Can Education Overcome Social Inequality?

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Can Education Overcome Social Inequality?

Can Education Overcome Social Inequality?

According to the ILO, income inequality has increased in about two-third of the countries of the world since 1990s. The current global financial crisis and the accompanying worldwide economic recession are expected to further widen the gap between the rich and the poor (ILO 2008).

Different qualifications and skills are widely accepted as one of the major factors behind different income levels of individuals. Education is usually taken as the main way in which individuals can learn more skills and qualify themselves to increase their potential of employability and of high income in the future.

Despite other potential influential factors behind the increasing income inequality worldwide, improving education quality is expected to make a substantial contribution to mitigating both interpersonal and, at the end of the road, even international income inequality.

What are effective (and efficient) means for improving education quality? Can education quality be effectively improved solely by providing more financial support for education affairs in general? How could incentives of students and teachers be enhanced? What is an appropriate division of work between government and the private sector in education? Are successful education policies in a country idiosyncratic or can they be blueprints of education policies being applied in the othercountries?

Reforming education to overcome inequality is not just an issue for government. A well-designed and functional education system is crucial for sustainable economic development and requires efforts from government, schools, the private sector, and civil society.

Learning from promising private initiatives such as the Barefoot College in India and “Teach First” in UK and taking region-specific characteristics into consideration may help to identify the suitable way for different regions to cope with problems of inequality.

To cope with different types of inequality, the measures required may differ quite substantially from each other. To cope with inequality of opportunity, a phenomenon of unequal accessibility to education among children, policies may focus more strongly on how to allocate more resources on removing impediments that hinder children with disadvantaged backgrounds from gaining adequate access to education.

To cope with inequality of outcome, a phenomenon of unequal learning results among students, policies may focus more strongly on identifying means to increase teachers' incentives to teach and, above all, students' incentives and capabilities to learn effectively.

There is no one-size-fits-all policy. Because of different cultures and different development status, inequality of opportunity may be more crucial in certain countries or regions, while inequality of outcome may be more critical elsewhere.

Because different combinations of policies and measures are very likely required to cope with different inequality problems, it is important to identify clearly not only the inequality problem but also the corresponding educational environment. This, moreover, makes it easier to clarify environment-embedded resources for and limitations on the application of education policies and private initiatives. In this way, a more efficient allocation of resources for education reform is more likely.

To cope with different types of inequality, the measures required may differ quite substantially from each ...
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