Addressing the Effects of Poverty on Basic Education

Poverty profoundly affects education. Poverty's grip on education manifests on the first day of school. Children from poor families are less prepared in kindergarten. Learning gaps are already substantial and are only bound to grow. Recent research in the United States on kindergarten preparedness mirrors the gaps observed in later stages of basic education highlighting the importance of addressing the effects of poverty on education during the early childhood years. Academic gaps based on socioeconomic status are only expected to persist if we keep ignoring the significance of a holistic approach in early education.

Investments in preschool education have increased in the United States. Parents are now much more aware in their vital role of preparing their children for school. Yet, academic gaps measured at the beginning of formal schooling remain associated with socioeconomic status (SES):

Above copied from
Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss, Economic Policy Institute, September 27, 2017: Education Inequalities at the School Starting Gate: Gaps, Trends, and Strategies to Address Them

The above graph clearly shows that poverty's effects on education are extremely stubborn. The authors, Garcia and Weiss, offer a silver lining. At least, with the increasing income inequality and increasing number of families falling under poverty, the gaps have not risen. In addition, they likewise provide an explanation on why the gaps have persisted: We are simply not doing enough. This becomes much more evident by highlighting some bright spots. Across the United States, there are districts that appear to have narrowed the gap. A survey of these districts is provided in the paper and the authors conclude:
  • A growing number of school districts across the country have embraced systems of comprehensive enrichment and supports for many or even all their students, based on the understanding that nurturing healthy child development requires leveraging the entire community. These districts took different approaches to enacting those comprehensive strategies, based on each community’s particular mix of needs and assets, ideological leaning, available sources of funding, and other factors. But all begin very early in children’s lives and align enriching school strategies with a targeted range of supports for children and their families.
  • Moreover, school districts embracing what we refer to as “whole-child” approaches to education are seeing better outcomes for students, from improved readiness for kindergarten to higher test scores and graduation rates and narrower achievement gaps. They thus can provide guidance to other districts and to policymakers regarding how to implement such approaches, what to expect in terms of benefits, and which policies at the local and state levels can advance those approaches.
The Philippines likewise needs to look at its challenges in basic education through a similar lens. Poor learning outcomes can be easily traced to the early years of basic education. The Philippines needs to focus on providing support to children and their families during the elementary years. Addressing the effects of poverty on basic education should happen in the early years.