BC Teachers Finding Poverty Issues in the Classroom

The BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) released survey results on poverty in the classroom this week demonstrating how widespread the issue is and how teachers are coping with the problem.  Developed in association with the Anti-Poverty Action Group of the Committee for Action on Social Justice, the research involved focus groups across the province and an extensive survey that considered hunger, school fees, participation in school activities, teacher’s awareness of poverty and the adequacy of resources.

BC has been notorious as the province with the highest child poverty rate in the country for years.  In 2011 (the most recent numbers available), 93,000 children were living in poverty in BC, an increase of 7,000 children from 2010.  This has left BC tied for with Manitoba as the province with the worst child poverty rate.

NOTE:  Campaign 2000 and provincial colleagues will be releasing updated Child Poverty Report Cards on November 26th.  In BC, First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition will be holding a press conference that morning to speak to the updated numbers.

Poverty is not just an issue for the home. When children arrive at school hungry, not ready to learn, tired, or struggling with behavioural challenges, then poverty is present in the classroom.  BCTF recognized the problem and wanted to find out from teachers the depth of the issue, what resources are needed to address the problem and assist teachers, and learn what teachers see as key areas for advocacy so as to support systemic change.  A total of 778 teachers from the eight regional BCTF zones responded to the survey titled 2012 Poverty and Education survey: A teacher’s perspective, illustrating that poverty is pervasive across BC.  Some highlights from the survey include:

  • Just over 1/3 of teachers describe their school as low-income
  • Almost 95% of teachers said at least some of their students at poverty related issues.  1 in 10 teachers estimated between half or ¾  of their students experience poverty
  •  Almost half of the teachers surveyed said that poverty has increased since they began teaching at the school
  • 80% of teachers reported there are students starting the day hungry in their classroom
  • Students experiencing ‘hardship’ were least likely to participate in overnight trips, extra-curricular sports activities or music class/band programs
  • Two-thirds of elementary teachers and 85.6% of middle/secondary teachers indicate havingstudents in their class(es) who miss school because the “Student does not have a stable living or housing situation”
  • Most teachers felt unprepared to respond to poverty-related issues
  • A majority of teachers indicated they needed more supports in the following areas:  Staff Counsellors, English language learning teachers, special needs assessments, Learning Assistance Teachers and Educational Assistants


Further analysis of results will be available on the BCTF website in the coming weeks.