Poverty and Education: The Unending Loop

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Poverty and education are locked into a vicious circle. Living in poverty makes it harder to get a good education (or any education), and a lack of an education means it’s more likely you’ll be (are) poor.

And just like all those high school counsellor’s told us growing up, average income is substantially different for people of different education levels, with high average incomes practically a given for the better educated.

Where it Begins

Poor people have lower college completion rates, which confirms prior intuition: poor families most likely struggled during a child’s early years, and things such as bad health, bad diet or lack of consistency in other areas make it difficult to succeed later on. And for those that do make it initially, they may not be able to afford the cost of education later on and be forced to once again admit defeat.

It seems almost a trivial acknowledgement, but the circle is really vicious for the poor. Poor families often can’t offer a good education for their children, who then, in turn, grow up to be poor, and so on and so forth.

A comparison between children in poor families and children in non-poor families using national datasets indicate that poor children are more likely to do worse on indices of school achievement than non-poor children are. Poor children are also twice as likely as non-poor children to have repeated a grade, to have been expelled or suspended from school, or to have dropped out of high school. They are also 1.4 times as likely to be identified as having a learning disability in elementary or high school than their non-poor counterparts.

Misunderstood

Some might think that there is simply a difference in intelligence which results in these statistics, but poor children don’t underachieve because they are less intelligent. Evidence suggests that students from high-income backgrounds (but with low test scores) are still more likely to obtain a college education than students from low-income backgrounds with high test scores.

Hence, other things going on in children’s social environment must explain differences in college completion rates. Perhaps wealthy parents are better at motivating their children, and perhaps the stress of poverty forces poor children out of school.

Do Something Already

Ensuring that all children are able to realise their full potential by attending school and receiving a good education is paramount to our world’s success. Children that are able to go school and learn the basic skills of literacy, mathematics, life skills and critical thinking add so much value to our countries and global communities. That means that helping the poor receive more education is part of the answer.

Children need an education so they can become contributing citizens and adults, and they as workers need a context wherein they can be rewarded for their skills, where the benefits of the growth they help to create flow freely their way.

There is no easy solution, but we have to find a way to help those in poverty escape this circle of despair.

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