grew up when I could pull TV sets apart and make high voltage systems. Or buy ingredients by the sackful for rocket fuel and pyrotechnics, no one blinked an eye. These and other 'Interesting' projects were the basis for my education. I learnt chemistry, electronics, physics and mathematics because I had something to use them for. Then the Bubble Wrap Brigade arrived with the Fun Police; they stuffed game consoles in just about every kids hand and now look where we are.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2016
Ideally we would enable curiosity driven learning in the classroom. That could capture a few more of the minds but there will always be some who find it a struggle to be locked indoors for 7 hours a day. Some kids just need to get out there to work and suffer a bit of adulthood to know what they might be interested in. Luckily we always need cannon fodder and our prison industrial complex definitely appreciates a full house of payed guests.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2016
Why are students not engaged at school?

Cuz it's not challenging in a FUN way, anymore...
My experience was similar. Therefore my opinion is, as well....
Did the "cannon fodder" thing, but was signal, so I actually got something out of it. Thankfully, missed the prison industry route...:-)
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2016
Additionally, kids have so much crap to entertain them, these days, BEFORE they even get to school.
I call it -
"Environmentally Induced ADHD"
not rated yet Feb 06, 2016
The issue is, "why are Australian students not engaged at school?" The answer is pretty clear. Australian kids are beset by distraction. There is a tempting life out there that seems preferential to going to school. There are 300 legal brothels in Australia. Every boy wants to be a surfer. Drugs and alcohol are a vital component in Australian teenage culture.

You have to remember the Australians' roots. They were for the most part Tye "A's" with notoriously independent streaks. For may it was a choice between prison or emigration. What exists there now is an overly permissive culture with far too many temptations for the youngster. School becomes a secondary priority to getting kicks.

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