Social Divisions and Inequality in Childrens Education

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This essay will draw on social research and theory to evaluate the impact of social divisions in childhood education. It will focus mainly on race, gender and class and also briefly mention disability, sexuality and religion. The analysis will describe the barriers children face in education. From a sociological perspective the essay will examine the ideas behind the function of education in society, whether it really is a fair and just system offering all children the chance to succeed, regardless of background. The essay considers whether, as Brann (2005) argues, “minorities are not exposed to the same educational opportunities as the majority”. The essay will first consider children’s right to education, then consider social divisions, and finally discuss these in the light of different theories.

The right to education is a fundamental human right. Every individual, irrespective of race, gender, nationality, ethnicity or social origin, religion, age or disability, is entitled to an education without discrimination of any kind. (UDHR, 1948) However, discrimination exists in all walks of life, whether obvious or not, including in education. Brown (1998:x) comments that, "children are aware very young that colour, language, gender and physical ability are connected with power and privilege". These factors have a major part to play in undermining their development. Brown (1998) goes on to argue that social inequalities are deeply rooted in British history, which have been created and maintained by vested interests over centuries. Social inequality “changes the very nature of” a child (Mongomery et al, 2003:71). It determines the way a child sees itself fit into the society and ultimately the future.

Opportunities vary depending on race, gender and socio-economic background. “Education has become a key area of intervention in disadvantaged children’s lives, and low-income children are seen as particularly at risk of ‘failing’ at school” (Ermisch et al, 2001 in Davis 2006:34). Policies such as ‘Every Child Matters’ (ECM, 2008) are intended to change the situation to make a better future. However, Davis (2006:180) believes that more attention should be paid to social inclusion and participation to improve the quality of life for children, “transforming children into adults”, and not just improving government statistics.

Various categories are used to define social divisons. Best, (2005:8) comments that, “social categories are not simply given, they have to be established and maintained and the process through which they appear is known as a social division”. Race is one example where social division is evident. The Roma, who form a significant part of the traveller community, have the legal status of a race. Tait (2004) reports that travellers have the lowest level of educational attainment of any ethnic group. They have low attendance rates and are often taught informally by family members. Though distant learning has been introduced to help integrate the traveller community and give their children an education, access is still a big factor. The DfEE (1998) report on Traveller Education found as many as 10,000 Traveller children who were not even registered with a school. Travelling often means children are not able to settle into one school, which undermines their educational progress.

Not being a member of the majority group can play a vital role in your development, as a child may always be seen as ‘different’, having to work that little bit harder than someone who is of the majority. For example in schools, if you are of a different religion to the majority or your parents are homosexual, or if you do not comply to the social norms of your sexuality, you could be victimised in the playground and be bullied, or treated differently by staff and feel alienated. Calhoun (2007:7) cites Foucault, who suggested that sexuality "was not simply a natural self-expression but a social phenomenon. It was shaped by...
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