Creating student communities beyond the classroom

In the current climate of globalisation, the ESL student represents the largest and fastest-growing segment of the adult education population. Australia is ranked the fourth destination for English learning. This rise in the ESL student population in Australia means that more students need support engaging within their new communities.

You can watch the full recording of Athanassia Iosifidou’s presentation on how to engage international students more widely with the community here. Keep reading for a summary of the ideas below.

Education is more than just teaching

From primary through to high school, teachers play a major role in students’ lives. They are not only concerned with the academic progress of students, but also other facets of their learning journey such as well-being and social acceptance.

By contrast, in adult education, it’s more accepted that adults ‘have got this’, and teachers don’t need to be concerned with students’ well-being or social acceptance outside the classroom; their focus is in the classroom, especially on their academic performance in English.

Education is not only teaching; it is growth, inclusion, understanding, well-being, development and much more. By providing students a fuller experience at school, their well-being can be improved inside and outside the classroom. One way to add to the student experience outside the classroom is to provide a social activities program in the school.

What can we do to support students?

I conducted a preliminary study on students’ and teachers’ perceptions of opportunities for engagement outside the classroom. The results suggest that there is a disconnect between what the school thinks the students want and what the students actually want. This highlights the importance for schools in valuing the student voice if they are to provide appropriate and desired opportunities to engage with the community.

The following charts reveal the responses from teachers (13) and students (24) when asked about the current opportunities provided for students to engage with the local community.

These kinds of activities provide students with a social setting to link them up to broader social structures and contexts for developing new skills and negotiating social identities (Pretty et al., 2006). It is often assumed that adult students will participate in events outside of school (such as the ones listed) and make the most of their time in their new surroundings, however this does not always happen in reality. This is where schools have a big part to play.

The following charts reveal the responses from teachers (13) and students (24) when asked about potential opportunities that could be provided for students to engage with the local community.

Opportunities for community engagement that teachers and students were interested in incorporating included language exchange, guided tours, volunteering, sport competitions, and meeting with locals.

The role of schools in fostering community

As schools are often the first, and sometimes the only point of contact for ESL students when they arrive in a new country, they can provide a significant stepping stone for creating a sense of belonging.

There are various benefits in ensuring that students feel part of the community within which they live. Beyond schooling, being involved with the community can help make it easier for students to find a job, meet locals, and contribute to the community.

Students who are left struggling in their new environment may affect others in the community around them including their family and peers.This means that schools have a responsibility to the community to support their students.

What’s next?

Different students and schools have different needs and responding to these differences is vital in creating welcoming and accepting environments where all parties feel a sense of belonging and well-being.

It could be worthwhile for schools to run their own surveys and implement social activities calendars depending on their students’ responses. One activity could be implemented at a time and be evaluated as a starting point for schools to provide engagement opportunities for their students.

To continue the conversation, contact Athanassia Iosifidou, or share your thoughts and ideas via Yammer, Twitter or LinkedIn.


  • Pretty, G., Bishop, B., Fisher, A., & Sonn, C. (2006). Psychological sense of community and its relevance to well-being and everyday life in Australia (Doctoral dissertation). Available from The Australian Psychological Society Ltd, Melbourne.