Barbara Ischinger (OECD), Hebe Vessuri (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and Andreas Eckert (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Forum Transregionale Studien) discussing about “Global Knowledge Disparities – The North-South Divide”.
Text: You can find the discussion paper of the Humboldt-Ferngespräch here (pdf). The text and video are based on the “Humboldt Ferngespräche” discussion held at the Humboldt-
Universität zu Berlin on November 20, 2014 within the framework of the international Winter Academy “Education, Inequality and Social Power. Transregional Perspectives” organized by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung –
Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland.
By Jane-Frances Lobnibe (University for Development Studies, Tamale) and Jana Tschurenev (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)1
Report of the Winter Academy “Inequality, Education and Social Power: Transnational Perspectives”. The Winter Academy took place in Berlin, November 16-25, 2014 and was convened by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland.
An condensed version of the text is published via the online communication platform H-Soz-Kult.
Participants Winter Academy (Photo: Photo: Forum Transregionale Studien under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
As the global economy slowly recovers from the 2008/9 recession, rising social inequality exacerbated by stagnating wages and unequal income distribution is emerging as a major concern of policy makers and national leaders in both the “developed” and “developing” worlds. This development has come about amid a fast changing knowledge economy, requiring specialized labor skills and high quality education to meet the challenges of this complex technological and interconnected world. To be sure, there is a widespread assumption that a panacea to the current predicament is an expanded equal access to quality education. However, as a public good and ideologically charged concept, education is often viewed as a means of and for social mobility and is set with high expectations. But education can also produce inequality and disenchantment in case some groups are denied or excluded from its benefits. The interdisciplinary Winter Academy and conference “Inequality, Education, and Social Power,” in Berlin explored this ambiguity from multiple perspectives. The seven-day event was convened by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland in Berlin in cooperation with the Max Weber Foundation’s Transnational Research Group (TRG) on “Poverty and Education”, the research network desiguALdades.net and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung.
Since both authors participated in the same working group and to some extent also in the thematic discussion groups, this summary is necessarily a very selective one and cannot do justice to all the rich and inspiring presentations given within the winter academy and conference. [↩]
In contrast to the increasing value of education regarding employment and income, most EU member states continue to have too many people with too little or no education. Across the EU, 8 percent of young people lack a general school-leaving certificate. Worse even, an average of 19 percent of the 15-year-old boys and girls are considered functionally illiterate or innumerate. This conclusion is drawn by Jutta Allmendinger and me from WZB Berlin Social Science Centerin our large-scale study on social inequalities in Europe. The report maps the extent of social inequalities both within and between the 28 EU countries, looking at educational attainment, employment and income. For the report, recent studies have been analyzed and brought together. The report is published as a WZB Discussion Paper and can be downloaded here.
On November 24th 2014 Jutta Allmendinger presented our recent report in her keynote at the conference “Inequality, Education and Social Power: Transregional Perspectives” at WZB. She explained why education pays off in all EU countries but also how that differs between the several member states. Furthermore she shows that people’s earnings are not only driven by the level of their certificates, but also by their cognitive competences.
You can also find an interview with Jutta Allemendinger on educational poverty and gender inequality here.
In many societies, (higher) education has been equated with a form of professional formation whose focus lies on the requirements of enterprises. At the same time, a reduced individual dividend for education (that is, a decreasing value of titles and degrees because of an increasing level of education throughout the whole society) has become observable. To what extent are opportunities in the labor market dependent on education and (to what extent) has this connection loosened during the last decades? Besides university studies, which alternative routes are likely to lead to a successful career? How are the factors of inter-generational inequality, on the one hand, and education and the labor market, on the other, intertwined?
In some regions, non-state actors have had a long (colonial) tradition in the education system. Currently, probably due to failures of government-run infrastructures, a variety of new actors (business-oriented and non-profit, national and international) are coming into play. In some countries, the balance of public and private investment in the educational sector is tilted to an extent that is criticized as risking a devaluation of the national educational system. Can we observe (regional or even global) trends toward a hierarchization, privatization and commercialization of education for both the elites and the masses? How do liberalization discourses in other fields of society impact upon these developments and the corresponding norms and values? What is the role of religious entities in the educational sector?
Regions outside Europe are often attested a higher level of social heterogeneity and inequality on various axes. But even in Western Europe, social change and processes of migration have generated a greater degree of social diversity during the last decades. Which interdependencies, if any, can be traced between social heterogeneity and ideas/systems of education? In which contexts has education facilitated the empowerment of marginalized subjects and groups? How do students from different social backgrounds make use of educational opportunities? What role do habitus and practices of assessment within the educational institutions play? What influence do gender and class inequalities or other factors of social discrimination have on the accessibility of (higher) education? What experience do we have with affirmative action and quotas? When does education become a cause of social mobilization? Do the poor receive a different form of education?
The question of which forms of knowledge are recognized as education – or in German “Bildung” – can be fundamentally contested. Therefore, the process that renders certain forms of knowledge education while excluding others needs to be problematized as an arena of (implicit) political struggle and as a way of wielding social power. Moreover, many regions outside Europe have been affected by colonial pasts. This panel seeks to address the complex topic of global knowledge asymmetries, by asking questions such as: What is the relationship between indigenous knowledge/education and external influences? To what extent have colonial legislation, the associated institutional structures and ideas of education, elite, etc. been impacting on (post-) colonial systems of education? What influence does the formation of the (nation-) state and subsequent politico-economic developments have on ideas and practices of inequality and education?
