How Generational Poverty and education

Pat Grayson

Jan 27, 2024

How Generational Poverty and education

How Generational Poverty is sustained by the trio of:
Learning Disorder – Low Socio-economic Structure – the imposed workload of teachers
(opinion piece by Pat Grayson May 2022

For Mary, the unease usually started a month before exams. By the age of nine her nerves really took hold (pessimistic cognitive biases) so strongly, invariably she was too nauseous for breakfast.

Mary had a Learning Disorder (LD); this was confirmed by being flagged for a weekly ‘different’ teaching. She was self-conscious when quizzed by classmates.

For year after sorry year Mary struggled on, sometimes passing, often failing. Yet, each year she advanced a standard. Each year became harder. Feeling socially unaccepted by the ‘normal’ kids, the guilt gnawed away. She couldn’t follow lessons and would daydream until the school bell released her. Homework was pointless, as she could not cope.

Mary’s reading was problematic – she could not remember what she read two minutes earlier. Her eyes followed the lines whilst her mind was elsewhere. Sometimes, she could read bigger words, but later, if asked to spell them, she could not. As an LD, she had no word-memory recall.

School became a hated thing and she began to see exams as torture. Two months before her sixteenth birthday her parents were told by the principal that Mary would be better off leaving school to get a job. Sadly it was obvious that her teachers had given up.

Mary felt it pointless to attend school for those last two months. The headmaster, aware of her absence, turned-a-blind-eye as it was easier. The fact that Mary could read a shopping list, but not much more was irrelevant.

Mary was relieved that the embarrassment was over. Yet, she felt cheated, she knew education was necessary for a better future – but how? She did not have the capacity to maximise her schooling. She realised her classmates had a purpose. However, school, the way she received it, diminished purpose.

Mary came from a low socio-economic family. Her father was sometimes a labourer, and sometimes on welfare. Nevertheless, Mary hoped to escape, but after countless job rejections (her written applications were muddled), she could not secure work. Then, with free-time, Mary hung-out with friends, drinking through the day, whilst blaming the government for their woes. An addiction soon developed and she settled into a life without aspirations, living on benefits as a single mother.

Eighteen years later, Mary’s two children quit school early. Neither have left home, both on benefits. The eldest is an ice addict and the youngest is pregnant. Mary thinks, ‘It’s not that bad living in the council home with her parents and children – it’ll be nice having a child running around – somehow we’ll manage’.


Mary is fictitious, but represents a cohort trapped in generational poverty through the combination of LD’s, low socio-economic households, and teacher workload.

Teachers do endeavour to help LD’s. The reality though, is there is not enough time for individual attention – the Marys get left behind.

A survey for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that teachers around the world are spending more time on administration and non-teaching tasks. The survey, which covered thirty countries, shows that the international weekly average time spent on these tasks is 18.2 hours with Australia having 25 hours. The survey also showed that teachers in Japan worked the most hours per week at 56, followed by Canada, USA, UK, NZ and Australia at 44.8 hours (excludes marking exams and homework, after-hours).

A co-compiler of the survey and Deputy Chief Executive for the Australian Council of Educational Research, Sue Thomson lamented, “It’s clear teachers are under increasing pressure. This is an international phenomenon… …Those additional hours that teachers put in did not lead to better student results.

According to an article in The Age newspaper from August 7th, 2019, Thomson said, “We’re always talking about extra things that teachers need to be doing, different skills they need, but we don’t give them time to do the things that we know make them good teachers”.

National convener of Save our Schools, Trevor Cobbold adds “The survey confirmed what teachers had been saying about imposed workload due to government reporting requirements. This puts pressure on teachers… … or mentoring students who have fallen behind.”

Many teachers seldom receive pre-service training, or do not have enough time to learn intervention programs. As a result, they feel compromised and stressed knowing they are falling short. It is well documented that many teachers leave the field due to burnout and frustration.

Schools tend to cater for the mainstream but with up to 16% of children having an LD the shortfall is alarmingly obvious. Governments need to be pro-active in the field, where students with LD’s deserve targeted attention. Schools, as their reason for existence, should offer education to all students, irrespective of their abilities or needs.

Functional education aims to help children overcome learning disorders, socio-economic pressure, and shortcomings of the education system.

Educationalists should put themselves in the shoes of children with learning disorders and ask every day, "How can I learn to spell? How can I learn to read? How can I understand grammar?"

Otherwise, many more will end in the same predicament as Mary where they are shouldered from a life of possibility to one of limitation.


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