I have a 5 year old, and a lucky one at that. If he’s had a bad night and is tired, I can keep him home from school or collect him early. Either way, he is warm and well fed. Some days, even with all that, he’s not on top form.
Still, even with bad days, research shows that children like him stand a good chance of doing well in life. He has access to a warm, dry home, to medical care, to good and plentiful food, to books and computers, and he has shoes, a coat and a bed. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Over 285, 000 Kiwi kids live in poverty, with 17% of our tamariki going without the day to day things they need. Three fifths of those children live like that for years on end.
Many children don’t eat well and don’t have access to proper medical care. They live in houses that are not healthy. They might be cold. They may not sleep well.
But whatever their circumstances, five days a week, 40 weeks a year, off they go to school
A student’s job is to learn.
For six hours, five days a week, students come face to face with new challenges, new information, old problems they haven’t yet mastered, social interactions that need to be manoeuvred, and physical challenges big and small. It’s no mean feat to be a student.
Even when it’s fun and you’re motivated, it’s hard yakka.
Even when you are healthy, happy and safe, it’s hard yakka.
Yes, student’s job is to learn – and that’s not easy when the odds are stacked against you. That’s bloody hard yakka indeed.
Walk in their shoes
Put yourself in the shoes of a less fortunate child for one moment. Imagine sleeping in a damp bed, maybe top to toe with someone else, that’s assuming you have a bed. You’re cold all night and not getting a good rest. Then waking up to an inadequate breakfast – or no breakfast at all. Off you go for the day in bare feet or worn shoes that let water in. No, you don’t have a coat – and you are walking – so if it rains you get wet.
Now imagine working all day in those damp clothes, with cold feet and a rumbling tummy.
You have to think, listen, cooperate, learn, exercise, share, write, read, calculate…. You might just have thought about lunch, but no, you don’t have lunch either – or nothing worth mentioning, nothing that will sustain you. And you still have a couple more hours to go. No-one can collect you early because they’re at work. And even if they could, it would be the same tomorrow.
Now imagine doing that day after day after day after day…
If it were you in those circumstances, how well would you do your job?
Pull your socks up
It’s a simplistic and insulting argument to put forward – arrogant, in fact. People’s lives vary so widely – no one person lives through the same circumstances as another.
As Bryan Bruce recently put it:
“I also find it interesting how some people who have ‘made it’ out of poor circumstances have the attitude “if I can do it anyone can”. Not true. Not everyone’s life experiences are the same and we have working poor now – people who work all week and still can’t make ends meet- which is a relatively recent phenomenon.”
It is well documented that poverty leads to poorer mental health and cognitive development. Put simply, if you grow up in poverty, your chances to learn well and do well later in life are reduced.
Conversely, giving children the tools so they have a far better chance of moving onwards and upwards is good for all of us, as it lessens many potential future burdens, not least of all in the health sector, unemployment, and crime.
So, when someone says, “See, poverty doesn’t matter. High expectations are all it takes to overcome poverty,” tell them to read the work of Shonkoff and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. Some children survive the most extreme adversity, but far more do not
Social Braces and Superman Socks
Isn’t it, then, a better plan to reduce poverty and make it easier for more people to be able to ‘pull their socks up’?
Children who are fed, warm, healthy and safe learn better, not just as children but also as adults. They are less likely to put financial burdens on society. They are more likely to do well.
The least a decent society can do is give them the basics to keep them fed and healthy, so they can learn and have a good chance. It’s not charity. It’s not a hand out. It’s a hand UP.
If we want people to be able to pull their socks up as adults and we want our tamariki to succeed at school, we must prevent the metaphorical socks being so far down to begin with.
Let’s give our tamariki superman socks and watch them fly.