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“We Don’t Live In a Meritocracy, Our Education System Puts Certain Sections At A Disadvantage”

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In our society, education is meant to be the “great equaliser”. If a person works hard, they will be rewarded accordingly. But that is not always the case. Historically, education has been seen as a privilege; this factor still affects the way a considerable amount of educational institutions function today.

Ideally, schools and colleges are meritocracies. Suppose two people exhibit an equal amount of effort and potential. In that case, the rewards they receive will be the same, irrespective of their gender, caste, race, socio-economic status or any other criteria. However, we don’t live in an ideal meritocracy, and as such, our educational system systematically puts certain sections at a disadvantage.

A large part of how students perform in schools has to do with their family’s economic and class standing and whether the family environment is conducive to education or not. Having better financial standing means having access to quality schools with a variety of facilities that are crucial in getting a well-rounded education. 

The amount of schooling one gets is also dependent on an individual’s socio-economic background. In communities where the average person holds a college degree, adolescents belonging to the same community naturally expect to attend institutions of higher education. They have better resources to plan for the same, as the working of the entire system is taken as common knowledge. 

In comparison, students from low-income neighbourhoods are more likely not to pursue higher education due to the lack of knowledge and understanding about higher education in their respective community. This inherent defect puts students from low-income families at a far greater disadvantage and widens the disparity. The aspect of financial aid and scholarships leads to a competitive environment and, hence, such students have to work harder than their more affluent peers to obtain a proper education.

Gender plays a crucial role in the level of schooling a person gets. Due to the patriarchal structure of our society, females often lack support from their family with regards to pursuing an education. At the same time, men are encouraged to do so, as they are expected to be the breadwinners of a household. 

Due to certain demerits of the educational system, teachers are likely to form biases towards certain students because of their caste, religion or race which may directly or indirectly affect the quality of schooling such students receive.

The United Nations has labelled SDG-4 as “Quality Education”. Several nations have made efforts to provide a quality education that is accessible to all, irrespective of their caste, creed, race, religion, gender, etc. For instance, countries like Finland and Norway have made tuition for public universities free of cost for all its citizens. Further, Germany and the U.S.A. have invested heavily in their public school infrastructure, all to decrease inequalities that may arise due to various circumstances. 

It is high time that we start dismantling this system of oppression that denies one of the most fundamental rights of a child — learning and having a safe environment to do so.

By Baibhabhi Hazra

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  1. Akshat Bhardwaj

    To begin with, I’d like to comment that this particular article indeed is something which does deserve some appreciation for bringing forward a topic i.e SDG#4 which hardly is given any importance as such and is often ignored to a great extent as compared that o other ‘Famous’ SDGs i.e #1,#13 to name a few.

    Moving ahead, we must pay an attention to the part where the writer of this article has categorically remarked about our education system being a ‘Meritocracy’ is something which is ideally expected. The actual problem indeed lies in the fact that in our society, people with merit are often considered too deserving to be rewarded. This ideology in something which always invites criticism from my end. Not in a form indicating that a system of rewarding everyone regardless of their knowledge/potential, but in a form that against declaring someone in merit list without perfectly assessing their knowledge. In our education system, for example, a person with more marks is always given a upper hand over with an average person regardless of their actual knowledge. This is often because that our system is a ‘Meritocracy’. Now that people are being brought up in way of considering person with more marks as ‘Deserving’, converging all their energy and efforts towards winning marks starts taking precedence over their actual likings and interest hence resulting in a ‘Brain Drain’ which essentially is a loss of actual talent. Such convergence of energy and efforts in such way often leads to rote memorization and vomits during examination net benefit of which is nothing.

    Moving on, way the writer has brought up the socioeconomic status, caste, gender bias, etc is quite appreciable but the reason and explanation attached with it is not something the actual reason for the mentioned problems. The actual reason is something which is not even address in 2030 action agenda as well. The actual reason is nothing other than population explotion. In a country like India with a very high population, combination of benefits are often looked upon while choosing the assets for the country. In such a place, if a person A is offered X and Y for the matter of substantial selection, given that both are equally talented and educated, but X is offered with financial guarantee and Y with financial uncertainty, it is obvious that A would choose former over later. In this matter, neither of these 3 people not our education system is to be blamed, it’s population explotion which is ultimate cause of the problems

