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On the tension between quantity, quality and equality in education: Reflections on demographic interferences to education targets

Fri, March 13, 9:40 to 11:10am, Washington Hilton, Floor: Concourse Level, Lincoln West


Current proposals to meet global education targets can have unintended consequences or limited social impacts unless they consider the diverse demographic landscapes where these initiatives unfold. In low-income countries in particular, these diverse landscapes obscure a tension between the goals of extending education for all versus achieving meaningful and locally-relevant quality while also preserving equality of opportunity as well as global economic competitiveness. To begin with the quantitative enrollment targets themselves, they must be appraised against a backdrop of asymmetric demographic change that complicates progress among poorer families. The benchmarks for ‘quality’ must likewise consider locally-relevant skills, a shortage of formal employment, and an increasingly fractured life course that calls for lifelong learning and adaptation. As for inequality, the combination of demographic forces and the extra-curricularization of education create new inequalities and they call for metrics that extend outside schools. Without new research attention to such extra-curricular spheres and a public debate on their implications for inequality, the capacity for schools to serve as a vehicle for mobility and social participation will be curtailed. For similar reasons, ostensible gains in enrollment may not raise the global competitiveness of today’s poorer countries. Against this backdrop, this presentation will examine how contemporary changes in cohort size, family size and structure can distort our understanding of progress in key education benchmarks and the kind of country-specific data needed to limit these distortions.