The Effects of Socioeconomic Status on English Learning in the Peruvian Andes

Abstract: The aim of this investigation was to further the research that has already been conducted on the relationship between socioeconomic status and education. It has been proven in a number of studies that socioeconomic status does have an effect on academic success. Therefore, while not only taking into account various factors that can be included when determining socioeconomic status, another component is added in this particular investigation, which encompasses attempting to find a potential common behavior students share when they are of the same socioeconomic status that contribute to academic success. The potential common behavior that is investigated includes attendance records and general grades received by the students in other classes.

This investigation took place at El Instituto Superior Pedagógico Público “José Faustino Sánchez Carrión”, also known as I.S.P.P “José Faustino Sánchez Carrión”, which is a school named after a famous politician who was born in Huamachuco, Peru. Though Huamachuco as a whole may be considered to have a lower socioeconomic status in relation to other cities and countries around the world, I have found that there is a huge variation of socioeconomic status among the students of I.S.P.P “José Faustino Sánchez Carrión” that I believe is essential to analyze in relation to every student’s academic achievement.

Moreover, I hypothesized at the beginning of this investigation that students with a higher socioeconomic status have better attendance records, learn at a faster rate, and have more academic success in English and other subjects than students with lower socioeconomic status. I also postulated that students whose parents have lower occupational prestige will be less likely to continue with their career after graduation. A modified modified Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status was created and employed for this investigation, which allowed for a wider and more in-depth analysis of the results of the students at this institute.

Based on my findings, I have determined that the landscape of Peruvian society is slowly changing to allow women to have more of a prevalence within the workforce than the previous generation. I have also discerned that there is a correlation between the socioeconomic status of a student and their attendance record or their grades in other classes other than English. I believe this an important step forward in the study of socioeconomic status and education. However, this issue is absolutely worth delving into and researching even further worldwide.

Introduction: Peru is an extremely diverse country located on the west coast of South America. It was originally inhabited by various indigenous groups, however, “In 1542, the Viceroyalty of Peru was formed, a dependency of the Spanish crown. The Viceroyalty’s territory included a large part of South America and existed for almost 200 years under the diverse forms of authoritative control” (Peru Ministerio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo). On July 28, 1821, Peru declared its independence from Spanish rule. Since then, Peru has continuously struggled to excel and gain international recognition. This is due to many internal divides within the country that determine how successful the Peruvian citizen is, such as gender, race, or even geographical location. Maureen Taft-Morales reports in Peru in Brief: Political and Economic Conditions and Relations with the United States that, “The disparity between rural and urban populations remains marked: as of 2012 over half (53%) of the rural population lives in poverty, while 16.1% of the urban population does so. The income distribution gap remains significant: the top 20% of the population garners 52.6% of the nation’s income, while the lowest 20% garners only 3.9% of the income” (Taft-Morales 2013). Furthermore, the opportunities the Peruvian citizen is presented to excel frequently depend on which major region they reside: the sierra, the jungle, or the coast. The Instituto Nacional de Estadistica e Informatica (INEI) asserts that, “The jungle and mountain highlands are home to mostly indigenous communities with little educational opportunities as well as cultural and language barriers with the Hispanic culture of the coast” (Peru Reports).

Though not entirely equally, it can still be said that the overall socioeconomic status of Peru has increased with the reduction of the amount of people living in poverty. The American Psychological Association has established that, “Socioeconomic status (SES) is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation” (American Psychological Association). +There are many factors that contribute not only to socioeconomic status, but also academic performance. I believe that it is extremely important to take this research one step further in order to understand the full effects socioeconomic status has on the academic lives of students. Therefore, for this investigation I will have five research questions that relate to the socioeconomic status of the student. These research questions include:

o Is there a correlation between household income and the speed of learning?

o “Do students with higher socioeconomic status have better attendance records?

o Is there a correlation between academic success in other subjects and academic success in English specifically?

o Is there a relationship between the occupation of the parents and the professional goals of the student?

o How does this knowledge contribute to bettering English education within the schools of Huamachuco?

