Social Class and Education

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1. How may a student’s social class origin and related factors impact on her/his learning outcomes and how can teachers intervene to effectively address any resulting disadvantages and injustices for students? That a student’s social class origin impacts on their learning outcomes is self-evident across much of the developed world, with entrenched disparities in academic achievement that are inversely correlated with family income (Snook, 2009:3, Argy, 2007:para 3, Reay, 2006:289, Nash, 2003:179-180).

In Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom, a student’s chances of academic success are greatly influenced by factors such as ‘ parental wealth, occupational status, education and aspirations’ (Argy, 2007:para3, Braddock, 2005:para19). The OECD identifies Australia and New Zealand educational systems as being inequitable. (Argy, 2007:para 13, Braddock, 2005, para 19). This essay will identify some of the ways in which socio-economic status has been shown to be related to academic performance and engagement.

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It will also consider pedagogical techniques which have been proven to assist students to succeed despite somewhat deterministic realities. Finally, it will examine in detail a counter-hegemonic educational initiatives in New Zealand, which have been created by Maori educators to address ongoing social and educational inequities for Maori students. Socio-economic status and educational outcomes Researchers have overwhelmingly proved that students from middle-class families achieve greater academic success than students from working-class families (Marjoribanks, 2005:110, Reay, 2006:294, Thrupp, 2007:78).

Jo Sparks provides compelling evidence about the trajectory for those from poor or working-class backgrounds: those who live in council housing are ‘less likely to attain qualifications and are more likely to report playing truant than those living in other forms of accommodation’ (1999:16); those who leave school with low levels of qualification and basic skills are far more likely to be unemployed or in jobs with low wages, which means that their children are statistically less likely to achieve academic success – and so the cycle of entrenched poverty continues.

Sparks identifies parental educational achievements and involvement in the students’ studies as being ‘important predictors’ of the child’s future educational success (1999:16) particularly in relation to literacy scores: ‘.. the amount of direct teaching or ‘intellectual stimulation in the home’ is highly correlated with children’s attainment, particularly during early school years,.. (while) the way in which parents interact with their children whilst listening to them read is significantly differentiated by the level of the parents’ education’ (1999:21).

Thus attainment is directly linked to parental stimulus, which is directly linked to educational status. Nash also identifies ‘family literate resources’ as a key factor in reading attainment (2003:177). Marjoribanks discusses the association of family social capital with academic success, due to ‘opportunities, encouragement, and support provided by parents in education-related activities’ (2005:111). He identifies ‘between-family social capital’ in some immigrant groups, where communities collectively support children’s education by sharing ‘economic and educational resources’ (2005:111).

Cunha ; Heckman refer to the role of family income in determining educational choices and investment in the child’s learning, as well as providing emotionally supportive environments which produce more successful learners (2007:6). Other factors such as peer pressure can impact on working-class students’ attainments. Reay writes about how ethnic working-class boys often have to make the difficult choice between popularity and academic engagement. ‘The paradoxical dilemma they face is that inclusion in the male peer group prohibits investment in a successful learner identity’ (2006:301).

Peer group pressure, according to Thrupp, impacts more on working-class students because middle-class schools have more favourable ‘school policies and practices.. supported by high levels of student compliance, motivation and ability, which is class related’ (2007:80). These schools also assist students to build networks ‘of power and information in the future labour market’ (2007:80), ensuring that their position of relative strength is further entrenched.

The literature thus firmly supports the thesis that socio-economic status is directly correlated with academic success, due to the superior financial and social capital resources available to the middle-class student. Furthermore, the interdependence between multiple factors means that the cumulative impact of risk factors may be greater than the simple sum of separate factors (Sparks, 1999:10) Strategies for improving equitable access There are several strategies that can be employed to assist those who suffer disadvantage.

