Hunger is hindering some primary school pupils’ ability to learn basic literacy and numeracy, according to a school leader.
Gerry Murphy, president of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) said the incidence of food poverty is rising, with as many as one in five principals surveyed reporting more pupils are arriving to school hungry.
Mr Murphy described food poverty as a “worrying function of the recession”, and he urged policymakers to better understand the link between learning and physical and mental wellbeing.
“In concentrating on the three Rs – reading, ’riting and ’rithmitic – we can neglect the new fourth R in education – relationships,” said Mr Murphy.
“Our children’s ability to form and sustain relationships, manage conflict, build self-confidence, and develop interpersonal and problem-solving skills is fundamental to their physical and emotional wellbeing and their development as human beings.”
He told the more than 1,000 delegates: “A chairde, who would have thought that food poverty would be an issue in Irish schools in 2013? Children who are hungry going to school cannot properly access any one of the three Rs. Bearing in mind that, in 2010, food poverty affected children in one out of every 10 families, it would be shameful and irresponsible of policymakers to ignore this reality.
“Our international colleagues place equal value on the wellbeing and resilience of children in their efforts to improve literacy and numeracy skills. We must do the same if we are to compete in the literacy and numeracy premier league.”
Mr Murphy said primary pupils were increasingly coping with a range of conditions including depression, emotional disturbance, attention disorders, violent behaviour and family trauma.
He said children are also faced with complex social challenges, with new forms of disadvantage affecting their school experience, including middle-class families losing their homes, cyberbullying, early sexualisation, and parental drug and alcohol abuse.
“If our education model tests only literacy and numeracy, we must ask: how do we know whether we are equipping our children for the life challenges they will face?”