Jutta Allmendinger is President of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and Professor of Educational Sociology and Labor Market Research at the Humboldt University, Berlin. She recently published a discussion paper on „Social Inequalities in Europe: Facing the challenge“. In her interview with Gesche Schifferdecker she speaks about how we could overcome educational poverty, what our futural challenges are and why it is so difficult to discuss about education and inequality in a transregional context.
Education is sometimes thought of as the means of reducing structural inequalities within and across societies. Nevertheless, access to education itself can be distributed in unequal ways, contingent on the very structures it is supposed to even out. A historical perspective reveals that educational opportunities were often tailored to the social background or gender of the students. Sometimes, such differentiations have been institutionalized as parallel strands within education systems, which can result in the exclusion of certain groups from mainstream education and subsequent career opportunities. This opening panel seeks to address general questions and concepts with a view to the relationship among inequality, education and social power, such as: When and how do structures of education work in favor, and when do they work against social mobility? How are issues of inequality and education dealt with in different countries and regions, which topics are considered crucial and which actors are involved in the debate?
What was surprising to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
I think that from a young age I wanted to know why things that seemed so wrong, unjust or counterproductive happened and continued to exist. At the age of 17 I wrote a letter to a famous newspaper columnist with a lengthy critique of what I understood as the policies, conflicts of interest and corruption that created the poor and increasingly marketized condition of education I was experiencing. He actually published portions of my letter over three days in his column. In a sense, I was interested in the incentives and power relations that sustained the status quo. I was also starting to wonder about what it is that creates a will to resist. I wanted to understand why most people took little action to contest these corrupt practices. Is it ‘cultural’ as some might argue? Is it a kind of ‘learned helplessness’ based on repeated experiences of the futility – and often emotional and physical violence – that are associated with such acts of contestation?
In “Poverty, Markets and Elementary Education in India” Geetha Nambissan discusses recent trends within the evolving low-cost unregulated schools market in India. She analyzes how private actors draw on neo-liberal discourses and construct new narratives, networks and practices around schooling in their attempts to influence Indian education policy. Highlighting that ‘good quality education’ for the poor is redefined in minimalistic terms to increase profits, she draws attention to the serious implications of these developments for social justice in education for the poor.
Geetha Nambissan: Poverty, Markets and Elementary Education in India .
In: Working Papers der Transnationalen Forschungsgruppe Indien der der Max Weber Stiftung “Armutsbekämpfung und Armenpolitik in Indien seit dem 19. Jahrhundert” Working Papers of the Max Weber Foundation’s Transnational Research Group India “Poverty Reduction and Policy for the Poor between the State and Private Actors: Education Policy in India since the Nineteenth Century”
During the Winter Academy we invited Anja Schillhaneck, Vice President of the Berlin Parliament and Spokeswoman for Science, Sport, European and Federal Affairs for the parliamentary group of the green party “Bündnis 90/Die Grünen”, to share her expertise in the field of education policy with the participants.
In her presentation “Right to Education and Equal Education Opportunities. A View from Berlin” Anja Schillhaneck introduced the German education system and explained the particular challenges that arise from the three-tiered school system in terms of inequality and social mobility.
Discussion with Anja Schillhaneck; photo: Anaïs Bordes under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Drawing on her practical experience as a politician, she also discussed how recent reforms of the school system in Berlin try to increase the equality of education opportunities. During the lively discussion with the participants which covered various topics ranging from the “PISA shock” to university enrollment fees, Anja Schillhaneck provided interesting insights into current debates within German education policy.
The organizers would like to thank all the participants for the fruitful discussions during the workshops, lectures and coffee breaks. It was your active engagement that made the Winter Academy a great success.
The Winter Academy’s format is distinguished primarily by the participants’ active involvement in the conceptualization and realization of the academic program. The program centers on a deepened scholarly exchange that is embedded in a transregional perspective. The presentations of individual research projects in small groups and working group sessions are open only for the participants but the lectures and panel discussions are open to a wider public.
Conference Paper to be presented by Augustin Emane
Augustin Emane is Associated Professor at the University of Nantes. He teaches Labor Law and Social Security Law. His research focuses on occupational risks in France, labor law in France and in French-speaking countries in Africa, and health systems in Europe and Africa. He also works on the transfer of Western legal categories in Africa and labor law in Brazil.
This paper examines Gabon, a country with a high level of schooling (more than 80%) compared with the average in other African countries (less than 50%), but where social inequalities and the level of unemployment are rather high. It is this paradox that we will try to explain. Education for us means school, which is traditionally used in Gabon to change social class or to reach a more prestigious situation. It allows us to fight social inequalities. Thanks to school, we acquire knowledge and competencies that lead on to get a job. For several years, this model was very effective, and the elite that we find governing us today has benefited from this promotion via education. Up to the 1980s, the labor market had integrated all the people who were schooled. The new job seeker had lots of choices concerning his job.
After the second oil crisis in 1979, things started to change. The state’s financial difficulties led to a reconsideration of the number of people it employed. Private companies faced an incredible number of job seekers, who did not always correspond to their needs. The principal reason for this situation is in fact the colonial period. Since the introduction of modern work in Gabon, office jobs have carried prestige, and school has often been considered a way of getting such ideal jobs. Anthropology and sociology could explain better this phenomenon. The logical consequence of this trend was that the literary field was privileged over the scientific field (seen for a long time as a course for prospective technicians and manual workers).
For the last 30 years, education has remained an indispensable way of integrating the labor market. But this is not enough. Inequalities are going to appear between the different academic routes. Different choices of courses lead to different job opportunities. It is now the opposite: scientific courses guarantee more job opportunities. A second type of inequality results from differences among the schools, or among countries. A third inequality is in the nationality of the company of employment.