Children’s Education Inequality
One of the most profound issues affecting a majority of the developed countries is inequality in its education system, specifically for children at the beginning of their academic life. According to Burkam (2013), social background variations are an advantage to some and a severe disadvantage to other children as they begin their education journey. One of the main goals of education is to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, have equal chances at excelling. The success of a child in school is a primary determinant of how well they fair as adults, determining their college education, the professions entered, and the amount of pay they will receive. Gullo and Ammar (2021) found that more than 80% of individuals living in rich countries see education as an equalizer, yet understand that there exist disparities when it comes to schooling in low-income areas as compared to the high-income communities. In a UNICEF commissioned report, Chzhen et al. (2018) refer to the differences in accessing children education as an unfair start, citing inequalities and social background differences as the main cause for the issue. Education inequality is just one of the many ills plaguing societies that must be discussed from an objective point of view, requiring an evidence-based approach to mitigating the concerns that are only getting worse as the rich-poor gap widens.
In many people’s subconscious, improving a country’s financial resources is the most fundamental and effective way to eliminate educational inequality. However, is this really the case? In Chzhen et al. (2018), 41 countries are selected as samples, focusing on students’ preschool and primary and secondary education performance, with the results indicating that the so-called countries with high welfare and high GDP, such as New Zealand, have the lowest degree of equality in the education system; while the countries with a little “poor” in this report, such as the little-known Latvian and Lithuanian countries, have a wider popularization of preschool education, and students’ reading performance in primary and secondary schools is better than that in more developed countries. From these, there is an indication that high total value does not mean a high average value. Additionally, a high average does not mean that the distribution of this value is uniform. Therefore, even though these supposedly rich nations have high GDP compared to other nations, the wealth is not uniformly distributed and there exists severe income differences that translate to different social classes that are likely to affect the quality of education for children.
The UN report by Chzhen et al. (2018) advances the idea that it is absolutely unreasonable for a person to say that a higher total value means a more uniform distribution. The report finds that from a micro perspective, gender, immigrant background, mother tongue, parents and so on can all be potential influencing factors on a child’s education. It is worth noting that “parents’ income” is the most critical factor affecting their own educational opportunities. From a macro point of view, the more unequal the country’s income is, the more unequal the educational opportunities will be: with the rising gap between the rich and the poor in a country, the probability of children getting preschool education will become lower. The amount of resources available to parents from low income families is significantly reduced in comparison to what better-off families make. This means that “luxuries” such as pre-school education and private tuition and highly specialized schools are off the table for lower income earners. These subtle differences and affordability issues gives some children a disadvantage over others.
In a classical “rich getting richer and the poor becoming poorer”, the Matthew principle looks at accumulated advantage and how it leads to a widening of the gap between different social clusters such as the rich and the poor (Bakermans-Kranenburg, Van IJzendoorn, and Bradley, 2005). From the UN report by Chzhen et al. (2018), the Matthew principle is evident in the competition for resources and the distribution of interests. From a theoretical perspective, the accumulation of resources sounds as an easy process. However, it is a rigged process following the Matthew effect because the rich already have an advantage that they start off with plenty in resources and other assets. When you have a certain number of resources, you can invest them and generate more value.
In conclusion, the discussion looks at the issues affecting the developed countries regarding inequality in the education system, specifically for children at the beginning of their academic life. It establishes that not enough research has been conducted in an attempt to provide a viable solution. For the poor, they may need to spend more time and effort to get the same degree of resources as the “initial wealth”, which is already available to the rich. Like every other social concept, it is driven by the (un)availability of resources. The direct consequence is that some children have access to a better education system while others are forced by circumstances to make do with the bare minimum. Ultimately, the gap is likely to widen as the rich accumulate more resources and change the education structure when others catch up.
Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., Van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Bradley, R. H. (2005). Those who
have, receive: The Matthew effect in early childhood intervention in the home environment. Review of Educational Research, 75(1), 1-26.
Burkam, D. T. (2013). Educational Inequality and Children: The Preschool and Early School
Years. The Economics of Inequality, Poverty, and Discrimination in the 21st Century [2 Volumes], 381.
Chzhen, Y., Rees, G., Gromada, A., Cuesta, J., & Bruckauf, Z. (2018). An Unfair Start:
Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries. Innocenti Report Card 15. UNICEF.
Gullo, D. F., & Ammar, A. A. (2021). Predicting third-grade academic achievement in low-
socioeconomic children: developmental and socio-behavioural influences in kindergarten. Early Child Development and Care, 1-16.