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Unequal Educational Opportunities and Unjust Inequalities of Outcomes: Lessons from Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam on Equity in Education

Wed, March 28, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 4 Section B

Group Submission Type: Panel Session


The low levels of learning outcomes found in many countries may be explained by a range of factors, including, most obviously, the prevalence of disadvantaged home backgrounds and school environments. Where average learning levels are low, however, high levels of inequality in outcomes are also often present. Moreover, inequalities in outcomes, both between and within countries, particularly during the basic education phase, are for the most part, unjust and are a major source of inequality and inequity in later life. Learning inequalities result substantially from differential levels of ‘opportunity to learn’ at education system, school and household levels, with opportunities being distributed unequally, for example, between pupils in rural versus urban areas or in public versus private schools.

Indicative studies examining worldwide inequality in learning outcomes suggest that around half of total inequality is found within countries, and half between countries. Progress towards global goals will require substantial efforts to close both of these types of gaps, especially by reducing the prevalence of poor learning (‘raising the floor’). Efforts to do this may serve to mitigate the effects of education as a driver of the massive North-South inequality and, thereby, contribute towards a rebalancing of global knowledge production and exchange.

This panel examines the nature of inequality and inequity in learning opportunities and outcomes; alongside their explanations and policy implications; in four diverse low and middle-income countries: Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. Using unique comparative and longitudinal data from household and school-based surveys, which form part of the Young Lives mixed methods study of childhood poverty, in progress since 2002, we bring together analyses which shed light on whether solutions to country-specific issues can be found in the policies of more equal or higher performing countries and on opportunities for South-South knowledge exchange.

India constitutes the world’s largest basic education system and is a major contributor to global learning inequality – and to global low learning. The march of de facto privatisation may be improving outcomes for some students while widening inequalities, providing lessons, particularly with regard to the implications for equity, of a shrinking state in the education sector.

Vietnam has achieved near-universal access, high and relatively equal levels of learning in basic education, but post-basic education remains ‘rationed’. Efforts have been made to reduce unfair inequality of opportunity among disadvantaged groups and the resulting pattern of equity offers insights into the potential of policies designed to weaken the linkages between home and school disadvantage.

Peru represents a highly unequal context in which clear relationships between advantage in early life, school quality and later educational outcomes may be identified. By examining these, we shed light on intervention points whereby key mechanisms for ‘compounding disadvantage’ could be addressed.

Ethiopia provides an exemplar of a ‘promising start’ in terms of educational improvement. While inequalities emerge early, government policies to focus on marginalised groups have widened access relatively equitably. Based on changes in learning outcomes over time, we provide insights on whether these same expansion policies are affording equal opportunities to learn.

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