Can education make things worse?

  This article about inequality in the world today (which is otherwise a dull read) makes one interesting point about education that is summarized in the following paragraph:

As the political scientist Edward Banfield noted a generation ago in The Unheavenly City Revisited, “All education favors the middle- and upper-class child, because to be middle- or upper-class is to have qualities that make one particularly educable.” Improvements in the quality of schools may improve overall educational outcomes, but they tend to increase, rather than diminish, the gap in achievement between children from families with different levels of human capital.

  Part of the point made is that because  (1) children reach school with already existing differential cognitive capacities, and  (2) wealthy educated families will provide their children with the best conditions to make use of their school learning, then  the children who are already in an advantaged position will actually benefit more from school than children with no such luck. The consequence is that the current model of education has at least the potential to actually exacerbate differences in personal and economic outcomes, instead of flattening them out. 

  This is obviously not to say that children would be better with no educational opportunities. Rather it is to say that education systems may have unintended consequences regarding the problem of equalizing opportunities and reducing economic inequality. Of course, this needn’t, and shouldn’t, be so. A focus on the quality of education is very much necessary, but it is not sufficient. Throwing children with very different social and personal contexts into the same learning institution expecting that alone to give every child the same opportunity to succeed, is mistaken. Making sure children have supportive learning and personal environments, with parents that can (and do!) devote time and attention to their children, is just as important as the quality of the teaching and the material conditions of the schools. This is a consideration not only for education policy, but also for parents who expect schools to do most of the work. As is most often the case, the best approach is complex and multifaceted. 


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