The Effects of Poverty on Education Teaching and Learning


                                                                                                                                                                                                                   By Mac Wooten

Is there a comma missing in the title?   According to a report from the United Nations, 25,000 people die every day from hunger or a hunger related illness.  My quick math reveals that this equates to …. one person every 3 1/2 seconds.   How’s your day going … so far?   The general reason isn’t one of lack of food,  the larger problem is distribution and hungry people are trapped in  severe Poverty.   Poverty in South America is widespread, but has made improvements in recent years.  Here in Peru, food is somewhat plentiful and relatively inexpensive…. if you like a lot of rice and potatoes.  Latin America attracts more outside help than does Africa and Asia where both hunger and poverty are worse.  The largest factor is due to the distribution of wealth.  Unlike the 99%  problem in the U.S., in much of S. A. and Latin America there is an almost nonexistent  middle class.   You are either wealthy or poor.  The economies in S.A. are growing as is a middle class….. unlike the rapidly declining middle class in the states!  The economies in much of South America are still largely agriculturally based.  In 2011, it was estimated that the United States has now an economy that is 1.2% Agriculture,   22.1% Industrial,   76.7% Service based.  Peru has about 3% arable land and requires tons of commercial fertilizer because of decades horrible farming practices and much of the population are subsistence farmers.

At-Risk Children    The term at-risk will be used to refer to children effected by their life’s social circumstances.   There are a butt-load,  ooops,   sorry,  I meant boat-load of factors, that contribute to their social circumstances.  (the parents educational level,  socio-economics,  single parents,  other family member as care-taker,  unemployment,  dangerous neighborhoods, child abuse, drug use, mobility, neglect, the cost of those insanely expensive Nike tennis shoes that … everyone else has! ,  in addition to all the derivatives of theses issues.   The paragraph above was just to add some prospective for how that affects Education here in Peru.  I am not addressing the effects of poverty with respect in the education system in the U.S.  as generally these issues are very different in nature.  I would also like to point out that there are few problems with drug use among the children here …. because the children are poor and don’t have money to buy drugs!  So you parents living in developed countries, stop giving your kids allowance!  Drug problem solved!  Ha!

Our Next Door Neighbors  spend everyday looking for a place to graze their animals (7 sheep, 2 burros and 2 cows).  Sometimes I see the parents leading the animals down the road, but more times than not, it’s the children who tend the animals.  After the animals are tied somewhere, the parent/parents are usually laboring in a field all day raising planka (corn) (the leaves and stalks, not ears of corn) to feed the animals.   The point is …. the children aren’t in school.  Our neighbors aren’t the exception to those that have animals.  It seems everyone here has a few sheep and 2 pigs tied in the yard …. and have no land to graze them.  They barter with a landowner for 1/2 of the crop for the opportunity to raise corn to feed their animals.  Children are for the most part responsible for moving the animals during the day.   There is evidently more importance placed on the care of the animals than having the child attend school.  Additionally, an unattended animal becomes ….. finders keepers, losers weepers!  Often school attendance isn’t regular.   For many children here, there is little incentive to attending school.  If you ask them about the importance, they will tell you that it is important.  When you ask them why they’re not in school, they answer, “I got behind, I don’t like school, it’s too hard ” and shrug their shoulders.   If you ask if their friends attend school,  The answer is some of them.  I have often observed teachers in their classrooms.  The teachers write on the board, the children copy.  The children either get it …. or they don’t!  If they don’t understand,  they don’t ask any questions or interrupt the teacher.   They write in their book and maybe study what they’ve written.   Yes there’s the issue of  IF they attend school, they have chores first thing in the morning and when they get home from school and have little time or a conducive environment to study in (by the fife light like Abe did) !!!  and then, the following day they don’t have assignments completed (answering the questions in their expensive, required study book)  and fall behind and can’t ask for help and want to quit school  and  and  and!   Is this a run-on sentence?   This scenario is an extremely  difficult cycle to break.  And you think the educational system in the states  is failing your child ???

Books are not provided by the school or from the government to the students (who technically are required by law to attend school).  Generally, neither are the  paper and pencils provided.   The work books are purchased from the school or from the teacher (who makes a copy and requires the children to buy one) and are expensive.  The cost of the required books and a dictionary are expensive to people who average about $ 12.00 a day pay …. that is … if you’re lucky enough to find an unskilled labor job every day.  And of course a woman would be paid less.  A family of subsistence farmers spends approximately S/200.oo (almost $75.00) for books for one child per year in addition to other fees totaling about S/10.00  ($ 3.40) monthly  for copying other papers.  I don’t know a single family here with only one child!  The books can ONLY be purchased from the school!

Teachers don’t have time or incentive to find the parents and discuss why the child hasn’t been in school or is doing poorly,  didn’t complete homework, getting behind or, didn’t study.   These issues are most often related to poverty circumstances in the home, community and environment….. and life goes on!  If you’re not in school …. less work for the poorly paid, poorly trained teacher who doubles as director, librarian, custodian, school cook,  guidance counselor, band director, swim team instructor, golf, tennis, coach, secretary, principal and part-time teacher for grades 1-6 in her room.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which problem do you address first?  The problem of poor education or the poverty which is directly tied to poor education?  Both issues need to be addressed simultaneously but if I have to pick one answer, it’s education.  So …..  the answer is …. la gallina ….. or is it the huevo?   It is extremely depressing that about 170 people died of hunger while you read this!

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to    Teachers here in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Mac Wooten is President of Teach a Teacher nonprofit.  A native of Greenville S.C. We live and focus most of our  work in the Ancash region of Peru.

One thought on “The Effects of Poverty on Education Teaching and Learning

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