Inequality is an unequal rewards or opportunities for different individuals within a group or groups within a society. Education is recognised as major social institution. However, inequality in education is linked to major problems in society. In education a key factor that influences a child’s performance at school is social class. By going through Marxist and Functionalist perspectives, explanations for such inequalities can be understood.
Difference in social background results in differences in achievement within an academic field. The level of achievement of the middle class is hugely different from that of the working class. Students success depends on parents income and parental choice. In other words the higher the social class of the parents, the more successful a child is likely to become in education.
Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to have low academic status than the students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. The education system remains socially selective, the higher the social class of the parents, the better the education of the children.
Educational inequality starts young for children of disadvantaged class and they struggle to keep up throughout their school years. Children of lower socio-economic background at age 3 are one year behind the national average. By the time they are 14, they are two years behind. We can see this figure is staggering and extremely worrying. As a result, these children are less likely to go into higher education and more likely to be categorised into a lower academic ability.
The functionalist perspective on education is concerned with the functions or role of education for society as a whole. It focuses on its contribution in maintaining social stability through development of social harmony. It believe in building bridges between values and passing culture and norms through education. Functionalist views education as the basic needs for a society in order to survive. Particularly, functionalist sees education providing a trained and qualified labour force and its effective role selection and allocation in a meritocratic society.
The Marxist perspective on education highlights the way education system reproduces existing social class inequalities and how it is carried out to the next generations. Marxist argues that the values passed on by school are those of ruling class. In contrary to functionalism Marxist does not believe education system is neutral filter and grade according to meritocracy. Instead it believes social class and other factors influence success and failure in education. Marxist approach argues that there is no equality of opportunity in education, education rather covers the fact that the social class influences educational success and there is inequality
Inequality in education can put individuals of the groups that are affected by these at a disadvantage in the future. Inequality in education gap will remain because even though we are aware of it we have learnt to tolerate it.The education system reproduces existing social class inequalities, and passes them from one generation to the next. Thus we can see that children from low socio economic class lack the aspiration to excel academically. This is not because of the fault of their own but they were born into lower socio-economic class.
Maureen T. Hallinan (2006)Handbook of Sociology
K. Browne, (2006) Introducing sociology for AS Level, 2nd Edition, Cambridge, Polity Press
G. Marshall, (1994) Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 2nd edition, Oxford,