Inequalities in Global Education

Inequalities in Global Education

April 06, 2021

Inequalities stand before us as one deep-rooted problem of the global world. Every day, poor or underdeveloped geographies face various inequalities and injustices starting with income inequality, covering social and public spheres. What creates inequality is that every human being is deprived of their rights due to structural problems, even though they have a fundamental right. In fact, these rights constitute the parts that shape human life.

One of the fundamental rights is the right to education. And the aim of this right is to provide quality education as well as the opportunity to develop suitable education for each individual. However, 17% of children, adolescents, and young people, in other words, 258 million, do not go to school. This figure was 374.67 million in 2000. Although promising numbers have been reached today compared to the last twenty years, the participation rates in education do not seem sufficient despite the increasing opportunities.

Education is vital both for an adult or a child. The legal foundations of this need were laid in the middle of the 20th century. The definition of education as a human right is based on the acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention against Discrimination in Education (CEID) in 1960, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, including many other global human rights treaties. Although the conventions are not binding for states, the commitments made after the negotiations have also managed to improve education conditions. The requirements of the right to education are:

- Primary education that is free, compulsory, and universal

- Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all, and progressively free

- Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free

- Fundamental education for individuals who have not completed education

- Professional training opportunities

- Equal quality of education through minimum standards

- Quality teaching and supplies for teachers

- Adequate fellowship system and material condition for teaching staff

Undoubtedly, education is the only tool that will strengthen the socio-economic status of individuals and the development and social transformation of states. Human and economic development need is achievable through education. The ability to produce and use knowledge, building social peace, and combating poverty are largely parallel to the substitution of educational opportunities. Data shows that if all adults could complete at least their secondary education, poverty could be reduced by more than half. It can be understood from here how priority education is in the ranking of importance.

For all these to happen, an inclusive and accessible education system is needed in society. At this point, there are two important steps in the education journey starting from primary school to higher education:

1. Increasing enrollment rate to substitute access to education.

2. Ensuring education quality.


Schooling Rates and Inequalities

The primary lack of education is the low enrollment rates. In general, the rate of school attendance is lower in low-income countries - especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asian countries - compared to high and middle-income countries. In the graphics below, the rates of students who do not attend primary, secondary and high school levels are shown.

From the graphics, it is understood that the rate of children who are not attending primary school has not changed since 2008. At the secondary and high school level, again the worst picture is observed in low-income countries. While the rate of enrollment gained momentum after 2000, the decrease in the number of students who are out of school in low-income countries stopped in 2010 and after. The most important reason for the slowdown in the course of the recovery is the suspension of education aid to low-income countries after the 2008 global economic crisis. However, aid accounts for one-fifth of public expenditure on education in these countries.

The inadequacy of governments' funds for education and inspection mechanisms makes it difficult to access education. Although the number of children who cannot go to school is decreasing, there seems to be an imbalance in the budget allocated for education. On the world average, 4.9% of the GDP budget is allocated to education expenditures, while this rate is 5.1% in developed countries and 4% in low-income countries. Considering that the GDP of less developed countries is 59 times less than middle-income countries and 100 times less than high-income countries, the insufficiency of the budget allocated for education clearly shows the need for more assistance.

Budget for Education from GDP (%)

Source: World Bank (2012)

Education cannot continue without school buildings, a sufficient number of classrooms, a sufficient number of teachers, educational materials and equipment, adequate nutrition and cleaning facilities for students and teachers. The fact that the budget for free or low-paid education is less compared to other public expenditures delays investments in education. The outcomes of the delay mostly show itself at the age of school attendance.

Being able to complete school on time is as important as going to school. In many low- and middle-income countries, late entry, high repeat rates, drop out and later re-entry are common. In geographies where educational investments are not increased parallel with population growth and where there is a high poor population (the majority of which are sub-Saharan African countries), the rate of completing primary, secondary and high school on time is respectively 68%, 41%, and 19%. In addition, the fact that low and middle-developed countries have more rural areas also negatively affects schooling rates. Contrary to the dense population in the city, adequate educational opportunities cannot be provided for fewer students in the countryside.

