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Social Inequities of Education

Through the conduct and organization, as well as curriculum, education perpetuates economic inequalities – condemning students that do not fit a particular academic mold to low-skill service work (Ling). Research suggests that schools are primary sites for producing and reproducing social inequalities, as well as class differences (Ling). Although an important sect of society to be filled, this form of education removes the possibility of choice for, and economic growth of, certain students.

Using China as an example, youth who migrate to urban centres are denied higher education opportunities and are instead channeled to vocational schools (Ling). Consequently, there is a continuation of a social hierarchy in which migrant youth become the producers of cheap labour and maintain a status quo (Ling). The social stigma of vocational education allows social classes to progress (Ling). In recent news, there has been scandal around prominent members of society using their wealth to help their children benefit from the college application process. Millions have been spent by certain families to give their students extra time on standardized tests, allow for professionals to take the tests, and for proctors to correct incorrect answers. The wealthy enjoy significant advantages, furthering their socio-economic status, whereas their counterparts of the middle and low income households are condemned to stay in their social structures.

Further, it is the direct involvement of the local state that reproduces these social hierarchies (Ling). Educational policy in the west cites international competitiveness as the motivation behind standardized testing, so that children form “all backgrounds” can compete with the high student achievement being seen in Singapore and Finland. High stake tests connect student grades to graduation, as well as teacher salaries and job security (Au). Bernstein’s concept of the pedagogic analysis explains that high-stake tests reproduce dominant social relations (Au). The regulation of consciousness is an extension of socio-economic power relations. Research has found standardized assessment to reproduce race-based and economic class-based inequalities (Au). Analyses of test data highlight affluent, often White students have higher achievement, whereas their low-income, minority counterparts, often do not (Olander). Test scores are highly correlated with family income; the scores of affluent students have nothing o do with their intelligence, but the likely possibility that parental education and exposure to enriching experiences give students more knowledge to understand the passages they are given in tests. Unfortunately, it is a cycle – students who perform poorly end up in lower-income jobs, having to work more, and will be able to spend less time focusing on their child’s academics, thereby producing children who do not have a leg up in standardizing testing.

High stake tests also contribute to gaps in student knowledge. These tests deem only tested knowledge to be legitimate; untested is not, despite students understanding the world in different ways and through different knowledge. Standardized testing has distorted the curriculum, forcing teachers to focus on certain outcomes and expectations in hopes their students will demonstrate higher outcomes on standardized testing. Testing in reading and math takes precedence over history, science, and the arts. The tests also take away valuable instruction time, leaving little room for education beyond rote memorization.

On a personal note, the curriculum fed to First Nation students in the north is a curriculum that is designed for students living in British Columbia and Alberta. The social structures which exist in both of those provinces, are not similar to the ones lived in remote, First Nation communities. The students, however, are required to write the same standardized tests and their performance is always much lower. Despite the differences in culture, lived experiences, and knowledge-bases, students are expected to perform like their southern counterparts. The graduation rate in the Northwest Territories is 44% because the educational structures in place do not allow for students to connect with the education and learn. This is an unfair structure which perpetuates socio-economic status, and yet, it continues to exist.

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