Through my observations at the Instituto Superior Pedagógico “José Faustino Sánchez Carrión” in Huamachuco, Peru, I have found the English levels in the students and the teachers to be extremely low. The students and teachers lack the four basic communicative competencies of listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English. English is an extremely important language to learn, and learn correctly, in modern day society. I maintain that students with a higher socioeconomic status have better attendance records, learn at a faster rate, and have more academic success in English and other subjects than students with lower socioeconomic status. I also contend that students whose parents have lower occupational prestige will be less likely to continue with their career after graduation.

I believe that identifying not only the socioeconomic status of each student, but also other contributing factors to academic success, will be beneficial to the school as a whole because this knowledge will support the implementation of policies and procedures associated with the learning process of each student. It is my hope that through this research, teachers will be able to better create lesson plans adapted to classes that contain students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, I believe that through this investigation, I will be able to discover valuable information that all of the citizens of Peru will use and benefit from while continuing the development of their country as a whole.

Literature Review: Identifying one’s socioeconomic status is extremely valuable because it gives researchers insight on many different aspects of the individual’s life within society. Michael Oakes asserts in Measuring Socioeconomic Status that, “Without sound measures of SES, it is impossible to capture and understand changes to the structure of a society…” (Oakes). These changes to the structure of a society could include such as whether or not a country is progressing with their social issues or even their healthcare system. The American Psychological Association correspondingly contends that, “Society benefits from an increased focus on the foundations of socioeconomic inequities and efforts to reduce the deep gaps in socioeconomic status in the United States and abroad” (American Psychological Association). In Peru specifically, socioeconomic status, along with the unequal distribution of wealth and resources, directly affects access to daily necessities. Maureen Taft-Morales states that,

“The factors weighed in the World Bank Human Opportunity Index, which measures “how personal circumstances (birthplace, wealth, race or gender) impact a child’s probability of accessing the services that are necessary to succeed in life” (timely education, running water, sanitation, electricity), have improved greatly in Peru since 1995, but remain significantly lower for Peru’s poorer population as compared to the wealthier population” (Taft-Morales 2013).

Without the socioeconomic information of the citizens of Peru, the World Bank Human Opportunity Index would not be able to make the observation that conditions are improving for Peru’s poorer population.

Furthermore, the measurement of socioeconomic status has evolved greatly throughout the years. Oakes contends that, “In the pre-modern era, SES may have been based on physical strength, intelligence, and/or choice of parents (a quip worthy of considerable thought). In the modern era, wealth, income, educational attainment, and occupational prestige have been defensible indicators of SES” (Oakes). As research has progressed, a variety of other factors have been included when determining one’s socioeconomic status, such as race, highest level of education, occupation, household size, and even how many rooms are used in the house to sleep. There are many different methods used to measure socioeconomic status, such as the Duncan Socioeconomic Index (SEI), the Nam-Powers Occupational Status Score (OSS), the Household Prestige (HHP) Score, the British Cambridge Social Interaction and Stratification Scale (CAMSIS), the National Statistics Socioeconomic Classification (NS-SEC), the Hollingshead Four Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status, and many more (Oakes). Thus, as research continues to advance, methods become outdated and subject to criticism, and new ones are developed.

Moreover, there have been many studies conducted that prove that the socioeconomic status of a student has an influence on their academic success. This research has proven that students with a higher socioeconomic status tend to have more academic success than students that come from families with a lower socioeconomic status. Selcuk R. Sirin discerns from his research in Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analytic Review of Research that, “Of all the factors examined in the meta-analytic literature, family SES at the student level is one of the strongest correlates of academic performance. At the school level, the correlations were even stronger. This review’s overall finding, therefore, suggests that parents’ location in the socioeconomic structure has a strong impact on students’ academic achievement” (Sirin 2005). This research is extremely influential in the examination of socioeconomic status in relation to academic success.

