Education: Reproduction of social inequalities

Had an interesting discussion with a lecturer today during a tutorial…it was to do with ideas about freedom and dependence within society. We started talking about the things which create or reinforce inequalities of opportunity or freedom within society, and all of this got me thinking about education again.


I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve seen both sides of the UK education system, both private and state. And, in my opinion, where you are educated has unimaginable consequences concerning your future. Take my younger sister and I. We both grew up under the same roof, with the same mum and dad, the same values instilled, hung around in the same areas, went to the same primary school…but everything changed after we went to totally different secondary schools. This disgusts me, that society is so divided that attending one school rather than another can give you so many more advantages over the rest of society.


Secondary school is a prime location for the replication of social inequalities. It is where you find out who you are, and you socialize with many people who you may ultimately become like, or at least stay friends with for a long time. It is where you scope out what your future economic position will be within society. And if a general feeling of dissent or disillusion is the consensus at your school, then what hope does your future have? In more prestigious schools, education is approached with more optimism and care by those in charge, and it is taken for granted that you will enter higher education; and so you are groomed for university. Buying into a prestigious secondary school gives you access to amazing opportunities and social capital which others just don’t have.


My sister doesn’t want to go to university. At my secondary school, it was always assumed that I would, and so I did. We were all brainwashed into believing university was the only legitimate choice, and this was further reinforced in other people’s heads by their parents, most of whom I belive had already been to university. And so social segregation continues, with only people from certain types of school getting into higher education (in general). To be honest, these days university is not the only way. It doesn’t even guarantee you a job, and often your attitude towards debt can make the decision for you. If you come from a fairly wealthy background where living on credit is the norm, and you know your parents can support you through hard times, then uni doesn’t seem like such a daunting prospect; it’s merely a necessary investment in your future, a precursor to a better life which will enable you to pay off the debts easily anyway. But if, like me, you don’t have a cushion to fall back on, its a bit more scary. If the idea of spending what you don’t have, or wasting or owing money, makes you feel sick, then you might feel compelled to work rather than study, especially if your parents never went to university and so aren’t expecting you to go if you don’t wish to.


Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. I see myself as an exception to most rules, as I was nothing like most of the other people at my secondary school, if any. But in general, I still see university mostly as something for the more privileged, and it is more difficult for others to get in, either due to economic circumstance, or attitudes towards education informed by cultural background. And I think this is sad, because everybody deserves to learn. So if you get any kind of a chance, you have to try and go for it like I did.


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