Overcoming the Constraints of Poverty on Education

One can find quite a number of scientific studies on how poverty affects learning. Take this one from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example (http://www.pnas.org/content/106/16/6545.long):

Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory

  1. Gary W. Evans,1 and 
  2. Michelle A. Schamberg
+Author Affiliations
  1. Departments of Design and Environmental Analysis and Human Development, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-4401
  1. Edited by Bruce S. McEwen, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, and approved February 24, 2009 (received for review November 22, 2008)


The income–achievement gap is a formidable societal problem, but little is known about either neurocognitive or biological mechanisms that might account for income-related deficits in academic achievement. We show that childhood poverty is inversely related to working memory in young adults. Furthermore, this prospective relationship is mediated by elevated chronic stress during childhood. Chronic stress is measured by allostatic load, a biological marker of cumulative wear and tear on the body that is caused by the mobilization of multiple physiological systems in response to chronic environmental demands.
A large, robust literature demonstrates a pervasive income–achievement gap. Family income is a strong and consistent predictor of multiple indices of achievement, including standardized test scores, grades in school, and educational attainment. Family income matters to children's cognitive development (13), with more enduring economic hardship particularly harmful (45). The income–achievement gap is already present by kindergarten and accelerates over time (67). The longer the duration of childhood exposure to poverty, the worse achievement levels become. Achievement test scores and school performance, however, do not inform us about what neurocognitive processes are influenced by childhood poverty. Furthermore, the voluminous income–achievement gap literature is silent on underlying biological explanations....

And here is another one (http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=psycd_fac):

In fact, there are now a significant number of scientific studies that have been made examining the effects of poverty on education. These studies provide recommendations. For example, the above paper focuses on addressing the effects of poverty at an early stage, in preschool, where the effects of poverty on education have not yet accelerated, and therefore much more reversible. Here are some specific programs cited:

  • Integration of health, nutrition, education, social, and economic development. 
  • Collaboration with government agencies and civil society 
  • Disadvantaged children (program)
  • Program intensity and duration 
  • Direct contact with children 
  • Parent involvement 
  • Opportunities for children for initiation and exploration 
  • Traditional child-rearing practices with evidence-based approaches 
  • Staff preparation and support 
  • Attention to quality: structure (e.g., teacher–child ratio, group size) and processes (caregiver warmth and responsiveness) 
  • Improve and evaluate strategies to increase effectiveness of outreach to disadvantaged children, including orphans. 
  • Identify the characteristics of Early Childhood Development programs that are effective and can be expanded and implemented through existing health, nutrition, education, and social protection services 
  • Examine the role of child development programs in mitigating the effects of poverty 
  • Identify a set of globally accepted measures and indicators for child development to measure program effectiveness 
  • Create and test a method for estimating the costs of models of early child development programs
It is quite clear from these numerous studies that the effects of poverty on education need to be seriously considered. An understanding of how poverty affects early childhood learning is necessary so that the proper intervention is applied. Poverty and poor education do reinforce each other in a vicious cycle, but perhaps, working on one may alleviate the other. Education provides an opportunity to escape poverty. Decoupling education from poverty may help in breaking the cycle. With this in mind, escaping poverty through education may not involve just the academics. Feeding programs, direct contact, program intensity and duration are probably obvious. But here is one highlighted by the New York Times writer Paul Tough.

Paul Tough recently wrote a book entitled:

How Children Succeed


Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Why do some children succeed while others fail?
The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.
But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.


Perhaps, this is a good place to start: Character Education - after all, it is one of the core areas of the K to 12 program. The current values mapping of Deped's K to 12 for Kindergarten through Grade 3 includes the following: conscience, health, care for oneself, self-control, honesty, empathy, respect, kindness, sincerity, generosity, obedience, order, love of God, and preference for the good. It seems that even with a wide array of values enumerated by DepEd, the list still missed quite a significant number of the skills mentioned above. What is surprising is that the values of perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control are qualities required by science. Since science is not taught in the early years as a formal subject, DepEd's K to 12 misses an excellent opportunity to teach these skills. DepEd's K to 12 was introduced with the following adjectives: "Enjoyable, easily understood lessons using the language spoken at home, less contact time, and interactive." (DepEd Press Release, January 11, 2012. Paul Tough must have considered perseverance as very important to have mentioned it first on his list.

To know more about "grit", here are some excerpts from Jonah Lehrer's article, "Which Traits Predict Success (The Importance of Grit)":

"...And this leads me to one of my favorite recent papers, “Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee.” The research, published this month in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science,  was led by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at Penn. (Anders-Ericsson is senior author.)... ...The first thing Duckworth, et. al. discovered is that deliberate practice works... ...The bad news is that deliberate practice isn’t fun and was consistently rated as the least enjoyable form of self-improvement. Nevertheless, as spellers gain experience, they devote increasing amounts of time to deliberate practice. This suggests that even twelve year olds realize that this is what makes them better, that success isn’t easy.......Factors like grit are often the most predictive variables of real world performance. Thomas Edison was right: even genius is mostly just perspiration."


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