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:

Privilege and the Old Boy Network

If anyone ever had cause to wonder whether privilege still opens doors in the UK, whether those born with the proverbial silver spoon still get all the best opportunities, then here’s the evidence.

London Evening Standard – Nine UK Schools Produce Country’s Most Powerful People

As the article suggests, a great deal of thought and energy has gone in over many years to improving equality of opportunity, to ensure that education can level the field and create social mobility. However, the article appears to show that whatever effect there has been is woefully little.

It still matters a great deal where you went to school ….. and who with!

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