Education and Poverty

How many poor children did you know at school?

A strange question this may seem, but I came across an article on the BBC news website, where it was claimed that a third of the poorest pupils do not have internet at home. This item was astounding in that this fact even had to be stated in the first place. Even more insulting was that the phrase ‘official figures suggest’ was used. How on earth is it news to some ears that, shock horror… not all students have internet at home. Hold the front page(!)

It wasn’t so long ago at all that I was at school, but it was a time when books were still valued and the internet was seen as a luxury tool used to aid education. Now, I see my sister coming back from school with mathematics homework that is only accessible from the internet. I almost wanted to weep when she asked for my laptop and said she ‘needed’ it otherwise she would not be able to complete her maths homework. I know that cloud computing has arrived now, but surely asking youngsters to go online to access the cloud to work instead of giving them square filled exercise books, is taking the technological advancement too far.

Joking aside, this whole news story made me think deeper about the subject of poverty in education. How can some people be so ignorant to realise that hardship is real, and worse still, need a report from the Office of National Statistics to demonstrate this. Are we so caught up in our own ‘first world problems’ as they are called now, to realise that there are households up and down the country who don’t have enough to pay for heating, let alone a broadband package? Is it really so surprising that schools in an area of the UK have piloted a scheme to provide breakfasts for children who for one reason or another arrive at school hungry? Does the constant consumerism buzz detract from the uncomfortable fact that some families still have to receive vouchers to use as tender for school uniform? Poverty is real dear readers and no amount of data or ‘statistics’ can really explain how difficult it is to grow up in a poor household while trying to study. Only human  awareness will combat this.

What can teachers and education professionals do? Look out for signs that a child may need help. If a pupil continually arrives empty-handed, without that weekly bit of internet research, don’t chastise the child. Ask if they can think of another research method. You never know if they only have one computing device to share between four children as is the case in my home right now, or if they even have a computer or laptop at all. Be sensitive. A child doesn’t want to be different from their peers. Don’t point out that they may be lacking in some way because of the absence of some sort of expensive gadget. Find another way to handle tasks if necessary,  even if it means grouping children to complete research together. Most importantly, do not be ignorant. The fact is poor people exist, and not just in monetary terms. It may seem ludicrous, but there are children who may not have access to an actual thing such as a computer or even access to a guardian who values schoolwork or encourages them.

My sister has access to the internet, but I wonder of those in her class who may not have internet at home, or the money to pop into the local internet cafe. Of course, the school library is available, but it is not always an option when one wants their 11-year-old to come straight home instead of trying to navigate their way through the dark-by-4pm streets in winter. An understanding of these things can make a difference and help a child to be supported with the right types of help.

A big part of a child trying to learn is his or her background, however this is not always a prerequisite for success/failure. Coming from a certain socio-economic background does not always mean a child will have a certain outcome. I never had a desk until I went away for university and completed 14 years worth of homework (and coursework) on the floor, but I was not condemned to an unsuccessful ending.  Yet this is because of the aspirations I held for myself and most importantly, these were underpinned by the aspirations my mother held for me. We must always encourage a child to believe he or she should do their best and can achieve anything as some don’t only lack money, but also belief.

Children come to school with dirty and outgrown clothes. Children can steal from other pupils’ lunchboxes to prevent themselves from going hungry. Children may not participate in the non school uniform day because they can’t afford the pound for charity. I witnessed all of these things happen to people when I was at school. Poverty in education is no news to me. I can only hope that this strange news story has increased awareness of child poverty, to ensure it soon won’t be news to others.

Happy new year.

Broadcast Belle Fact: There are many differing views on the types of poverty and various definitions, but not one has been definitively agreed so far.

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