Q. Drawing on ONE sociological perspective presented in the course content, discuss critically its usefulness in developing your understanding of your role as a teacher and the Irish primary education system.
For this reflection I will be examining education disadvantage (ED), highlighting current issues around education and childhood poverty in Ireland, and relating this discussion to my own understanding of my role as a teacher. I will be exploring ED through the lens of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction to enhance my reflection.
Bourdieu, hailing from a conflict theory perspective, believed that society was organised in a way to maintain social class divides and inequalities, with the dominant ruling class at the top of society and the working class at the bottom (Bartlett & Burton, 2010). Bourdieu believed that the education system was the centre of social reproduction. In basic terms his theory proposed that education was set up for the middle classes to succeed and maintain their position as the dominant (Sullivan, 2002). He differed from other conflict theorists in his belief that it was not just economic capital which separated the classes but cultural capital, social capital and symbolic capital (Giddens and Sutton, 2013). Bourdieu proposed that the education system mirrored the values of the middle class. Children entering education from these more privileged backgrounds already came to school with the knowledge of school expectation, academic language, knowledge of how to behave, how to sit in class and how to conform to authority (Bartlett & Burton, 2010). Knowledge that they had absorbed in the home, socialisation within the family was key to his theory (Grenfell and James, 1998). For the children from working class backgrounds, all of this would have been alien to them, they had to work harder to even get to the level of education that the ruling class have without even trying. The reason I chose to bring in Bourdieu’s theory here is because it enables us to see why there are still inequalities in our education system and why some are still not receiving the same educational opportunities as others (O’Brien and Ó Fathaigh, 2005).
Education disadvantage can be defined as when some people benefit less from the education system than others (Combat Poverty Agency, 2003). ED is an issue which affects all levels of the education system and evidence of such is recorded as far back as 1965, with the publication of the Investment in Education report. This report identified the disparities between socio-economic status (SES) and educational participation and achievement (Frawley, 2014). According to a separate report published in 2004, the most influential factor regarding achievement and underachievement in education in Ireland was the SES of the student (MacRuairc, 2009). Linking ED and Bourdieu’s theory, McCoy (2012) shows that children from middle/upper class backgrounds have a more advantageous education due to their social and cultural extracurricular activities. Childhood poverty and homelessness are becoming more prevalent as a contributing factor of ED in Ireland. According to reports, as recent as 2018, there were almost 4000 children living in Emergency Accommodation (EA) in Ireland (Focus Ireland, 2018). Being homeless or living in EA has huge ramifications for educational outcome. It is believed that children who are living in EA are losing out on basic needs of sleep, food and hygiene and often arrive to school tired and hungry (Focus Ireland, 2018). Children also face long travel times to school, as accommodation may not be available in close proximity and can struggle to find somewhere suitable to complete homework in the evenings. Education may be a way out of poverty for these children but most of the time they are unable to participate fully due to issues mentioned above, but also the financial constraints on parents (Children’s Rights Alliance, 2018). Schools often become the only constant these children have.
Role as Teacher
Exploring ED and the impact child poverty and homelessness can have on education has shaped my understanding of my role as a teacher. With the number of children experiencing homelessness on the rise, it is possible that at some stage in my career I will have a student in my class who is experiencing homelessness. Masten (1997) mentions that schools and teachers have an important role to play in providing a safe, stable environment for these children. I always believed in the importance of creating a safe, inclusive environment in my classroom, however in my own ignorance I had only really thought about this in terms of supporting children with additional needs or children coming from a diverse background. After exploring just how prominent ED and child poverty is in Ireland, I realise now how important is it to be cognisant of these students in my classroom. For a child experiencing poverty or living in EA, there may not be any constant in their life. They face the struggle that many of us may not ever experience, where is their next meal coming from, where are they going to sleep etc. I believe my role as teacher may change at times to that of the caregiver, these children do not just need the teaching teacher asking about the homework, they need someone who wholly supports them and is going to be there for them no matter what situation they face outside the school walls.
I also think part of my role as educator is to cater for all students where possible and promote inclusivity in my classroom. I think it is very easy to send homework home and not even realise some students may not have the resources or support at home to do it. Similarly, I believe that I am going to have to seriously reflect on my own norms and values in order to be an inclusive, open-minded teacher. It would be so easy to teach a lesson on going to a restaurant or going on holidays without thinking about the students who maybe do not have that luxury. Thinking now on how that would make me feel if I was basically excluded from lessons, makes me realise how important it is from me in future to think outside of my own ‘norm’ and be more open to students who may not have the same life experiences as me.
Exploring sociological perspectives such as ED has had a huge impact on my understanding on my role as an educator. I believe that educating myself on topics such as this will add to my ability as an educator and hopefully lead me to be a better teacher than I would have been before. Reflecting on one’s own behaviours and attitudes surrounding issues such as homelessness and theorising ways in which you can aid these students on their educational journey is essential to becoming a more realised educator.
WORD COUNT: 1100
Bartlett, S. and Burton, D. (2010) Introduction to education studies. 3rd edn. London: SAGE.
Children’s Rights Alliance (2018) Home works: A study on the educational needs of Children experiencing homelessness and living in Emergency Accommodation. [Online] Available at: https://www.childrensrights.ie/sites/default/files/submissions_reports/files/Home%20Works%20Study%20on%20the%20Educational%20Needs%20of%20Children%20Experiencing%20Homelessness%20-%20Full%20Report.pdf (Accessed: 18 November 2020).
Combat Poverty Agency (2003) Educational Disadvantage in Ireland. Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency.
Focus Ireland (2018) Homelessness Costs Children Their Education. Available at: https://www.focusireland.ie/homelessness-costs-children-education/ (Accessed: 13 November 2020).
Frawley, D. (2014) ‘Combating educational disadvantage through early years and primary school investment’, Irish Educational Studies, 33(2), pp. 155-171.
Giddens, A. and Sutton, P.W (2013) Sociology. 7th edn. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Grenfell, M and James, D. (1998) Bourdieu and education: Acts of practical theory. London: Falmer Press.
MacRuairc, G. (2009) ‘Language, socio-economic, class and educational underachievement’ in Drudy, S. (ed.) Education in Ireland: Challenge and change. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
Masten, A. S., Sesma, A., Si-Asar, R., Lawrence, C., Miliotis, D. and Dionne,J. A. (1997). ‘Educational risks for children experiencing homelessness’. Journal of School Psychology, 35(1), pp. 27-46.
McCoy, S., Smyth, E. and Banks, J. (2012) The Primary Classroom: Insight from the Growing Up in Ireland Study. Dublin: ESRI/NCCA.
O’Brien, S. and Ó Fathaigh, M. (2005) ‘Bringing in Bourdieu’s theory of social capital: Renewing learning partnership approaches to social inclusion’, Irish Educational Studies, 24(1), pp. 65-76.
Sullivan, A. (2002) ‘Bourdieu and education: How useful is Bourdieu’s theory for researchers’, The Netherland’s Journal of Social Sciences, 38(2), pp. 144-166.