Early interventions, (the earlier the better), are recommended to target deficit skills through reading recovery or acceleration programs (Sparks, 1999:13-16, Cunha ; Heckman, 2007:1-5). The most successful projects appear to be those that also target families, either by providing resources or through family literacy projects. Parents can thus become upskilled themselves, becoming better equipped in the process to support their children’s progress. ‘The remediation efforts that appear to be most effective are those that supplement family environments for disadvantaged children…

Experimental interventions with long term followup confirm that changing the resources available to disadvantaged children improves their adult outcomes’ (Cunha ; Heckman, 2007:1-3). Reay sees the teacher’s role as critical in the frontline struggle for educational engagement in otherwise disadvantaged students. Her student interviews clearly show how disempowered and disengaged they become when experiencing middle-class favouritism in the classroom. (2006:297-299).

Teachers must adopt a culturally and socially neutral (diverse) position, rather than feed into the ‘pathologisation of the working classes.. the system.. valorises middle rather than working class capital’ (2006:295). All students should be made to feel that they have potential, that their contribution is valued. Reay also believes that teachers must learn to understand and manage the ‘classed, racialised and gendered processes’ that drive students to make poor educational choices. In doing so, teachers can assist students to see value in adopting a successful learner identity. (2006:301).

Western educational systems and curricula are seen by some as vehicles which, despite their stated aims of improving access and outcomes for all, merely serve to perpetuate middle-class perspectives and domination (Reay, 2006:293, Connell, 1993:49-50). ‘The hidden curriculum is a powerful means by which education and schooling maintain the status quo in our society with all its inequality and social injustice’ (Seddon, 1983:4). Connell advocates a counter-hegemonic curriculum to bring about greater social justice, as existing curricula continually reconstruct and reinforce the dominant culture.

He advocates pluralistic worldviews, interventions for those in need, participatory and non-competitive assessment systems. (1993:46). Nash believes students will be more engaged if the educational content is more relevant and meaningful .. ’we should continue our efforts to break the institutional coupling .. of the conditions of acquisition of necessary knowledge to the cultural abitrary.. this pettiness of school, as so many working-class young experience it, .. inhibits their willingness to unite a schooled identity with their anticipated adult trajectory’ (2003:188). Te Kotahitanga: transformative indigenous curriculum

Indigenous educational initiatives in New Zealand over the past 30 years have developed new pedagogies as a deliberate strategy to counter the entrenched socio-economic and educational disparities for many Maori (Smith, 2003:3). This occurred in 2 major stages, the first being the creation of Maori language learning spaces via Kohanga Reo (pre-schools), Kura Kaupapa Maori (language immersion schools) and Wananga (tribal universities). 2001 saw the beginning of a research project, Te Kotahitanga, which formulated educational theory based on Maori cultural principles and practices, specifically aimed at improving educational outcomes for Maori.

Its aim is unashamedly transformative and counter-hegemonic: ‘i. It promotes the validity and legitimacy of Maori language, knowledge and culture… v. It attempts to takes account of unequal `power relations’ and dominant /subordinate politics.. vii. It attempts to challenge existing theory as being culturally and interest laden’ (Smith, 2003:10). From these studies, the Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and the Effective Teaching Profile (ETP) were created. (Bishop et al, 2007:16/32). It is important to note that both the process (research) and outcome (theory and practice) were undertaken by adhering to Maori principles of ‘non-dominating nterdependence’ and self-determination (Bishop et al, 2007:16). The ETP is student-centred and culturally inclusive, while the teacher-student dynamic is radically different to mainstream education: ‘the participants in the learning interaction become involved in the process of collaboration, in the process of mutual story-telling and re-storying, so that a relationship can emerge in which both stories are heard, or indeed a process where a new story is created by all the participants’. Bishop et al, 2007:33). Initial data indicates that a number of positive behavioural shifts for both teachers and students occurred once the ETP and CRP have been implemented. Teachers became more likely to use discursive and collaborative rather than instructional techniques, they had higher expectations of students’ abilities, and their relationship with students improved. Students became more engaged with the school work and completed more tasks. (Bishop et al, 2007:65-80).

