If we want to get the best results as a nation from our education system, we need every child to have an equal chance of success, so that those who work hard and apply their intelligence get the chance to shine. Unfortunately, we know that is not the case, with thousands of children falling short every year for reasons that have nothing to do with effort or ability. What can be done to fix the problem and work around the challenges that these young people are faced with?
According to the last national census, one in five children in America lives in poverty. This can impact education in lots of ways, some of which are more obvious than others. Book donation schemes and well-organized school libraries are a big help for those kids who are unable to afford the texts they need. Lunch programs are important for those who may not be properly nourished by what their parents feed them, as poor nutrition can seriously impair the ability to learn. Access to sports – with equipment provided – helps to keep children fit, which in turn improves concentration on schoolwork, and is especially important for children from areas where there are no local sports facilities or it’s not safe to play outside. When it comes to further education, organizations like Quest Bridge can help young people from low income families to network and find scholarships.
Disability and illness
Children with serious illnesses may find it hard to attend school regularly, or at all. This can make getting an education difficult because not every parent has the time or the skill for home schooling. Using phones and computers to let children telecommute into class is one solution to this, with some using telepresence robots to help them interact. Video lessons can also be useful. Those methods can also help disabled children and some that have learning disorders, but it’s important for schools to focus first on making classes more accessible. That starts with talking to individual children and their parents about their needs, as there’s no one size fits all way of working around disability. Often children have multiple issues which makes the use of some common aids impossible. Today the education sector is getting a lot smarter about this, and there are even new systems designed to help disabled people attend college when they would not otherwise be able to.
When there is a problem at home, it can be very difficult for children to concentrate at school. A significant number of children have care responsibilities, looking after siblings, elderly relatives or disabled relatives. At-home study options can often help these children to get a good education. Others have to deal with a fractious atmosphere between their parents, in which case it can help to have other places to study outside school hours, whether that’s a homework group on school premises or a space provided by a church or community group. If parents decide to separate (which is sometimes the best choice for everyone), children need school counsellors or teachers who are ready to listen to their concerns. There are books, videos and related content online to help them adjust as they and their parents discover that there is life after divorce, and that it’s still worth working hard for the future.
Children who have experienced trauma need extra support to ensure that they can focus on their education. The difficulty here is that while trauma is sometimes easy to predict – for instance, if a child has lost a parent or arrived as a refugee from a war-torn country – on other occasions it can be hidden. It’s important for teachers to be able to recognize signs of trauma, looking out for children who are unusually withdrawn, panicky or aggressive and helping them get access to counselling. A school counselling service should be ready to point children and their families to psychiatric support if it’s needed, or contact child services if there is concern that the child may be at risk at home. This can help get children to a point where they are able to focus properly on learning and realize their full potential.
With the right support, even children with serious disadvantages can graduate high school and stand a good chance of getting to college. When they do so, their experiences of overcoming difficulty can help to inform the teachers of the future, as well as inspiring them to achieve as adults. Their different perspectives can help to create a more equal world.