Education featured Poverty

Teaching about poverty in schools and universities

Looking back upon my two articles for the Halifax Media Co-op, Hire Kendall Worth and Join Team Kendall Worth, at times I think about creating a paid position of poverty advocacy for myself.

Part of that dream would be to create poverty education courses for all grade levels, including a college/university level course where people could poverty education. After all their needs to be more public education on the fact that we have poverty just as much in our own backyards as in remote places elsewhere in the world.


Having this offered in college or university could benefit students who want to become a school teacher or social worker.

The overall message is that poverty is a big problem in our own backyard. Talking to some parents, the message I get is that students must be made to understand this no matter what grade they are in.

So now let’s more specially have a look at what each level of school from elementary right through to university could teach their students about poverty.

Elementary school, learning about living on social assistance to reduce bullying

More and more young students coming into the school in this present day and age are coming from families living in poverty. Children who are that young in age are too young to understand why their fellow students are living in poverty. More especially, they are too young to understand the following things:

  • The overall limited allowances their parents receive from the Department of Community Services. Keep in mind that Community Services only provides $535.00 for rent, and $275.00 for personal allowances.
  • Child support that single moms receive from their former partners gets deducted from their income assistance allowances at 100%.
  • Even though there are limited special diet allowances available in the ESIA policy, there is nothing in policy covering special diet needs for kids.

Parents I talk to say that in schools from grades primary to six kids are taught a fair bit about why there is poverty in places overseas, but almost nothing about poverty in our backyard. That’s also what I remember back when I was in those lower grades myself as a student

These parents also say that kids who live in poverty tend to be often the ones who gets picked on the most during elementary school and beyond. Kids who come from middle and upper class families tend not to understand the poor kids situations. This is one of the causes of students bullying in our school systems.

If kids were taught about poverty right from grade primary then this could potentially reduce the amount of bullying that happens in schools.   

Keep in mind; if teachers are going to start teaching local poverty to elementary school children then they have to be qualified. This is one benefit where having poverty education taught at the university level could benefit those students studying to be school teachers.     

Junior High, understanding local poverty as an essential life skill


After students had the opportunity to learn about local poverty in elementary school, the way kids from poor families gets treated by their middle and upper class peers when they get older will improve. The understanding of the middle and upper class kids about the poor kid’s families would be better.

One piece of the reality here in Halifax is that young school students entering the elementary school system for the first time in their lives are coming from families living in poverty. It is happening more and more because poverty is becoming more and more visible here in Halifax.

The kids from poor families often have problems with cognitive, social, and emotional behaviours. They have these problems because of lack of health and nutrition. Overall, kids from poor families are less likely to exercise, get proper diagnoses, receive appropriate and prompt medical attention, or be prescribed appropriate medications or interventions.

At the Junior High level students are in a better frame of mind to start developing an understanding of the reality of anything relating to life skills. It is my belief that understanding local poverty issues is such an essential life skill worth learning.

High school, providing hands on experience of poverty

By now students should be starting to think about what they want to do when they are done school.

One idea – students studying in this grade level could have the opportunity to get hands on experience of poverty. One way for them to get to know the poverty community is to have them volunteer say one day per week at the places I had talked about in my past article titled Down and out in Halifax and Dartmouth. This way they would be getting to know the poverty community as well as develop practical skills.

College and university

If teachers are going to start teaching about local poverty in the school system, they themselves need to be qualified to do so. Therefore we need a poverty education courses taught at the college and university levels.

Poverty education is also beneficial to students who are studying to become social workers. After all, when they become social workers, people living in poverty are a large portion of the people they will be working with.  

Also at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Human Services courses are offered. A lot of students attending NSCC taking such courses also end up working with people living in poverty. Why not make poverty education a part of their education? After-all people who take such Human Services classes end up being employed working with people with drug and alcohol addictions.

What else can schools do address poverty?

Addressing education; will help along the way with reforms. If you start teaching kids about poverty at a young age, it could help them grow up being interested in better social development when they get older.

Educators and educational leaders need to be encouraged to become knowledgeable. Having upfront knowledge is key to addressing this.    

For example, assigning work requiring a computer and internet access or other costly resources only makes sense when we can provide in-school time and materials for such work to be completed. This would help because parents of children living in poverty cannot afford costly resources as such within their school supply budget.

Give students from poverty access to the same high-level curricular and pedagogical opportunities and high expectations as their wealthy peers. This could have benefit because both classes of children could develop a better understanding of each other.

Offering free lunch programs to all children could be beneficial. Offering this could take a lot of stress of parents, plus where during lunch periods this step would give both classes of children a better opportunity to get to know and understand each other.  

Bring guest speakers in from the poverty community into the schools to talk to children about poverty in our community. These way children could have the opportunity to learn local from people who live it.  

In conclusion, we are seeing more and more poverty in HRM. This is why poverty education in the schools at all education levels need to improve.

Kendall Worth is a poverty activist and co-chair of the Benefits Reform Action Group