Research corner

20th March 2015 at 00:00

`Identity, Status, and Culture: examining barriers of success for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds' by Anthony Walker,

New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 140: 23-30, Winter 2014 (Wiley)

Education is a means of social empowerment - through learning and study, individuals can change their socio-economic status and take steps towards making better lives for themselves. Anthony Walker's paper is concerned with the factors that could prevent this, and how they may be limited or removed.

Walker's background is in the US education system, where he notes the many disadvantages for students from low-income backgrounds. He writes that socio-economic status is especially problematic when it affects teachers' expectations of students. Equally troublesome, though, is the way that assessment of a student's aptitude does not take their background into account.

Clearly, it is important to change educational practice to remove these socio-economic barriers. However, Walker notes that simply interacting one-to-one with students from lower socio-economic backgrounds can have a positive effect. So where should teachers focus their efforts?

According to Walker, one important area is "criticality": examining the educational system of a school "for the purpose of empowering all stakeholders to become engaged and have a voice".

Developing students' identities is also key - taking into account each individual's learning and growth, rather than "generalizable, group-based assumptions and statements".

Most important, Walker says, is to view the student as an individual rather than a product of their upbringing. Knowing and appreciating every student's unique needs allows teachers to engage with them more directly in their learning experience, in order to make an education system that is fundamentally fairer and works better for students, whatever their socio-economic status.

Alexander Tyndall

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