Likewise, Daniel T. Willingham explains why students of higher socioeconomic status achieve more academic success than those of lower socioeconomic status in his article “Why Does Family Wealth Affect Learning?” by asserting, “First, as one might expect, wealthier parents have the resources to provide more and better learning opportunities for their children. Second, children from poorer homes are subject to chronic stress, which research from the last 10 years has shown is more destructive to learning than was previously guessed” (Willingham 33). It is clear that parents of students who have a higher socioeconomic status benefit from the unequal distribution of resources, which, in turn, helps that student achieve higher academic success than a student whose parents are of lower socioeconomic status who do not receive the same resources.

Additionally, there are many consequences that arise from the unequal distribution of wealth and resources to people of lower socioeconomic status. Jessica F. Schwab and Casey Lew-Williams write in Language Learning, Socioeconomic Status, and Child-Directed Speech that, “On average, children from lower-SES families show slower vocabulary growth relative to their higher-SES peers, and these differences persist into the school years” (Schwab and Lew-Williams 2016). Consequently, having a lower socioeconomic status leads to slower vocabulary growth, which has a huge influence on language learning. This is not limited to only learning their native tongue, but also other languages, if the child chooses to do so as they progress through school.

Nevertheless, there are many more factors that contribute to academic success than just the socioeconomic status of the student and the unequal distribution of wealth and resources. Other factors may include the location of the school and the demographics of the students who attend that school. Stephen J. Caldas & Carl Bankston found through their research on Effect of School Population Socioeconomic Status on Individual Academic Achievement that,

“Our results suggest that if a young person is from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background, has parents with low social status, and belongs to a minority race, then diversity would be an advantage. The student would benefit from the resources that the more advantaged students would bring to the social context of the school. On the other hand, our findings indicate that if a young person comes from a relatively privileged background, then diversity could be a disadvantage, at least in terms of academic achievement” (Caldas and Bankston 2012).

As a result, according to Caldas and Bankston’s study, schools where there is a great deal of socioeconomic diversity can help the students of lower socioeconomic status excel and achieve more academic success. However, at the same time socioeconomic diversity can hinder the academic success and growth of students with a higher socioeconomic status.

These studies are extremely significant when looking at the affects socioeconomic status has on policy proposals. The National Forum on Education Statistics insists that, “SES data can have direct and substantial influence on decision-making relating to classroom instruction, program and service delivery, resource allocation, and policies at all levels of the education enterprise” (National Forum on Education Statistics). To create educational policy based on the socioeconomic status to meet the necessities of the students is extremely beneficial to their academic success. Caldas and Bankston suggest that,

“The percentage of socially disadvantaged students could cease to have a negative effect on their classmates below the level of, for example, 30% poor. If this were the case, policy makers would be well advised to cap the proportion of socially disadvantaged students in any school at 30% to provide an advantageous social environment to those less advantaged, while not weakening the social environment of the more socially advantaged” (Caldas and Bankston 2012).

It is absolutely necessary to give policy makers this information to allow them to make informed decisions and create sound educational policy that fits the needs of students from every socioeconomic background.

In brief, with the help of each of these studies, I will further the research that has already been done to include how socioeconomic status affects other factors, such as attendance and academic achievement in other classes. Thus, I will be able to fully understand the correlation between socioeconomic status and the speed of learning.

Research Approaches and Methods: The method that will be used throughout this investigation is the Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status, however, I have decided to modify this method to better fit my data. The Nathan Kline Institute states, “The Hollingshead Four Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status is a survey designed to measure social status of an individual based on four domains: marital status, retired/employed status, educational attainment, and occupational prestige” (Nathan Kline Institute). Rather than using marital status or retired/employed status, I have decided to use monthly household income. This is because for this particular investigation, all of the subjects are students so asking whether or not they are retired or employed would be irrelevant.

