Barriers to learning in children

Written by anne cagle
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Barriers to learning in children
There are barriers to learning for many children. (schoolgirl image by Nenad Djedovic from

There are many barriers to educational progress that children face at school and within the home. Some difficulties are health related, while other problems can arise in the student's environment. Many of these problems can be solved or ameliorated with teacher awareness and action, focused curriculum, parental involvement or community support.

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Gender discrimination is one barrier to participation in the classroom. In textbooks, there is often a lack of role models that fall outside traditional gender expectations for girls, such as being a homemaker, or occupations, such as a nurse or schoolteacher. According to the 2001 report "Bridging the Gap: Gender Equity in Science, Engineering and Technology" from the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, girls who do not have role models for higher-paying jobs in the sciences and technology have lower self-confidence and career aspirations.


A student who speaks a foreign language is at a disadvantage both academically and socially. The non-native speaker may not be able to make sense of what is happening in the classroom or communicate with his peers. Those who are new to the indigenous language may experience harassment for not being able to speak proficiently. According to a study by the Chinese for Affirmative Action Center for Asian American Advocacy, additional problems are encountered by students whose parents also do not speak the language. This added barrier leads to parents who are unable to read school documents or participate in school meetings.


Learning disabilities involve a broad spectrum of diverse problems. For example, a student with Down syndrome, which can cause learning delays, may have difficulty understanding assignments, while an autistic child may have barriers to social interaction or other neurological hindrances. Some problems, such as auditory processing disorder where children hear but cannot process information, are not evident to those around them. This may lead to misunderstandings in the classroom, teasing from peers or inappropriate intervention from school authorities. According to the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, bullying and teasing of children with learning disabilities has risen since 2003. Often, school authorities ignore the harassment in an attempt to let the children "sort it out" or blame is automatically placed on the child with the disability.


Physical disabilities, like being blind, deaf or paralysed, can be barriers to education unless school accommodations are created for the disabled child. Students with physical disabilities are subject to teasing as well. Furthermore, according to the Michigan Community Service Commission, there is often a misconception that because a person is physically disabled he is also learning disabled.


Poverty is a significant barrier to children succeeding in school. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that students who come from impoverished families do not have the same level of academic support as children who live in higher-income families. These children do not have the same access to books, computers, classes and other supplements to after-school learning. In addition, the parents of low-income students often have lower levels of education, and there may be no highly educated adults in the household to help these children complete homework assignments or act as role models. This lack of mentoring can create an environment in which the student lacks the motivation to study and succeed.

Race and ethnicity

Students who live in ethnic neighbourhoods may not have access to high-quality schools. Students of colour disproportionately live in neighbourhoods that are low income, and they often do not have the societal support to thrive in school. Furthermore, according to a 2005 report for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, non-white students have less access to computers and technology than white students, with a resulting limitation on their educational opportunities.

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