On the surface, Australia is a wealthy country; rich, prosperous, full of educational and career opportunities, excelling in sport and the arts, and with a phenomenal standard of health. However, many of us fail to understand how deeply our country has been affected by the poverty epidemic. Studies in 2016 found that 739,000 children are living below the poverty line (Australian Council of Social Service, n.d.). These children make up 17.3% of our population – 17.3% of young Australians who are struggling just to meet their daily needs.
The dignity of the human person can be defined by the statement: every human being has been made in God’s image and likeness, and therefore deserves to be treated with respect and grace, not having their freedom or quality of life compromised due to their race, gender, age, or ability (Caritas Australia, 2019). Dignity is upheld when a person is able to live comfortably, with the ability to have everything they need for day-to-day life. The common good is simply the basis of human rights; all people merit equal opportunities and are justified to receive the same treatment, access, and honor (Australian Catholic University, 2019). The common good is based around communities; it cannot be reached until everyone is included and receiving the benefits.
Children in schools who don’t receive breakfast, can’t afford to pay for their textbooks, and don’t have access to a personal device such as a laptop or tablet, are experiencing compromised dignity. They may feel as though they aren’t good enough, don’t belong in school, are disadvantaged due to their lack of resources, and become unmotivated. In Australia, the trend is growing upwards. More and more children are going to school with an empty stomach. In 2013, 14.8% of children reported that they did not eat anything for breakfast (Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum, 2017).
Correspondingly, the dropout rate of students is also on the rise. Children living in poverty may not have adequate access to hygiene products and therefore come to school sick, dirty, or affected by head lice, etc. These children will feel ostracized and excluded, as most kids would not want to sit with them or be friends with them, and this leads to the children having a negative mindset regarding school. As a result, only one in four Australians is leaving high school with a year 12 certificate, and only 60% of kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds are completing their schooling (Longbottom, 2015).
As a future teacher, I strongly believe that it is crucially important for children to receive as much education as is available to them and graduating year 12 is something every child should be able to achieve. However, as more kids are struggling academically due to their hunger and lack of nutrition, and as they seek to find work to help support themselves and their families, many are making the devasting choice to sacrifice their education in order to survive.
The poverty epidemic is something which should never have spread so drastically in Australia, and something that we must take responsibility for. The principles of participation, the preferential option for the poor, the common good, and dignity of the human person, require the global community to contribute to making a difference (Catholic Social Teaching, 2019). There are many small ways in which we can help to eradicate poverty, particularly in our schools.
Providing a free breakfast a few times a week, or even daily, is a great way to enable all children to receive the same learning opportunities. Going to school with nutritious food in our kids’ bellies makes a world of difference in their ability to concentrate, understand, and retain knowledge.
Textbook and device scholarships is another massive way that will engage and empower our kids to thrive in school. If every family enrolled contributed a small percentage, it would easily cover the costs and enable all children to receive the same opportunities for success.
Education is the key to our future. Kath Boyle stated that we must protect the dignity of all people, to maintain our own, “when we see some people whose human dignity is compromised by poverty, by inequality, by oppression, somehow all humans are diminished if one person’s dignity is diminished” (Australian Catholic University, 2019).
Our goal should be that every child has the ability to complete their schooling, graduating year 12, enabling them to make a choice to go on for further study or enter the workforce. We must break the poverty cycle, and it starts in our schools, with our kids. The success of the future is in our hands.