The purposes of education are many; but perhaps one important purpose of “free” public schooling is to ensure that everyone is provided with the opportunity of being educated. While this goal is achieved to a certain extent, inequalities of opportunity still exist, many of which are related to socioeconomic status (SES).
While there is no doubt that a teacher can have a powerful effect upon the lives of students and any teacher would love to receive a letter such as that written by Albert Camus, socioeconomic status is often considered to be the most reliable predictor of success in school and, therefore, in life. There are many reasons for this, few of which have anything to do with intelligence.
According to Macquarie University the majority of students in tertiary education are of mid to high socioeconomic status. The parents of these students may have professional backgrounds and may have attended tertiary institutions themselves. Most have an appreciation of the benefits of higher education and are able to continue supporting their students, to some extent, while they study.
While students of lower SES are attending tertiary institutions in greater numbers they are disadvantaged in doing so by a number of factors, primarily financial in origin. Although Australia is supposedly free of class distinctions, attitudes towards those from lower SES areas are often demeaning and unsympathetic. Students from these areas may battle to develop the self-esteem that seems to be a birthright for others from more privileged backgrounds. The negativism with which they are viewed, and some come to view themselves, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ready for school – year 2
I was a fortunate one for, while I grew up in a family with low SES background, my parents saw the value in education and sacrificed much for their children to have the opportunities it provided. The high costs of tertiary education that are now incurred could not have been afforded, but I achieved well enough in school to obtain a scholarship to teachers’ college and a three-year bond (guaranteed employment) when that was finished.
Nowadays there is no such thing as guaranteed employment and few scholarships. Many families cannot afford to have post-secondary/adult students continue to live at home and not contribute to expenses while they undertake further study. This means that students have the additional burden of working while they are studying. Many opt out of study altogether to seek long term employment, often in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. And so the cycle continues. The lack of permanent employment even for graduates makes deferring earnings less desirable again.
Of course the disadvantage doesn’t just begin when approaching final years of school. The impacts can be observed from the earliest age. (My suggestion for an early learning caravan addresses this in part.) Although education is provided “free” to students, there are many other associated costs that families may struggle to meet, such as books, equipment, and extra-curricular activities such as excursions and incursions.
In most Australian schools, the wearing of uniforms helps to minimize differences that may otherwise be obvious by choices of clothing and footwear. It also helps to reduce costs. Sometimes additional activities can be a drain on family expenses, and while many schools will fund expenses for those in need, not all families are willing to ask for that help.
Studies have shown that many children arrive at school without having eaten breakfast. While this phenomenon can occur in any family, it is more prevalent in low SES areas. Some schools are now providing a healthy breakfast for students when they arrive at school. I think this great as hungry children tend to have difficulty concentrating and learning, are often lethargic and may suffer from mood swings and negative attitudes. I know how irritated I become when I am hungry. My family “joke” about not getting in the way of me and my food! How much worse for children who come to school with empty bellies.
Of course these issues are compounded for children who live in dysfunctional families. As much as we may try to be inclusive and equitable in the way we treat them, these students are often the ones who notice their differences and inadequacies and become most self-critical. It can be a very difficult task to change the attitudes and habits of generations.
This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills talked about attending a garden party. The hosts and guests at this party had obviously enjoyed some of the finer things that life reserves for a few.
Charli shared a photo of a rather idyllic spot on an island and challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the above photo as a prompt.
Well the photo is beautiful, but I couldn’t get away, I was stuck at the garden party. I thought it was a wonderful analogy for the rewards that can be had from an education; rewards that may be obvious and perhaps available to many, but rewards that may be out of reach to others because of circumstances over which they have no real control. I thought of Marnie who suffers the double disadvantage of a dysfunctional family in a low SES area; but who knows there is something better out there and wants it for herself.
Thanks to Charli for her prompt, here is another episode from Marnie’s life. I hope you enjoy it.
The garden party
Marnie’s face pressed into the bars of the tall white gate with amazement: white-covered tables laden with food; chairs with white bows; white streamers and balloons; and a band!
But the ladies had her spellbound with elegant dresses and high, high heels; flowers in their hair and bright painted lips.
A man in uniform opened the gate to guests arriving in limousines. Marnie followed.
“Not you, Miss,” said the uniformed man.
Marnie held out her invitation, “Jasmine . . .”
But he’d closed the gate and turned away.
Marnie looked down at her stained dress. What was she thinking?
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.