Student background key in motivation to achieve

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Recent research shows there are higher levels of student motivation in Australia compared to other OECD countries, but significant differences in student motivation based on cultural and geographical background persist.

Last month, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) launched a new report on data from the 2015 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which finds there are higher levels of student motivation in Australia compared to other OECD countries (Underwood, 2018).

In Australia, student’s achievement motivation[1] – that is, their ambition, drive, effort and persistence – is higher than 26 out of the 35 OECD countries surveyed.

While the results for students in Australia are high relative to other OECD countries, students from some CALD backgrounds and regional/remote communities are disproportionately lower in their levels of achievement motivation compared to their peers.

“The data show that disadvantage associated with an Indigenous background, low socioeconomic status and living in a rural or remote area is related to lower motivation levels,” notes ACER Deputy CEO (Research) Dr Sue Thomson.

“This is important because motivation to achieve plays a key role in educational success, and in an individual’s drive to set and attain education and career goals” (Australian Council for Educational Research, 2018).

Key findings for Australia

  • Student motivation differs by socioeconomic background, with a greater portion of students from the highest socioeconomic quartile agreeing with the statement ‘I want top grades in most or all of my courses’ compared to students in the lowest socioeconomic quartile.
  • Students born overseas show a particularly high motivation, with 83% agreeing to the statement ‘I want to be one of the best students in my class’, compared to 71% of Australian-born students (Underwood, 2018).
  • Scientific literacy is significantly stronger in students with higher achievement motivation, equating to nearly 2 years of schooling. This difference was larger in Australia than on average across the OECD.
  • A higher portion of students in Australia agreed with the statement ‘I want to be the best, whatever I do’ than the OECD average (87% and 65% respectively).
  • Students in Tasmania have significantly lower levels of achievement motivation than in other states and territories across Australia, though still much higher than the OECD average.

Teach For Australia is working to achieve a future where all students, regardless of background, tap into their motivation, drive and ability to set and work toward ambitious goals, within and outside of the classroom.

We know that teachers play a key role in providing appropriately challenging learning opportunities, engaging students in active learning that is both rigorous and relevant to their interests and the real world, and creating a supportive learning environment.

As such, our Leadership Development Program views student engagement as an act of leaders creating leaders. We name and reinforce some of the key mindsets that drive student engagement such as high expectations for all students, belief in their potential to be deep thinkers and high achievers, and an orientation towards being a leader in the classroom.

“Establishing and nurturing a culture for learning is key to student engagement, so we teach explicit strategies that promote deep thinking, conveying the value and relevance of content to students, and creating rich learning experiences that support students’ autonomy, connectedness, and mastery,” explains Michael Witter, Director of National Curriculum at Teach For Australia.

“We believe that teachers who view themselves as the leaders in their classroom empower students to view themselves as leaders of their learning, which is the heart of positive student engagement.”

The success of this approach is highlighted in our news and stories from our community, which showcases many examples of our Associates and Alumni fostering ambition and drive in their classrooms across Australia.

[1] This finding was drawn from student responses on a four-point Likert scale (strong agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree) to the following statements:

  • I want top grades in most or all of my courses.
  • I want to be able to select from among the best opportunities available when I graduate.
  • I want to be the best, whatever I do.
  • I see myself as an ambitious person.
  • I want to be one of the best students in my class.


Australian Council for Educational Research. (2018). Australian students motivated to achieve – but some more motivated than others. Retrieved from https://rd.acer.org/article/australian-students-motivated-to-achieve-but-some-more-motivated-than-other

Underwood,, C. (2018). PISA Australia in Focus Number 3: Motivation. Australian Council for Educational Research.

Thomson, S., De Bortoli, L., & Underwood, C. (2016). PISA 2015: A first look at Australia’s results. Australian Council for Educational Research.

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