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How Quality, Poverty and Gender are Playing a Role in Schools

Children learn in a school in Asia. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
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On September 25, 2015 the United Nations adopted a set of goals as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

You may be wondering why this matters? Well, all goals directly affect each and every individual of all nations. Inadequate education is an issue that has been receiving some light in recent years. What people may not know is how many different factors can affect the experience of learning for many children and young adults.

School kids (via Pixabay)
School kids (via Pixabay)

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Now that children are back in the classroom, are they really learning the lessons that will help them succeed? Many kids are more focused on getting a high GPA, rather than absorbing the life lessons that could go beyond the classroom.

“What are we really trying to do when we think about raising kids?” asked Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, an expert in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We’re trying to put in place the ingredients so the child is going to be a successful 35-year-old. It’s not really about getting an A in algebra.”

The most memorable stories in people’s lives are revolving around “when I was in school” or “when I was in university.” From first friends, to first parties, all the way up to first partners, very few people recite the grades they received, rather always focus on the lessons they learned or the human elements they obtained.

We can sit here and critique the educational system, however let’s dive into places that don’t have education at all. The United Nations have stated that more than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa, which makes it the region with the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. To touch lightly upon gender accessibility as well in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school. These disadvantages can lead to not only unemployment, but also poverty and hunger. It impairs the future of the young that could grow up to be artists, lawyers and doctors.

When told these statistics, Xiaoya Cheng, a Chinese student studying in Colorado had this to say:

“In my opinion, the economic development is unbalanced in the world. The main reason is that in some regions people have equal opportunity to get educated, while other regions don’t. To eliminate the unbalance, this is a big issue that should be focused on.”

Education serves better as a right than a luxury, because when people are able to obtain a quality education they can gain access to ending many undesirable life outcomes, such as poverty, ignorance and inequality.

U.N.'s sustainability goals (Photo via Wikimedia)
U.N.’s sustainability goals. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

While all seventeen of the Sustainable Development Goals are important and relevant in our world today, I resonated most with number one – no poverty.

Poverty has remained a consistent problem in our world that the United Nations is aiming to completely end over the next fifteen years. People living in poverty are affected by things such as unsafe living conditions, limited access to resources, unemployment, and the list goes on.

Another item on this list is education. It seems that many people underestimate the impact that poverty has on education. According to an article from ChildFund International, “Poverty reduces a child’s readiness for school because it leads to poor physical health and motor skills, diminishes a child’s ability to concentrate and remember information, and reduces attentiveness, curiosity and motivation.” This should express the severity that poverty has on education. Children living in poverty enter the education system at a complete disadvantage; a disadvantage that could impact the rest of their lives.

Poverty reduces a child’s readiness for school because it leads to poor physical health and motor skills, diminishes a child’s ability to concentrate and remember information, and reduces attentiveness, curiosity and motivation.

So, how could this impact their lives in the long run? According to the same ChildFund article, children from lower-income families are at higher risk of dropping out of school, and those who complete high school are also less likely to attend college than those from higher-income families.

The problem doesn’t stop there, though. As many of us know, it can be challenging to find a job without a high school or college degree. Those who drop out and struggle finding employment are at risk of diving right back into the poverty they have endured all their lives.

President Obama in a literacy lesson with pre-K kids. (Image credit: White House)
President Barack Obama participates in a literacy lesson with children while visiting a pre-kindergarten classroom at Moravia Elementary School in Baltimore, Md., May 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

An interview with Colorado State University student, Madeline Guidinger, shed light on this topic as well. Guidinger grew up in Minnetonka, Minn., USA where she attended elementary through high school. She lived in a nice, middle-class neighborhood where she attended school nearby.

I asked, “Although you fortunately never lived below the poverty line, were you aware of peers who did?”

She responded with, “Most of the people that lived around me and attended the schools I went to were from high-income families, but I did know of a few kids throughout my years of school that may have been living in poverty. I still don’t think it is very common in the U.S. though.”

I followed her response with another question, “Did you ever notice any differences in the way they learned, took tests, or socialized?”

Guidinger said, “Not really, but probably because I was not aware that they were living like that. There was one time that I was faced with it though. My second year of high school, I became good friends with a girl that sat next to me in class. We were partners for every project and she would always want to work on them at my house. Not only that, but she would always try to stay for dinner. We let her stay every time because she was a good friend of mine, but I also think my parents kind of knew what was going on. The day we finally realized she was from a low-income family was when her parents couldn’t pick her up from my house after dinner, so we had to drop her off at home.”

I concluded the interview by asking, “Do you know where she is at in life right now?”

Guidinger said, “I am actually friends with her on Facebook and noticed that she never went to college. She seems like she is doing well though.”

Guidinger said, “Not really, but probably because I was not aware that they were living like that. There was one time that I was faced with it though. My second year of high school, I became good friends with a girl that sat next to me in class. We were partners for every project and she would always want to work on them at my house. Not only that, but she would always try to stay for dinner. We let her stay every time because she was a good friend of mine, but I also think my parents kind of knew what was going on.

The day we finally realized she was from a low-income family was when her parents couldn’t pick her up from my house after dinner, so we had to drop her off at home.”

After a bit of research on the Sustainable Development Goals and an interview with Madeline Guidinger, it is apparent that poverty greatly impacts education. We need to come together as one to find a solution to what seems to be too big of a problem to solve.

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