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?
Conference Paper to be presented by Klaus Hurrelmann
Klaus Hurrelmann is Senior Professor of Public Health and Education at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. He served as a director and managing team member of several population surveys, among them three Shell Youth Studies and two World Vision Children Studies. His main research is on the connection between family and education policy.
The educational level of each member of society is relevant not only for the individual, but also for the entire societal development: Individually, the level of education achieved is primarily significant for the position a person will have in the labor market, while also having crucial secondary effects on other important societal issues, such as health status throughout his or her life course. Socially, education is fundamental for achieving a productive economy, creating a cohesive society, combating social exclusion and poverty, and securing the prosperity of the entire society.
In the light of these correlations it is surprising that comparative analyses of welfare regimes pay little attention to educational policy. The influential Typology of Welfare States (Esping-Andersen) is based first and foremost on a country’s social policy, which in turn is primarily understood as being part of social security policy. There is much evidence that educational policies are highly correlated with particular types of welfare states and are decisive for the results produced in the respective educational system. Ideally, these results should be evaluated according to two standards: (1) the educational level of the population should be as high as possible with a view to the level of qualification and competencies achieved (education quality); (2) differences in the level of education achieved by the various population groups (i.e., different gender, social background, etc.) should be as low as possible (education equity).