March 15, 2017

Problematizing Inequality

Written by Hunter Isgrig, Crowd360 Digital Campaign Producer

“Inequality is a complex problem, in that as much as solutions need attention, so too do the problems.” -Dr. Noah Sobe, 2017 CIES President-elect

According to the UN Report of the Secretary-General, 250 million children worldwide cannot read or write even after four years of primary schooling. Additionally, 59 million children are not attending school. The root causes of these issues are highly complex and require comprehensive analysis to fully understand how to address them. This issue was at the core of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES 2017). CIES 2017 brought together academics, practitioners, donors and students from around the world to Atlanta, Georgia to discuss this year’s theme of “problematizing (in)equality.” This topic provoked conference participants to comprehensively analyze the problems inhibiting education equity as aggressively as the solutions themselves.

Conversation and debate abounded over the influence of variables such as gender, socio-economic status, and the language of instruction. For example, the official language of Nigeria is English, however, there are over 520 different mother tongue languages spoken across the entire country. Projects such as the Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA) and Northern Education Initiative Plus (NEI+) show that teaching literacy in the mother tongue of the student results in better learning outcomes. To ensure children aren’t left behind, we must first understand the drivers that create dichotomies such as this to begin with.

However, language and socioeconomic status may not be the only factors affecting equity in education outcomes. Each education context is different, and each population may be facing a unique combination of challenges. This is especially true in situations of crisis and conflict.

“Our research has found that high levels of education inequality are predictive of higher risk of conflict, and conflict further exacerbates existing inequality. Therefore, it is particularly crucial for fragile and post-conflict environments to be able to identify and address the specific factors that lead to inequity in outcomes.”
– Dr. Carina Omoeva, Director, Research and Evaluation, Global Education, and Education Policy and Data Center, FHI360.

Discussions at CIES 2017 further underscored this message. As a community dedicated to education equity, we must first understand and disentangle the factors that affect equity in outcomes, and capture the ways in which policies and programs affect students facing these diverse challenges. Projects such as the Education Equity Research Initiative are seeking to do just that. This initiative is a network of implementing organizations galvanized to design metrics and build an evidence base to better inform policy and programming.

The conversation of education equity must continue. The more we are able to problematize inequality, the sooner we will reach education equity for all.

Want to follow the conversations that occurred at CIES? Check out the following hashtags on Twitter: #CIES2017, #educationequity and #equity2030!

Girl in school

Photo credit: UNHCR / H. Caux / January 2014 (CC BY-NC 2.0)