Moreover, I have decided to use the educational attainment and occupation prestige of the student’s parents instead of for themselves in order to measure their socioeconomic status. For each category, I have followed the Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status to make a scale to measure from lowest to highest. For educational attainment, the scale is from zero to four, with four being the highest possible. For occupational prestige, the scale is from one to three for the father and from zero to three for the mother. And lastly, for the monthly household income, the scale is from one to four. The modified Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status for this investigation is as follows:

1. Father’s Highest Level of Education

a. No Schooling — 0

b. Primary School — 1

c. Secondary School — 2

d. Technical Schooling — 3

e. University — 4

2. Mother’s Highest Level of Education

a. No Schooling — 0

b. Primary School — 1

c. Secondary School — 2

d. Technical Schooling — 3

e. University — 4

3. Father’s Current Occupation

a. Agriculture — 1

b. Independent Work — 2

c. Professional Work — 3

4. Mother’s Current Occupation

a. Housewife — 0

b. Independent Work — 2

c. Professional Work — 3

5. Monthly Household Income (in Peruvian soles)

a. s/. 0–499–1

b. s/. 500–999–2

c. s/. 1,000–1,999–3

d. s/. 2,000+ — 4

I have also decided to take this method one step further and make categories based on how many points each student has from answering the questions asked of them. If the student has a total of anywhere from one to five points, the student will be considered to be of low socioeconomic status for the city of Huamachuco. If the student has six to ten points, the student will be considered to be of medium socioeconomic status for the city of Huamachuco. If the student has eleven or more points, the student will be considered of high socioeconomic status for the city of Huamachuco. The students will receive two separate surveys throughout the course that they must fill out. The first survey will identify their socioeconomic status and the second survey will gather more information about their study habits and long term goals with their profession. The results for this modified Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status for the students of I.S.P.P “José Faustino Sánchez Carrión” can be found in the appendix under Table 2.

In addition to the measurement of the socioeconomic status and the academic aspirations of each student, I will also be measuring the percent increase from the entrance exam to the exit exam. I will do this by subtracting the entrance exam results from the exit exam results and dividing by the entrance exam result. For example, if a student scored 30.00% on the entrance exam and 50.00% on the exit exam, their percentage increase would look like this:

50–30 = 20 then 20/30 = 66.67% increase from the entrance to exit exam.

The results for the exams the students took can be found in the appendix under Table 3, the blue table on the left side being the entrance exams and the orange table on the right being the results for the exit exams. The percentage increase can be found in this same table as the column farthest to the right.

I will also take attendance every day in order to track the attendance of the students who come to class and how many absences each student has. A copy of the attendance sheet can be found in the appendix, labeled Table 1. The red on certain columns of the table indicates that these were days where only students who wanted an extra class could come for an intermediate level. This was not mandatory, nor was there anything covered in the class that would have helped those students achieve a better score on the exit exam. This class was solely for students who wanted to go above and beyond what was taught in the mandatory class. Table 4 in the appendix also displays the total number of absences each student had during the course, excluding any days shaded with red.

Results: At the conclusion of this investigation, I had a total of twenty-three students in my class who had taken both the entrance and exit exams, as well as submitted both surveys that were given to them. This included sixteen female students and seven male students. There were students from a variety of levels of English: seven from the first cycle, seven from the fifth cycle, six from the seventh cycle, and three from the ninth cycle. Out of the twenty-three students in my class, only seven reported back on their second survey that they work and study simultaneously, while sixteen reported that they only study. Out of the seven students who work, four stated that they work between one and ten hours a week, two stated that they work between eleven and twenty a week, and one person stated that they work between twenty-one and forty hours a week. These results can be found at the beginning of the appendix as Chart 1, Graph 1, Graph 2, and Graph 3.

I have also found that there was not one student that reported receiving a perfect total grade of twenty in their other classes, which is the highest grade that can be received at this particular institution. There were six students who reported usually receiving grades ranging between eleven and thirteen, fifteen students who reported usually receiving grades ranging between fourteen and sixteen, and only two students who reported usually receiving grades between seventeen and nineteen. Of all of these students, not a single student reported that they do not study for their classes, ten reported that they study between one and two hours daily, six reported that they study between three and four hours daily, and seven reported that they study more than five hours every day for their classes. These results can be found as Graph 4 and Graph 5 in the appendix.

