How Poverty Affects Learning
Education’s role in improving the lives of the global poor has been well documented. However, researchers have been exploring the reverse — how poverty affects learning and a child’s education.

The Ontario Child Health Study concluded in its research that there is a “direct link between lack of income and chronic health problems, psychiatric disorders and social and academic functions.”

Additional research provided evidence that poverty decreases a child’s school readiness through six factors: the incidence of poverty, the depth of poverty, the duration of poverty, the timing of poverty, the concentration of poverty and crime in a student’s community and the impact of poverty on social networks.

Children from families with lower incomes score significantly lower on vocabulary and communication skills assessments, as well as on their knowledge of numbers and ability to concentrate. Furthermore, their counterparts in higher-income households outperform them in copying and symbol use, and in cooperative play with other children. Students with lower income are more likely to leave school without graduating.

Experts refer to the relationship between socioeconomic status and academic performance as the “socioeconomic gradient.”

According to author Eric Jensen, although “children raised in poverty rarely choose to behave differently,” poverty affects learning because they face challenges their affluent counterparts never see. “Their brains have adapted to suboptimal conditions in ways that undermine good school performance,” Jensen writes.

A child’s formation of new brain cells will slow down and the neural circuitry will create emotional dysfunctions if a child’s primary needs are not met at an early age.

Typically, children from low-income families suffer from parental inconsistency, frequent childcare changes, lack of adult supervision and lack of role models. Thus, the child does not receive the stimulation or learns the social skills necessary to maximize their academic performance.

In order to reverse how poverty affects learning, researchers suggest that schools focus on support services that aid in a child’s cognitive and social skill development.

The High/Scope Educational Research Foundation concluded in a study, that children who received proper intervention services were more likely to graduate secondary school, have higher employment and income rates and have lower crime rates by the time they reached 40.

Schools with targeted efforts to aid in a child’s academic development, such as counseling and after-school programs, can both lessen the effect of poverty on a student’s learning and use education to fight poverty to improve lives.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr