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Factors That Affect Learning

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All children matter, regardless of their background. It is important that every child can fulfil its true potential, however there are factors that can affect a child’s learning to stop this. This essay will discuss the importance of emotional intelligence and how it positively affects a child’s learning and social class with its negative affect on education and solutions to combat it so deprived children have better opportunities in school.

Social class has a major affect on educational achievement in schools as, “low income is a strong predictor of low performance” (Rowntree Foundation 2007, p.1). Marxist sociologists like Bowles and Gintis (1976) and Willis (1977) believe in the reproduction of labour, meaning working class children end up leaving school into working class jobs, as the educational system is focused on creating a docile, obedient future workforce. This suggests that some children are at a disadvantage because of their social class, even before they start school, as the educational system is not in their favour: “beneath the façade of meritocracy lies the reality of the educational system geared toward the reproduction of economic relations” (Bowles and Gintis 1976. p.103). The working class face the problem of have fewer opportunities than their wealthier peers who go on to obtain higher qualifications and higher paid jobs irrespective of their ability. Bowles and Gintis (1976) argue that these working class children who are not successful blame themselves and not the system, which has destined them to fail.

This suggests that schools purposely have a system in which the working class have very little social mobility, meaning that once their in the lower sets that is where they stay; “systems of streaming in the comprehensive school contribute to the process of reproduction of class relations through education” (Ball 1986, in Rogers 1986, p.88). The system is built for those who are middle class, which makes sense as when schools first opened, only the rich could go and those that go to private schools do far better than state schools. If government wanted the educational system to be fair shouldn’t they make all schools the same? Even state schools have their own reputations; affluent areas do far better than poorer areas. The work of Bowles and Gintis has been criticised about their lack of research in schools to explain how the economic system shapes the educational system. Teachers’ expectations of working class children are normally lower than expectations of the middle class children as their reputation for educational attainment is far better.

This causes some children to fall in to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they act like the teachers expect. Willis (1977), unlike Bowles and Gintis, has done a “classic sociologic investigation” (Giddens 2006. p711) into how cultural reproduction occurs by studying a group of 12, working class, male pupils. His research suggested that schools are not completely successful in creating the obedient, docile workforce that was put forward by Bowles and Gintis. The boys actively rejected the formal school culture in favour of the manual labour jobs (Rogers 1986). Therefore it is this working class, counter school sub culture that negatively affects the learning of the children who belong to this group. A criticism of Marxism is that it is quite radical in saying the system is out to get the working class. There aren’t as many neo Marxism views that come into the mainstream so it can be argued that their views on social class is outdated, especially as there has been efforts by the government trying to tackle the issue of the gap of attainment between the working and middle class children.

Bernstein (1975, in Giddens 2006) identified that language codes affect learning. Working class children have a restricted code of speech. This is the kind of speech found in conversations between friends and family, often using: short, simple and unfinished sentences. Therefore the working class children are at a disadvantage when teachers use an elaborate speech code, which is mainly understood by the middle class children. These children have been socialised to use restricted code and elaborate code of speech where meanings are made explicit, abstract ideas can be expressed and explanations are provided.

These children are more suited to the academic culture in school. Often with working class parenting, and their restricted code of speech, no explanations and reasons are provided to them about their behaviour. This results in working class children becoming less curious about the world as they feel their questions will not be answered. Tough (1976 in Giddens 2006) backs up Bernstein’s idea of children receiving limited responses as she found that working class children in general have this problem. “Children who have been given reasons and explanations for their behaviour are more likely to be able to master the elaborate language codes used in school, which is the key to success” (Giddens 2006, p.709).

So far this essay has covered social class and education, but what about poverty and education? According to Barnardo’s Charity (2010) there are 4 million children who live in poverty. Within these families, they only have £10 a day to live off. Children who live in poverty end up with ill health due to their poor diets. “Despite the welfare state, babies are born to families in the lowest social classes enter the world with less chance of developing into healthy sturdy children” (Mortimore 1986 in Rogers 1986, p.15). Mortimore (1986) also points out that health problems like poor vision and impaired hearing are more common in children living in poverty. Hughes (2001) points out that children need the right food for the brain to work effectively. Some families have to go without meals during the day, therefore those who go without breakfast “are disadvantaged before lessons even begin” (Hughes 2001, p.27). The government has tackled this particular problem by enforcing Breakfast Clubs in all schools, that any child can attend, and implementing free school meals for the disadvantaged children.

These children also lack the correct resources at home to do their homework, like computers, which have Internet as “poor unemployed parents will have less money to spend on materials to further their child’s development” (Mortimore 1986, in Rogers 1986, p.15). By 2020 the government plans to make the country a place where “no child or young person is disadvantaged by poverty” (WAG 2010) by introducing the Child Poverty Strategy and Delivery Plan for Wales. The strategy aims to oblige the government to lift children out of poverty, by law (BBC News 2010). Despite efforts on trying to tackle the issue of poverty and attainment in school, it is much harder to tackle the issue of bullying. Socially disadvantaged children face the problem of being victimised for not having the latest trend in school bags and pencil cases. All schools have a uniform for all children to be equal but there are no rules for bags and pencil cases. As children get older they are more aware of their social class position and can go through low self-esteem as a result of continuous bullying.

By looking at the BASIS model, put forward by Smith (1996), low self-esteem can be identified as a child who does not feel a sense of belonging, safety, aspiration, success and identity. Low self-esteem affects a child’s schoolwork as they become less confident as a person therefore less confident in their own abilities. Some children even become the stereotypical class clown as a result of this, which then makes them part of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The link between self-esteem and emotional intelligence is that the way someone is treated and how someone feels affects emotional intelligence. Becoming emotionally literate can help overcome self-esteem issues as developing this skill “leads to greater esteem, higher motivation, optimistic thinking, less violence, more responsibility and strong supportive communities” (Corrie 2003, p.4). It is important to understand the difference between emotional intelligence and emotional literacy. Emotional intelligence is the term originally developed by Peter Salovey and John Mayer (Steinter 1999).

It is “the characteristic, the personality dynamic or the potential, that can be nurtured and developed in a person” (Bocchino 1999 p.11). Goleman (1996) states that emotional intelligence involves the ability to motivate oneself, control impulses, regulate moods, and the ability to empathise. According to Corrie (2003) emotional intelligence shapes 70-80% of success. Emotional intelligence has many similarities to Gardner’s ideas of multiple intelligences. There are seven altogether, two of which he called personal intelligences: Interpersonal and Intrapersonal intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to “understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them” (Gardner 1993, p.9). The ability to empathise would fall into this intelligence. “Empathy
is the fundamental ‘people skill’” (Salovey, in Goleman 1996, p.43). Bocchino (1999) states that Piaget identified listening as the highest form on intelligence. Carefully listening to someone is important for communication, building relationships and working out what people are like.

The ability to empathise would give a true understanding to what another person is feeling, which is essential for relationship building. Coming back to self-esteem, building good relationships is important, as a child would feel a sense of belonging. Intrapersonal intelligence, on the other hand, is a “correlative ability turned inward” (Gardner 1993, p.9). It is the sense of self-awareness where a person can recognise a feeling as it happens and are able to handle these feelings. People who are strong in self-awareness tend to be more resilient. Goleman (1996) states that intrapersonal intelligence is the key to self-knowledge. Three of Salovey’s (in Goleman 1996) basic definition of emotional intelligence, would fall in to the category of intrapersonal intelligence, includes: knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions and motivating ones self. Having intrapersonal intelligence is useful in developing as a person as “understanding our emotional systems and connections between our thoughts, emotions and actions can affect and influence our day-to-day behaviours” (Corrie 2003, p.5). Both intelligences combined create emotional literacy.

Emotional literacy is the “ability to handle emotions in a way that improves your personal power and improves the quality of life around you” (Steinter 1999, p.11). It is a collection of skills, understanding and strategies that can be developed in a person (Bocchino 1999). It is basically putting emotional intelligence into practice. Emotionally literate people have the crucial skill of developing an inner coach. This inner coach is there to put forward strategies that will encourage appropriate responses towards people’s behaviour as well as their own. This comes from being self aware and empathetic. Steiner (1999) suggests that emotional literacy is made up of the ability to listen to others, empathise, express emotions effectively and understand ones emotions. Such skills can be integrated in the classroom. Emotions are now becoming more important in schools than ever before. It is important for parents, as well as teachers to be good emotional coaches. Children need to be able to name and experience their feelings in order to solve their problem.

Children who become emotionally literate through emotional coaching by parents or teachers tend to achieve well in school, are more resilient, have better health and can handle stress better. Some schools have Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSA) as seen on Teachers TV (2006). These members of staff help coach emotional literacy. They take their time to remind pupils constantly about focusing and listening in order to help them in their schoolwork and communication with others. They arrange activities with children who need emotional coaching by play games that encourage empathy and how to play appropriately with others. Another job of the ELSA is pupil assessment, like deciding who needs anger management. Hometown Primary was a failing school with 40% of pupils having learning difficulties, a great number of pupils faced high deprivation and there were many parents who lacked good parenting skills, which brought on a lot of emotional problems with some children. Becoming an emotionally literate school has made these situations better, there are less emotional problems and behaviour problems.

To conclude, this essay has covered the inequality of social class whereby the educational system is unfair and the fact that disadvantaged children lack the basic resources and healthy diets negatively affects their education. Poverty has been a problem since before industrial times and it has only been recently that the government is really taking effective action towards it. It can be agreed that high deprivation is perhaps one of the biggest factors that affects a child’s learning. On the other hand, if a child becomes emotionally literate, it will become happier and more successful in life. It can be agreed that emotional intelligence has a big impact on a child’s learning, in a positive aspect. A deprived background may prevent a child from fulfilling its academic potential, but emotional intelligence assists the child in achieving it.

Reference list

Bocchino, R (1999), Emotional Literacy. California: Corwin Press Inc.

Bowles, S and Gintis, H (1976), Schooling in Capitalist America. Great Britain: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.

Corrie, C (2003), Becoming Emotionally Intelligent. Stafford: Network Educational Press Ltd.

Gardner, H (1993), Multiple Intelligences. USA: Basic Books

Giddens, A (2006), Sociology 5th Edition. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Goleman, D, (1996), Emotional Intelligence- Why it can matter more than IQ. London: Blooming Publishing Ltd.

Hughes, M (2001), Strategies for closing the learning gap. Stafford: Network Press.

Rogers, R (1986), Education and Social Class. Great Britain: The Falmer Press.

Smith, A (1996), Accelerated Learning in the Classroom. Stafford: Network Educational Press.

Steiner, C (1999), Achieving Emotional Literacy. USA: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Willis, P (1977), Learning to Labour. Great Britain: Gower Publishing Company.

Barnardos Charity (2010) The Reality of Child Poverty In the UK http://www.barnardos.org.uk/childpoverty.htm

BBC News (2010) Concerns Over Wales Child Poverty Plan Funding http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8676414.stm

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2007) Experiences of Poverty and Educational Disadvantages http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/experiences-poverty-and-educational-disadvantage

Teachers TV (2006) Primary Special Needs – Emotional Literacy: The Hightown ELSAs http://www.teachers.tv/videos/2595

Welsh Assembly Government (2010) New strategy and delivery plan to tackle child poverty in Wales.

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