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PRIORITIES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

A Brief to the Ministry of Education from the BC Teachers’ Federation, August 2017 

Child Poverty’s Impact on Education

The issue

While about one in five children live in poverty in BC, according to the formal definition, the expense of housing and other necessities actually means many more live in precarious situations. Obviously, to make improvements requires a poverty reduction plan because children never move out of poverty until their families do. In the meantime, however, a number of actions can be taken to make full participation in school a reality to more of these students.

Background

The BCTF asked its members in a survey about the realities in their classrooms in relationship to students living in poverty. Not surprisingly, the extent of problems varies according to the socio-economic status of the community from which the school draws. These are some of the key points made by teachers who identified poverty as a problem in their classrooms:  

  • Too many students come to school hungry and the school breakfast and lunch programs, where they exist, are not adequate. Forty percent of survey respondents said they personally bring food for students, spending an average of $30 a month.
  • School fees limit participation in school-related activities. Although schools are supposed to have procedures in place to ensure that students whose families cannot afford activities are able to participate, barriers still exist. One of the most important is “parent or student is not comfortable asking,” according to the teachers. 
  • As technology becomes ubiquitous in society and schools, exclusion because of poverty becomes an additional source of inequality. Access to technology has become so central to participation in society that families are opting to have smartphone access over other necessities.
  • The most significant factor in poverty-related barriers to school attendance is “student doesn't have a stable living or housing situation.” Middle school and secondary students living in poverty are most likely to miss class or not complete assignments because they have to take care of younger siblings or have to work to help support their family.

In response to the needs of students in poverty, teachers called for specialist teachers to address learning gaps, counselling services for students and families, school library and literacy programs, and school nurses to address health needs of students. These, of course, are the types of services that have been most negatively affected by the austerity budgets over the past 16 years.

Key recommendations

Recommendation 1

Act immediately to increase the financial and service supports aimed at meeting the needs of students in poverty. Students should not have to depend on charity for food or resources to fully take part in the learning process.

Recommendation 2

Make poverty reduction an educational priority as well as a social priority.

Further reading

The full report on the BCTF research on teacher experiences with poverty and education is at bctf.ca/PovertyResearch.aspx.

A report on teacher views on poverty and technology.

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