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The Impact of Poverty

"Poverty is a set of precarious circumstances characterised by a prolonged lack of financial resources. Poverty brings further severe restrictions and limitations. Economically deprived people often suffer from bad health; and longer unemployment; they live in inadequate housing conditions; they are often characterised by poor education and occupational training; they often work in low-security jobs; and not infrequently, they have a scarcely viable social network, broken family relationships and an insecure residence status."

A Framework for Poverty Reduction and for Social Inclusion 2014 – 2024 Green Paper by the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity in consultation with Caritas.

In 2012, 16,992 children were in households with income below the ‘at risk of poverty’ threshold. In fact, 71% of jobless households with dependent children were at risk of poverty, while 43% of households with less than 50% work intensity were at risk of poverty. The number of children at risk of poverty due to caretakers’ low work intensity increased by 10% from 2011- 2012 (NSO, 2013 November 6, p. 3)

Children who grow up in poverty and social exclusion are less likely to reach their full potential. They run a higher risk of being unemployed and living in persistent poverty as adults.

Poverty presents barriers to children’s education which mean that they enter secondary school with lower than average attainment after dealing with social and economic problems that inhibit their learning.

There is a ‘profoundly close’ relationship between poverty and attainment, such that ‘the more socially disadvantaged the community served by a school, the very much more likely it is that the school will appear to underachieve’ (Gibson and Asthana 1998).

The impact of Poverty on Schools
  • Additional learning needs - Teachers report a lack of appropriate books and worksheets for lower ability pupils, meaning that they have to create their own resources, a disproportionately time-consuming activity. This is particularly felt in schools like the one in St Paul’s Bay, where several pupils have problems with Maltese and/or English.
  • Material poverty – Teachers cannot assume that pupils have access to books or computer equipment at home. They cannot ask the pupils to purchase materials for projects or contribute towards the cost of a school outing. Sometimes pupils come to school without lunch or without the basic tools required for learning in class (eg pencils).
  • Reluctant Participation -This exhibits itself both as absenteeism by the pupils but also by a very limited participation by parents during activities such as Parent’s Day or other events.
  • The emotional climate and disturbed behaviour - The number of pupils who are anxious, traumatised, unhappy, jealous, angry or vulnerable is greater than in schools where parents are materially well off, less stressed themselves and more able to secure a stable and comfortable environment for their children. There is also a minority of children with severely disturbed behaviour. These pupils are disruptive in lessons, find it difficult to concentrate, are sometimes aggressive towards other pupils and staff, find it hard to accept rules, and struggle to get through the school day smoothly on a regular basis.
  • Research has shown that the emotional needs of the pupils has a wider impact on the schools. Pupils tend to share their emotions with staff, creating a distinctive teacher/pupil relationship, not just one of educator/learner, but significant adult/child.
  • Teachers talk about ‘mothering’, ‘caring’ and ‘social work’ as well as about teaching and learning. This extract is typical:

‘I think you feel more sort of motherly. It’s the wrong word but you feel you ought to protect them and look after them… You do tend to take more care of them I think because you know they don’t have that care at home. Maybe care’s the wrong word but maybe their parents just don’t have time or the money or know-how sometimes to give them that attention. Some of them, you can tell they really like the attention and you make a fuss of them.’ (Class Teacher 6, Southside Grange School, UK).

This environment has a severe impact on teachers, who find that they end up spending more time dealing with the emotional needs of their pupils rather than teaching. This is a draining atmosphere in which to work, more demanding on a personal level than simply delivering the subject. It also has a strong impact on the learning attainment of the whole cohort of pupils at the school – which is why this area has been highlighted as the main target of the Blossom Pilot Project.