Children from working class backgrounds speak less in class
The Sector > Research > Preschoolers from working class backgrounds speak up less, French researchers find

Preschoolers from working class backgrounds speak up less, French researchers find

by Freya Lucas

July 06, 2023

Children from middle and upper class backgrounds are more likely to participate in classroom discussions than equally capable children from working class backgrounds, a new study of preschool children in France by an international team of researchers has found. 


The work also shows that these differences may shape how children are perceived by their peers, and sheds new light on the persistent and early emerging disparities in education linked to socioeconomic status (SES).


“While preschool attendance has been shown to be beneficial for low-SES students’ achievement, our results suggest that early childhood education is not currently maximising its potential as an equalising force,” said lead author Assistant Professor Sébastien Goudeau from the Université de Poitiers.


“Early schooling contexts provide unequal opportunities for engagement to children in ways linked to their socioeconomic status, which could serve to maintain or even exacerbate social class disparities in achievement,” added fellow author Professor Andrei Cimpian from New York University. 


“These and other findings call for redesigning aspects of early childhood in ways that foster engagement among all students, regardless of their social class.”


Previous research has primarily focused on deficits in low-SES parents’ knowledge, practices, or resources to explain disparities found in early childhood education. The new study examined how schooling itself at this age might be shortchanging children from lower-income backgrounds. 


“Preschoolers explained differences in engagement during whole-class discussions as a consequence of children’s inherent characteristics, including their competence and warmth,” Professor Cimpian explained. 


“These results suggest that the patterns of school engagement typical of middle- and high-SES students increase the extent to which they are valued by their preschool peers and — conversely — may undermine low-SES students’ psychological experiences.”


Access the findings in full here

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