Last week I had my first workshop as a student at the University of Dundee and it opened my eyes to an issue I have, until now, overlooked; the impact poverty can have on a child’s education.
In the workshop we were split into groups, given envelopes filled with materials and told to make a starter pack for a new education student at the university. First we were told to plan and present our idea to the class, then we had to construct it and present our finished starter pack.
My group, group 4, opened our pack to find; one post it note, one pencil, three paper clips, an elastic band and some blue-tac. Surrounded by confused faces I wondered how we were supposed to make anything of use. Eventually the idea of a three-dimensional map of the campus was brought to the table and we were eager to get our ideas sorted for the first presentation. We all threw ideas in; some great and some we laughed off but we were bonding and proud of our idea to do so much with so little. When the time came to show or colleagues we quickly realised that the other groups’ ideas were a lot better and they had a lot more to work with. At this point it hadn’t occurred to the other groups that they were at an advantage but for us it was clear that we couldn’t hope to do as well.
Then the time came to construct our starter packs. We used every last thing in our envelope and even the envelope itself was used as the base. We pulled apart the paper clips, snapped the elastic bands and even made paper models, using pieces of the envelope, to show points of interest. However there was still the underlying tension coming from knowing that the other groups were going to do better because they had more materials and group 4 spent a lot of time worrying and getting worked up over this fact. We also realised that we were being treated differently from the other groups; we were ignored for the majority of the session and at the times we had the attention of the tutor she was very harsh seemed to be appalled at how we were working and the fact that we couldn’t produce work to the same standard as the other groups. We were “making excuses” and “not trying hard enough” but the other groups were praised for creating packs that were very useful but didn’t require much creativity or resourcefulness.
Then came the presenting. This was done chronologically so we sat in awe and anger through three groups’ incredible ideas and when it was our turn we were already feeling sufficiently defeated. We explained our map and how the important paths and buildings were three dimensional (using the unfolded paper clips and snapped elastic bands as paths and pieces of the envelope for model buildings) so that those with poor sight could attempt to find their way around campus and we even dabbled in the idea of using the pencil to push through the envelope and label the points in brail; although admittedly none of us knew brail. We were very proud of what we had accomplished but alas we scored a mere two out of ten.
Incredibly frustrated our team decided to speak up and complain about how unfair the task was only to find out it was a test. This whole session was simulating schools in the real world. Resources are not evenly divided and often no matter how much effort is put in, those with less cannot achieve work to the same standard as those at well off schools. They recieve a whole lot less praise for working a lot harder and they are overlooked. They receive less attention and less help. In a perfect world these students at poorer schools would be able to rise to the top purely on strength of will but sadly this can only be true to a certain extent. If children cannot simply have enough resources then even the hardest working may be no match for for a student of a higher socio-economic status.
This workshop opened my eyes to an issue I always knew was there but never fully understood the importance of. How can we give every child a fair shot at an academic career if they can’t even access the resourses they need to get through primary school? We need to give more to those who have less and we need to ensure they get more than just the minimum needed to help them succeed. They deserve our attention and our support and our guidance. No child deserves to fail due to something they cannot control. Every child deserves a fair chance. Every child is worthy of our time and money. Every child matters.
This task awakened us all not only to the issue of poorer children struggling in school but also the fact that the more privileged schools often don’t know that they are privileged. The groups in this task that had endless supplies didn’t bat an eyelid when they left materials unused but my group watched longingly as we tried to use the tape that was holding the envelope together to stick down the elastic band. Similarly children, and teachers, in more advantaged schools may not consider donating spare resources or even realise how much they have.
The big lesson of the day, and one I will carry with me for the entirety of my career in childcare, is that in order to make things equal you may need to give more time and attention to certain children. You cannot simply treat everyone the same way and consider yourself a bringer of justice. Justice requires making sure that everyone has the ability to end up in the same place. If that means that one child needs more help due to their background or home life or mental condition then, whether you’re a teacher, social worker or CLD practitioner, you have a moral obligation to do the most you can for that child.