Additionally, I have found through this investigation that the students to be considered of higher socioeconomic status do not have better attendance records than those of lower socioeconomic status. The average absence rate for students of higher socioeconomic status was six, while students of medium and low socioeconomic status missed an average of five classes, making it so the students of higher socioeconomic status have a higher tendency to miss class. Moreover, the students from lower socioeconomic status had the highest increase in their scores from the entrance exam to the exit exam, with an average increase of 30.05%. This was followed by students considered to be of medium socioeconomic status, who had an average increase of 21.72%. Lastly, students of high socioeconomic status had a small increase of 2.60%.

I have also discovered that there is no correlation between socioeconomic status, success in academic subjects other than English, and academic success in the English class that I taught. There was a wide variation of grades normally received in other subjects in each of the socioeconomic status categories, such as eleven through thirteen possible points of twenty in what is considered to be high socioeconomic status and seventeen through nineteen out of twenty possible points in what is considered to be medium socioeconomic status. These results can be found in Table 3 in the appendix, which organizes the students by their socioeconomic status as identified by the modified Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status, as well as shows the relationship between their socioeconomic status and the number of absences they have, the percent increase between the entrance and exit exams, and the scores they usually receive in other subjects.

Analysis and Interpretation: First and foremost, it is extremely important to recognize the correlation between the amount of female students that were in my English class and the amount of students who have a mother whose occupation is being a housewife. According to the surveys given to all of the students, as mentioned before, there was a total of sixteen female students in my class. The surveys also showed that the number of students whose mother had the occupation of a housewife was fourteen. Out of these fourteen students, nine of them were women. These women specifically are studying at a higher education institute while the majority of their mothers have completed only their primary education. There were also some with no education at all and very few who have completed their secondary education as their absolute highest level of education. I have discovered from these statistics, along with the statistic that one hundred percent of the students reported that they are going to pursue a job after they graduate, that there is a huge probability that the landscape of Peruvian society is gradually changing. There is a large difference between these two generations, the mothers who have never worked as anything except a housewife and have minimal education, and their daughters who are attempting to complete their higher education. This is an extremely crucial component of this investigation that has been discovered.

Furthermore, the explanation for the students’ academic results may be because students considered to be of high socioeconomic status in this investigation scored higher on the entrance exam. Thus, they did not have as drastic of a percentage increase from the entrance exam to the exit exam that was given to them as those of medium of low socioeconomic status. These students scored, on average, 11.88% higher than those of a low socioeconomic status and 9.87% higher than those of medium socioeconomic status on the entrance exam. However, again, they only increased by an average 2.60%, in comparison to 30.05% for students of socioeconomic status and 21.72% for those of medium socioeconomic status. These results contested my initial hypothesis that students of higher socioeconomic status would have a higher percentage increase than those of medium or low socioeconomic status, or have a fast speed of learning in the English course.

Moreover, when analyzing the percent change from the entrance exam to the exit exam, I have discerned that this also had an effect on this group having a higher average number of absences from the class than those from medium or low socioeconomic status. It is extremely possible that the students recognized that the class was going to be very easy for them after taking the exam, so they might have made the decision to not come to class to be taught the same things they already knew in English. However, the problem with this was that with the class only having a duration of one month, one more absence on average is exceptionally significant in determining the final score the student will receive because the material was covered extremely fast. If the students stopped coming to class after the first two weeks of class because it was too easy for them, they ultimately missed the intermediate material that was covered during the last two weeks of class, which is highly probable that they had not been taught before. In contrast, the students of medium and low socioeconomic status who scored lower on the entrance exam, both had better attendance and had a higher percentage increase from between the entrance and exit exams.

Nevertheless, there were also a number of limitations that I faced while conducting my research. At the start of the program, the number of students that attended my class was very high. Out of the seventy-seven students that had taken the entrance exam, there were at least forty students that attended each day in the first two weeks. However, I noticed that the numbers of students attending started to drop drastically within the last two weeks of the class. This was a huge limitation for me because I was not able to obtain the results I wanted, as very few students attended the last class to take the final exam. The time I had to conduct this research was also extremely short. It is possible that these statistics, specifically attendance records, could change if I was able to run the class for a longer period of time.