Expected years of schooling, 2017 Source: World Bank

The reasons behind students' having to interrupt their education are the lack of educational opportunities, war and security threats, gender discrimination, having to work due to economic difficulties, being married at an early age, and discrimination due to disabilities.

It should also be noted that children and adolescents living in camps are among the most disadvantaged groups in terms of attending school. Due to war and conflict, 32% of the world's population consists of refugees and 38% of Internally Displaced Persons. Approximately 50% of the immigrants, i.e. 31 million, are children. Considering that a significant population, who is often unregistered, is deprived of education and that educational opportunities are scarce for these refugee children, the importance of global cooperation in building educational institutions increases.

At this point, in order for education to be accessible, it is necessary to ensure that school-age children continue to attend school, beyond providing schools and equipment.

Quality and Equality in Education

In order for the existence and accessibility of a school, educator, and equipment to be sustainable, education must be of high quality and inclusive. Two-thirds of 617 million students do not have sufficient reading and mathematics knowledge. In this case, we are far from the assumption that the more widespread educational institutions are, the higher the level of education will progress. The first in the list of priority needs will be the preparation of a suitable and applicable curriculum for quality education and training well-equipped teachers.

Source: UNESCO

We see that educated ignorance is higher in middle and high-income countries as opposed to schooling. The fact that a large group of people who receive an education is deprived of basic reading and mathematics skills or do not continue education other than the required levels indicates that we need a revision in our view of education. There is a need for schools where students not only learn the basics but also to think participatory, creative, and critical. When the presence of 759 million adults with no education is added to these educational institutions that continue to provide graduates, the spread of lifelong learning culture becomes important. In other words, there is a need to strengthen the educational level by developing information sharing and continuous trainings through the state, private sector, foundations, and associations or international organizations, which are not limited to schools.

A sustainable education model also includes the construction of an inclusive education system. There is a need for more than state policies, namely a social consensus, and this education includes lifelong learning. One of the goals of the education system is to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged people. These people include orphans living on the border of poverty, those who need special education, disabled, belonging to the ethnic-religious or linguistic minority, immigrant, internally displaced, refugee and female students.

Oftentimes, policies and cultural pressures can feed discrimination. Every child and young person should have access to all stages of education, from primary to high school. However, only 68% of the countries have inclusive education laws, policies, or strategies. And again, only 17% of countries have policies with comprehensive provisions for all students. In other words, the disabled, linguistic minorities, gender discriminated and ethnic and indigenous groups, are only mentioned in the laws, but their legal protection is not fulfilled.

Inequalities can come in different ways. For example, school attendance rates by gender may have inequality in two different situations. In only 30 of 116 countries, 90 women against every 100 men can complete their pre-secondary education, while in only 17 countries, less than 90 men against 100 women can complete school. For example, while 33 women against 100 men can finish secondary education in Afghanistan, 68 men can finish school for every 100 women in Honduras. The freedom to continue education must be guaranteed so that a balanced picture can be established, regardless of gender.

Another example that has been left unresolved for many years is that the language is spoken at home and the Lingua Franca (common language) of the country are not the same, or, as mentioned before, in places where life in rural areas is high and poverty rates are high, even low-proficiency learning cannot be achieved. Before starting education life in geographies with language problems, common language education, and teaching the mother tongue in schools and special scholarship programs in places where there is a lot of poverty will play a savior role.

Moreover, even if they complete their high school education, most of the students do not continue their higher education due to disadvantageous reasons such as poverty, gender, region of residence, ethnic origin, language, wealth difference, or religion. This stands as an important obstacle to scientific progress.

Groups and countries that are socio-economically disadvantaged in terms of work are somehow the most deprived of the right to education. Disadvantaged groups have increased with students who have difficulties in accessing technological tools and internet as a result of the transition of schools to the distance education model due to COVID-19 pandemic measures.

Considering the education data, it seems that most of the inequalities are related to poverty. Eradication of poverty needs long-term solutions. For this reason, it is necessary to increase scholarship opportunities for poor students with the support of international aid funds. Education policies, local governments, health institutions, rehabilitation services, ministries related to social protection, sociologists, investors, and aid organizations should play an active role in realizing inclusive education services.



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