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?
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?
Anja Weiß is a Professor for Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Her theoretical interests in the transnationalisation of social inequality translate into comparative empirical studies on the localization of knowledge, highly skilled migrants, (institutional) racism and legal exclusion, ethnic conflict and anti-racism, and qualitative research design.
In the human capital approach, returns on education are usually assessed within framework of the nation-state. In a transnational perspective, the value of cultural capital (cf. Bourdieu) should be assessed in terms of a plurality of contexts in which it may be recognized and rewarded. In regard to skilled personnel’s access to the labor market, the borders of the nation-state continue to be salient: foreign educational credentials are often seen as having lesser value and migrants are subject to exclusionary legal regimes. At the same time, other contexts, such as professional fields, need not be congruent with nation-state borders and they counteract the impact of the nation-state. In professional fields as diverse as management and legal studies, transnational sub-fields have emerged in which the value of education is determined independently of national systems of education.
Based on findings by the international study group “Cultural Capital During Migration” (headed by Nohl, Schittenhelm, Schmidtke, and the author), the input will focus on the situation of highly skilled migrants and the factors that impact on the validation of their educational credentials in diverse labor markets. These factors include discrimination by employers, but also the emergence of ethnic niches in some professions, such as medicine. Also, and especially among skilled employees, education does not stop at the moment of graduation, but undergoes continued development, fine-tuning, and also devaluation.
Conference Paper to be presented by Sarada Balagopalan
Sarada Balagopalan is an Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, and at the Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University, Camden. She is the author of Inhabiting “Childhood”: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India (2014).
In the decade preceding India’s Right to Education Act (2009), which guarantees each child the right to quality elementary schooling, the Delhi High Court adjudicated several cases involving the city’s elementary schools. Not only was the volume of cases unprecedented, but each drew attention to a particular aspect of the highly iniquitous landscape of elementary education with several of the judgements shaping key provisions of this new law.
In my presentation, I will focus on a few of these cases, not analyzing their judgements, but rather to explore the heterogeneous elements that compose a “case” and foreground the ways the “child” was deployed, both empirically and figuratively, to signal a certain urgency. My attempt is to both anchor as well as open up the discussion around “inequality” and “social justice” in elementary education in India by asking how judgements, which are perceived as a strong challenge to those who govern, get turned into a technology of power through the Right to Education Act. In what ways does invoking the “child” as an agential figure capable of exercising “rights” appear to ironically regulate the project of “social justice” at the same time that it underscores the inequality that underlies schooling?
Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Latika Gupta.
Latika Gupta teaches courses in educational theory and pedagogy at the Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi. She is currently pursuing a study on the deconstruction of discourse of the recently enacted Right to Education in India.
The challenge facing the Indian system of education, especially at the elementary stage, cannot be adequately met unless we examine the discourses and practices that have shaped the social construction of childhood and schooling. The recently enacted Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act demands and creates an opportunity for identifying and deconstructing such discourses and to examine them, not merely as problematic practices, but rather as culturally drawn borders between state and society. This project interrogates two such discourses: ‘child labour’ and ‘child marriage’ so that the larger socio-economic and cultural context can be examined in which education works. It studies this larger context by probing two discourses that constitute the conditions in which children of disadvantaged backgrounds struggle in order to fulfil their aspiration for education and the personal and social purposes associated with it.
The first of these is the discourse of child labour. This is called a discourse because it has shaped not merely the state’s policies towards the poor but also the popular perception of the lives and potential of children who live in poverty. One dimension of this discourse is the perception that teachers have of poor children’s ability to learn and engage with school knowledge. Children who worked officially as labour or who help their parents because of poverty both fall in this category. When such children come to school and sit in the class with others, in what ways do they get distinguished for their working role at home, and what are the implications of this distinction for their adjustment at school and learning? At this juncture, it becomes important to ask: ‘While poverty persists, can the child’s education be protected from it?’
The second discourse is of child-marriage. In the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-III survey, 47.3% of women reported that they got married before the age of 18. Out of these, 2.6 percent were married before they turned 13 and 22.6 percent were married before they were 16. Faced with these figures, we need to ask: ‘What are the school’s epistemological and cultural resources to act on behalf of the state in its battle against a practice as persistent as child marriage?’ The discourse of child-marriage is not restricted to the event per se. Its phenomenological power lies in the socialization of girls by the family in the anticipation of an early marriage. Is the school prepared to deal and critically engage with a patriarchal milieu in which girls are prepared from early life for marriage—an extended notion of the discourse of child marriage—and responsibility for work, even though it is officially not labelled as labour?