In addition, the percentage of Year 11 students achieving Level 1 in the NZ National Certificate of Educational Echievement (NCEA) increased significantly for those who had been taught using the ETP and CRP. Finally, the project re-engaged Maori parents who had long felt alienated from, and hostile towards, pakeha education (Smith, 2003:8-9). Smith concludes that, ‘by drawing on the social capital of the culturally collective practice, a mediation of what might otherwise be debilitating socioeconomic circumstances can be achieved’ (2003:9). This is a model for social justice which is truly inspiring.

The Te Kotahitanga project has created an explicitly transformative framework which places culture and relationships at the centre of its philosophy. It has boosted participation, improved educational outcomes and transformed teaching attitudes and practices. The transformative aims and nature of this project clearly place it at the Initiating and Preventing portion of Adams, Griffin and Bell’s Action Continuum (1997:109). Conclusion Seeking to instill systemic change in educational techniques and structures, creating models which inspire indigenous students to re-engage with education and improve academic performance and life prospects, Te

Kotahitanga was created to address social injustice and systemic educational inequity. The results of this project clearly support the proposition that a counter-hegemonic pedagogical framework can begin to redress entrenched imbalances in educational outcomes. References Adams, M. , Bell, L. , and Griffin, P. (1997). Appendix 6C: Action Continuum. In Teaching for diversity and social justice: a sourcebook. By Adams, M. , Bell, L. , and Griffin, P. (Eds. ). New York: Routledge. P109 | Argy, F. (2007). Education Inequalities in Australia.

In The New Critic. Issue 5, May 2007. Published online at http://www. ias. uwa. edu. au/new-critic/five/educationinequalities| Bishop, R. , Berryman, M. , Cavanagh, T. ; Teddy, L. (2007). Te Kotahitanga Phase 3 Whanaungatanga: Establishing a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations in Mainstream Secondary School Classrooms. Wellington:Ministry of Education. | Braddock, J. (2005). The growing class divide in New Zealand’s education system. In World Socialist Web Site. Published online by the International Committee of the Fourth International. ttp://www. wsws. org/articles/2005/mar2005/newz-m10. shtml| Connell, R. W. (1993). Schools and Social Justice. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp43-54. | Cunha, F. ; Heckman, J. (2007). The technology of skill formation: Working Paper 12840. American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 31-47, May. | Marjoribanks, K. (2005). Family background, adolescents’ educational aspirations, and Australian young adults’ educational attainment. In International Education Journal, 6(1), 104-112. | Reay, D. (2006).

The zombie stalking English schools: Social class and educational inequality. In British Journal of Educational Studies, 54(3) pp 288-307. | Seddon, T. 1983. The hidden curriculum:an overview. In Curriculum Perspectives, 3(1) pp 1-6| Smith, G. H. (2003). Kaupapa Maori Theory: Theorizing Indigenous Transformation of Education ; Schooling. Paper from the Kaupapa Maori Symposium, NZARE/AARE conference. Downloaded online from http://www. aare. edu. au/03pap/pih03342. pdf | Snook, I. ; O’Neill (2010). Social class and educational achievement: beyond ideology.

In NZ Journal of Educational Studies. 45 (2). | Sparkes, Jo. (1999). Schools, Education and Social Exclusion discussion paper. London: Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion. | ——————————————– [ 2 ]. Language nests [ 3 ]. Kura= school, kaupapa Maori = conceptualisation of Maori knowledge (www. kurakaupapamaori. com/theory6) [ 4 ]. Learning [ 5 ]. Collaborative response to a commonly held vision (Bishop et al, 2007:30) [ 6 ]. Tekotahitanga (2011) http://tekotahitanga. tki. org. nz/About/Results-and-Findings [ 7 ]. Pakeha = white people


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