Learning experiences of students from low-income families

7 May 2003

This paper provides a preliminary comparative analysis of the learning experiences of students from The Smith Family's 'Learning for Life' (LFL) program and other students from low socio-economic backgrounds. The analysis is based on data from a survey of Year 11 LFL students conducted in 2001. The LFL program provides financial and educational support to disadvantaged families and their children. It aims to assist students to participate in mainstream school activities and improve their 'life opportunities and self-esteem' in an attempt to break the cycle of disadvantage. The findings for LFL students are compared with results from a comparable group of Year 11 students that participated in the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY), a major national survey conducted annually by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). Two key issues are examined in the paper: (1) how students evaluate their school and classroom experiences; and (2) whether students experience serious learning problems. The comparisons are drawn along two polarised issues: the factors contributing to differences among students with strong positive attitudes towards school and learning; and examining students with serious learning problems. The findings question the common assumption that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are a homogenous group. A diversity of factors were found to influence attitudes towards learning and education and to impact on learning difficulties. The implications of these findings highlight the need to continue to diversify school-based intervention programs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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