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. 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 Māori educators to address ongoing social and educational inequities for Māori 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’...
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