Supporting Equity and Social Mobility

Do we fundamentally want to live in an environment that is most beneficial to me (regardless of all consequences for others) or one that is inherently fair to all?

Well, first off, I don’t believe the former is sustainable and that the greedy, avaricious approach to life ultimately ends in disaster for all. Human aspiration is a wonderful thing – it drives people to create, strive, contribute and ultimately serve society in the course of raising themselves up. I believe it is the most fundamental force that has brought mankind to where we are today, and will solve our biggest challenges in the future.

However, aspiration only really serves in society if there is adequate evidence that it’s a right for all, not just a privilege reserved for those already most fortunate. Mobility in society is inherently a positive thing, in that it sets up the evidence to all that the world they live in is a meritocracy. Within a meritocracy where you start on the journey of life does not have to be seen as a predeterminer of where you can aspire to reach, or actually what you can achieve within your one lifetime.
(Incidentally, I’ll be writing a separate article about meritocracy soon as the concept has been under the microscope lately)

In such a scenario, where meritocracy is a genuine force and hard work and application, effective risk taking and synthesis of innate and learned skills can see someone move up to the pinnacle of success from any starting point there is one, key critical ingredient – equity in the access to education and knowledge.

As we come to the end of the second decade of the Twenty First Century it’s fair to say that in some ways we could consider there has been considerable progress. As basic elementary education of some form has been brought to more and more, the numbers of people in the world living in absolute poverty have dropped appreciably. However, over the last 10 years in most developed countries we’ve seen evidence that within country the equity has been undermined. Data on social mobility shows stagnation, as evidenced by this article from the UK:
The Guardian – Social Mobility Almost Stagnant Since 2014
Along with this, we have seen evidence from the world that the levels of wealth of those already most wealthy is rising rapidly. Economists worry that this does little for the world economy as such people have finite limits on their spending capacity.
Daily Mail – World’s Wealthiest People Got $1.2trillion richer in 2019

Within most developed countries suspicions run strong that the ‘haves’ run the economy and the state (including education) in ways that ensure their elevated status is secured and that the system prevents those starting out on lower rungs of the ladder from climbing.

Inevitably, there are all sorts of debates that arise about the relative resources of private and public education systems, as well as disparities of assets and quality between schools in poorer and richer areas. When digital access has become so important, issues of concern arise where wealthier homes have access to broadband and computers whilst poorer homes tend to rely only on mobile phone connections and data.

One critical aspect that has proved to be an enormous leveler that shouldn’t be underestimated is access to public libraries. In a time when almost every government touts their desire for citizens to be lifelong learners, to take responsibility and ownership for their own learning throughout life, libraries play a vital part. However, regrettably, too often in many countries they have been seen as easy pickings at times of austerity and when looking for government budget cuts. This was highlighted in a recent article from the World Economic Forum:

World Economic Furum – Cities Where Libraries Are Thriving

Seeing the relatively poor figures for London, I was saddened that my awareness is that in the UK as a whole, London is a good deal better off than most cities that have lost their public libraries. For me, growing up, regular trips to the local lending library were a family outing and a reminder that all members of the family were readers and learners – self-improvement as a lifelong exercise.

Here’s a short video that shares the message very well:


I believe one of the best ways for the future of libraries is to reduce the spend on stand-alone public libraries, but instead to create libraries integrated in to schools, colleges and universities that open their doors to the public.

I finish this article with a video that inspired me when I first saw it 6 years ago. It talks to everything that libraries can be, how they can put the learner at the very centre of the design and development process. There is focus on collaboration as much as seclusion and it’s exciting. I really recommend this video to educators. It’s been a big inspiration to me:

Cheats Pay a Heavy Price in the Long Term

cheating boxes

Many of us will have seen these recent images from a college exam room, as students were made to wear cardboard boxes on their heads to prevent cheating and copying (did anyone consider the scope for writing notes on the inside of one’s box?)

Whilst many were shocked at such inhumane and demeaning treatment of students, there were also no shortage of weary shrugs as people reflected that it’s really little surprise if this is what the system has been reduced to.

For my fourth article written for Gulf News 6 years ago, I turned to the issue of cheating and an aspect that doesn’t get enough attention – the long term effect and impact on the cheat themselves. In the article i highlighted three examples that had happened in some of the finest seats of learning in the world. Six years later we have new examples, including the collusion between well-heeled parents and agents to secure seats in top Ivy League universities in the US which have already seen one TV actress sent to prison with more to follow.

gulf-news-article 4-15092013

However, I’m still an optimist on the nature of humans. I do believe that as educators we need to be prepared to have the hard conversations with young people – to help them understand that it’s not consistent to believe in a right to high and lofty goals to be achieved by short cuts and acts of low integrity. High goals are great, if we’re prepared to put in the hard work, accept the tough journey for its own intrinsic value as well as the outcome. Young people need to be reminded that the people they put on pedestals have often been hurt, even scarred in the processes that took them to the top.

For proof that the journey is as important as the destination we need only look at all the lottery winners who declare bankruptcy later, failing to make the critical life changes of their new gains because they didn’t travel the road to their wealth. Their acts weren’t dishonest, but they lacked the learning of the journey that would enable them to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

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