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One in seven Australian children grows up in a financially disadvantaged household (UNICEF, 2005). These children live below the average household income; they may suffer from risks such as malnutrition, domestic violence, or even substance abuse and usually have an assortment of health and intellectual problems (Ashman, 2009, p.12). Financially disadvantaged children find school difficult as they begin their schooling behind in their cognitive and social learning development. However, schools are working towards helping these students by introducing programs that will help to bring the students up academically and allow them to view school positively. This paper will demonstrate how this family environment impacts on the child, and how this influences their learning at school. Also it will discuss the positive outcomes for these students from some Government programs and School-based programs that are already in place in schools.
Families are the main influence on a child from when they are born until they go to school. Therefore the relationships are very important in the early stages of life. As the Department of Health and Aging (2009, p.1) suggested, family relations can be influence by the past experiences of the parent whilst growing up. Furthermore, children born in a financially disadvantaged household are likely to continue this trend into their adulthood.
Parent's personal experiences in school, can often create hindrance in involvement in their child's education. Some feel the pressure of stretching beyond their financial means to get the educational support their child needs, too much to handle. Parents can also feel like they do not belong and therefore, feel uncomfortable in a school environment where community is a key factor. All of these factors can also lead to the child developing an anxiety and dislike of school because of their parents' attitude towards education (Finders, Lewis, 2009, p.107).
There is no 'one' definition of what a financially disadvantaged child is. Children in financial disadvantaged situations can experience many of negative impacts in their lives, such as: turmoil, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, separation of parents, unstructured households, unsupportive environments, limited or no set routines, fewer cognitive enrichment opportunities, limited access to educational materials, unhealthy living environments, starvation, and even family members with mental or physical health issues (Hilferty, Redmond, 2009, p. 6-9, 13). These impacts lead to behaviour issues at school and low cognitive and speech development in their early childhood.
Influences Impact on Learning at School:
Starting school is a very important and often challenging time for some children and it can have significant impacts on the child's ongoing learning, especially if the environment they live in is impacting negatively on their development (Hayes, 2009, p.18). The main influences of a child's readiness to learn at school are the quality of the community and home environment, the parent-child relationship, the prior learning of the child before school age, the social, emotional and physical health of the parent or carer (Hilferty, Redmond, 2009, p. 12). If these influences are negative, the child does not have a desirable start at school. Prime Minister Julia Gillard agrees that children that live in financially disadvantaged households have a difficult start at school (Lam, 2010).
According to research conducted by The Smith Family, children starting school from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, have under developed cognitive skills and social and emotional skills. They found that children starting school from these backgrounds had the highest rates of literacy and numeracy difficulties which continued after their first two years at school. These children had higher than average levels of social/emotional problems, lower engagement in learning, school adjustment problems (anxiety, withdrawal), and their language and basic pre-numeracy skills were lower than normal for their age(Smart, Sanson, Baxter, Edwards, Hayes, 2008, p.9). As Collins (2010) found, children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds often have difficulties in reading and writing, are disruptive and lack in concentration, feel distressed and worthless and find social interaction difficult with their peers. These factors make school very difficult for these children and their interest in education falters.
Positive Outcomes for Financially Disadvantaged Students:
Unfortunately there are, almost, no positive outcomes for students suffering in financial hardship. Therefore, schools aim to educate these children by supporting them with resources and access to programs that promote positive skill acquisition in a healthy, social environment. However these are not solutions to the problem but rather ways of helping the family support the student in their education. The Australian Government is currently funding programs like breakfast clubs and after-school activities for disadvantaged children. They are also supporting more specialist teachers in State Schools to help these children 'catch up' in their learning (Lam, 2010). However, groups like Families and Schools Together (FAST) are coinciding with the Australian government to provide extra help and support for these children.
At present, the Australian Government has developed the National Early Childhood Development Strategy and this program aims to provide an environment which gives students access to educational opportunities and create social inclusion and engagement in school (Rudd, Gillard, Ellis, Macklin, 2009). In addition, the program, Families and Schools Together (FAST) is a strictly voluntary program that lasts eight weeks and aims to reconnect families and build protective factors in children, helping to create strong functioning families (Guenther, Boonstra, 2009). They also aim to prevent children from experiencing failure at school by helping the parents become active in their role in the education process (i.e reading to the child, etc). They enhance awareness of the harms that violence and substance abuse can have on a child's education and they try to reduce the stress of the families' lives on a daily basis by giving them coping strategies (Guenther, Boonstra, 2009). This program has worked extremely well in Indigenous communities over the past few years and continues to do so.
Each program illustrates the benefits in their aid to helping financially disadvantaged students in schools. The benefits of The National Early Childhood Development Strategy are that quality learning facilities and family support have been successful in the schools they are working with and children's health and well-being is expected to improve greatly (Rudd, Gillard, Ellis, Macklin, 2009). The breakfast clubs provide a nutritious start to the day which helps the students concentrate better in class, whilst also providing social and nutritional skills (Australian Red Cross, 2010). After-school sport provides fun, physical activities for students to engage in. It is also free and involves the whole community such as; schools, families, coaches, and sporting clubs (Australian Sports Commission, 2011).The FAST programs assists in improving academic achievement, social skills and self esteem and also tries to insinuate school as a positive learning environment (Guenther, Boonstra, 2009).
All of these programs have had little time in schools to see the official outcomes of the programs but they are working positively at present. In theory these programs are great for helping financially disadvantaged students however, whether they work effectively is yet to be proven.
In conclusion, financially disadvantaged children find school difficult as the environment they grow up in is undesirable for their pre-learning capabilities before school. The family impacts on the cognitive and social learning development of these children and this often leads to learning difficulties later in their schooling. The positive outcomes for these students are special programs such as Breakfast clubs, After-school Sport programs and the National Early Education Strategy and FAST, as they help educate and support these children. In addition, schools are working towards helping financially disadvantaged students overcome the impact of their life situation on their education, by using these programs, hoping that will help to bring the students up academically and allow them to view school positively.