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Is Education the Silver Bullet for Inequality?

Could education be considered the solution to the problem of inequality? The importance of education is well documented; in fact, it is one of the earliest things we are taught as babies that learning is important. The impact a good education has on your life chances particularly in terms of increasing human capital and your ability to be economically competitive in the labour market should not be underestimated. It is why your mum or dad made you go to school!
Words problem and solution with problem crossed out
© University of York

Could education be considered the solution to the problem of inequality? The importance of education is well documented; in fact, it is one of the earliest things we are taught as babies that learning is important. The impact a good education has on your life chances particularly in terms of increasing human capital and your ability to be economically competitive in the labour market should not be underestimated. It is why your mum or dad made you go to school!

Education is Critical

The process of learning and education plays a critical role in terms of skill and cognitive development on both a personal and social level. That’s why education is considered vital and arguably the silver bullet in the battle to reduce inequality, after all, access to education should be a fundamental right.

The quote lending the title to this article comes from an episode of the West Wing, where Sam Seaborn (the character played by Rob Lowe) says the following lines:

Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce; they should be making six figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.

Teachers Undervalued

It is a powerful statement, which arguably illustrates strongly just how important education is and the fact that maybe schools should be viewed as fundamentally vital places. Moreover, that teachers should be treated with the utmost respect and be paid well for the vital role that they play in educating children not just with knowledge but with life skills that become will become critical as they get older.

Education is Lifelong

Whilst education is usually thought of as an activity which takes place in schools, colleges and universities, there is an argument that a broader definition might take account of vocational training such as that which happens in the workplace and also non-vocational training such as adult ‘lifelong’ learning. Given that human development is considered one of the fundamental goals of education, other institutions such as public libraries, museums and other arts based venues such as theatres should fall under the realm of education policy. That is because they play an important role in enlightening individuals and providing sources of knowledge exchange.

Can Education Tackle Poverty and Inequality?

Yet, we should be careful in assuming that education is an effective route to tackling poverty and inequality. Some hail education as the ‘silver bullet’ but actually there is evidence that education can play a role in increasing social divisions. Arguably, this comes from education not being equally available to all or if the benefits of education are more likely to be amassed by the already better off.

There are still concerns present in regards to equality of opportunity might not be a reality in the UK for all. Supporting young people from low-income households to reach high levels of aptitude at school level particularly in maths and English remains a crucial education policy objective but one the UK Government has struggled with for decades. If education is to be consider the silver bullet then it must be the silver bullet for all, not just those who are already in a privileged position to achieve.

Think back to your experience at school, did you feel equal opportunities were present for all? What do you think about staying in education until you are 18? Is this the right solution to trying to improve outcomes for young people?

© University of York
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Understanding and Solving Poverty and Inequality

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