Implications and Recommendations: The implications of this study are very relevant to current day educational policy. The references used in this study all came from a various amount of sources in the United States that highlight the understanding of the effects of socioeconomic status on learning. However, it is very difficult to find any reference from the Peruvian Ministry of Education that states the importance of taking socioeconomic status into consideration when deciding how to construct and pass educational policy that ensures the success of all students. This study, therefore, is aimed at providing evidence for Peruvian policymakers and schoolboards that it is crucial to take socioeconomic status into account throughout the world, not just in the United States, because socioeconomic status has huge effects on the learning of students. Not only will this allow policymakers to better structure policy around the needs of students, but will also help school leaders encourage specialized academic programs or departments to help them at the base level. These specialized programs or departments may perhaps give students of lower socioeconomic status the guidance and opportunity to excel and reach higher levels of academic success. Because this study has also discerned that students who have a higher socioeconomic status are more likely to miss class, I believe that it is also important to create strict attendance policies aimed at requiring all students to attend class every day.

To conclude, there is still much work that needs to be done in regards to socioeconomic status and education. There are many recommendations for those who would like to conduct further research related to the link between socioeconomic status and academic achievement or speed of learning. I suggest that the investigation has to run for at least six months. One month is an extremely short period of time to gather data to analyze for the learning rates of students. Further, this time period does not allow for precise data on the attendance records of individuals or accurate analyzations for each respective socioeconomic group. I believe that the most effective timeframe in which one could successfully investigate this particular topic is between six months and one year.

Additionally, I would recommend creating an agreement between the test subjects and the investigator that states they will fully participate and complete everything needed for the investigation, such as taking both exams and submitting both surveys or other research material, in a timely manner. This will make the research much more accurate for the individual conducting the investigation and not leave him or her with incomplete results for certain students at the conclusion of it.

Appendix:

Chart 1 — Gender
Graph 1 — Cycle
Graph 2 — Do you work while you study?
Graph 3 — How many hours do you work per week?
Graph 4 — How many hours do you study per day?
Graph 5 — What grades do you normally receive for your classes?
Table 1 — Attendance Records
Table 2 — Modified method for identifying the socioeconomic status of each student
Table 3 — Student scores and percent increase between the entrance and exit exams
Table 4 ­– Students categorized by socioeconomic status with number of absences from the class, percent increase between the entrance and exit exams, and usual grades for other subjects

Bibliography and References:

“Alternative Measures of Socioeconomic Status in Education Data Systems.” National Forum on Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences, June 2015. Web.

Caldas, Stephen J., and Carl Bankston. Effect of School Population Socioeconomic Status on Individual Academic Achievement. Vol. 90. 2012. 269–77. Web.

“Education and Socioeconomic Status.” American Psychological Association. Web.

“Hollingshead Four-Factor Index of Socioeconomic Status.” Nathan Kline Institute. International Neuroimaging Data-Share Initiative. Web.

Oakes, Michael. “Measuring Socioeconomic Status.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Research. National Institutes of Health. Web.

“Peru.” 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. The Heritage Foundation. Web.

“Peru Overview.” The World Bank. World Bank Group, 25 Apr. 2016. Web.

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Schwab, Jessica F. and Casey Lew-Williams. (2016), Language Learning, Socioeconomic Status, and Child-Directed Speech. WIREs Cogn Sci, 7: 264–275. Web.

Sirin, Selcuk R. “Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analytic Review of Research.” Review of Educational Resource 75: 417–53. New York University Steinhardt, 2005. Web.

“Socioeconomic Status.” American Psychological Association. Web.

Taft-Morales, Maureen. Peru in Brief: Political and Economic Conditions and Relations with the United States. Federation of American Scientists. Congressional Research Service, 7 June 2013. Web.

Willingham, Daniel T. “Why Does Family Wealth Affect Learning?” American Educator (2012): 415–18. American Federation of Teachers. Web.