Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Inequality in education is not the same as inequality elsewhere (though it does lead to it)

This is not really my field of expertise, but as a citizen, vast inequalities in primary and secondary educational opportunity (and thus post-school preparedness) make me cranky.

Inequality in education is not the same as inequality in other things. Wealthy families might choose to buy bigger TVs and fancier cars and that is fine.

They might also choose to be treated in private hospitals, they might buy more superannuation, their children might see more plays and have more music lessons. Those things bother me a little, in that they make things that could be fairer a little less fair, but it is OK.

But when wealthier families not only have the opportunity to buy a better future for their children in education but that the government will use public money to help them do it, that is a very big problem.

This is because segmenting children in schools segments society - school divisions lead to class divisions.

I have to admit though, that I don't mind some private independent schools. If a group of people think the state education system is ideologically or pedagogically problematic, I quite like that they have the right to set up their own system, within reason, and - if they are run at low cost, not for profit and charge modest fees, thus contributing to society, I am in fact happy for our public funds to help them out a bit.

But I find it utterly unacceptable to use any public funds at all to support big, wealthy schools - schools that, through their socialisation, the social networks they establish as well as the educational 'outcomes' they are able to purchase, help perpetuate class divisions and social and financial advantage.

Education is not the same as medical care and superannuation where a gentle mix of private and public is, if not wholly acceptable, only relatively mildly harmful: the application of the same model to education does not make the same kind of sense.

Supporting vast inequalities in education sends a message from any government who does it that they support the systematisation of social and financial advantage based on class.

Gosh I wish our Labor government would stop it. If universities can survive a cut to fund real education for real people*, we can be pretty certain that large wealthy private schools could survive it even better.

* this is debatable. My guess is that some universities will survive it, some will struggle very badly. Worse is what the universities are likely to do with the cuts, but that is a speculation for another post.

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