  2. Khushi Nigam

    Education. As Malala says, a single pen and a notebook can change the world. Education is thus, in today’s world, one of the surest and the most certain of paths to follow in order to eliminate the economical and class-based prejudices prevailing in our society. Yet education stays a distant goal, and what we may expect out of education varies excruciatingly. Today, attending the orientation of the 15-day programme, I noticed how the talented participants were hailing from (including me) some of the finest and the most reputed schools and institutions of India. Yet the ground reality is that 99% of real education is India is still taking place in inedequate facilities with restricted provisions to limit the growth of students and to continue at worse and widen at best the existing educational loops and gaps that pester the country. Teaching at an NGO, I interact with students, some younger than me while some older, who abandonned education at certain points of their lives (fifteen, ten, eight.) to work for their families and for money, and the gap widens to an extent that they struggle to grapple the very basis of the English language. Is it truly their fault, or is it the education to blame that lets such inequalities and such broad dichotomies to thrive? Why is it that I get access to quality schools solely become I was born in an affluent family? Why is it that millions don’t? Why do we let our birth determine our lives and put constraints that can shape our entire existence upon us?

    The education system needs changes, and the clock is ticking.

  3. mahika govil

    This article highlights the issues that disadvantaged sections of society face because our educational system is not a ‘perfect meritocracy.’ A perfect meritocracy would ensure that each individual’s reward is directly related to their effort. However, some people work much harder than others and receive the same or even a lower reward. For example, a person who can only go to college with financial aid would need to work harder than others to get scholarship. The same discrepancy between effort and reward is evident when we look at gender, religion or caste as well. In my opinion, as long as we do not create a level-playing field, a perfect meritocracy will not exist.

  4. Arjun K Sudheesh

    Our socio-economic background indeed has an immense influence on each of us. A child born to a well to do educated family is most likely to succeed and open to opportunities than one born to low-income families. This is linked to the poor income/economic status of the family. Poverty is a problem that needs to be addressed and resolved as soon as possible, but the conventional way seems to be ineffective. Focusing on prosperity would be the key to end poverty. Finding means and methods that enhances the economic background and finding a way to deliver this would do the trick.

  5. ananya sharma

    A person without education is like a car without an engine. Education is a tool which provides us with knowledge ,skill ,information technique and enables us to take a stance for ourselves in our lives. Indian education system has been famous since time immemorial and giving knowledge to the world has been its true beauty. But the question here rises that has it always been true to every section of our society ? Doesn’t seem so! Education system has been biased on the basis of caste, gender, income of a person, religion etc. Judging on such basis is not what education truly means. The prevailing quota systems has become a barrier in imparting quality education to deserving candidates as many of them are left high and dry devoid of good institutions. It’s high time that we realise that education is not about money and caste it’s about equality and right of every student and every responsible citizen of the future.

  6. Gaurav Gupta

    I think this article captures the asymmetry of information regarding higher education in different socio-economic communities and highlights why certain children who are privileged might outperform and do better in life than kids from backward classes who do not have access to the same standard of teaching due to various factors. In the current scenario that is post covid-19, I think this critical issue has been neglected by policy makers and has become even more detrimental due to the digital divide. In rural regions, because of closure of schools and physical classes students have indefinitely left formal education due to them having no proper facilities and internet equipment to e-learn remotely like the rest of us. Several reports have indicated such children will not return to school once they reopen due to them being forced into labour and household work, and early marriages for girl child. If this is not given attention by the concerned authorities, it will undo all the gains that the numerous education reforms have brought in our society in the past few decades

  7. shreya ghosh

    This revealing and highly nuanced article is completely in sync with the lopsided access to higher education by the different socio-economic stratas of society. We live in a society where merit yields its way to money, stoops to power and succumbs to patriarchal dogmas. In this light, the implementation of SDG 4which envisions “Quality education” floats into absolute importance. The abhorrent act of gender discrimination in access to higher education must be negated at all costs. Disbursement of scholarships should be easily and conveniently made available to the meritorious students. The dividing line of merit and money in accessing higher education should dissolve into oblivion to create an inclusive and accessible academic framework universally.

  8. Isha Agarwal

    The article was well written in the context that it was coherent and precise with the use of simple language to really lead the reader into an understanding of the concept. I could constantly be actively involved with the write up as, as I read, the ideas that came to me gradually found some voice in the article. The starting talks about how education ideally ordained to play it’s role as the ”great equaliser” has failed to occupy this meaning in the Indian experience. The social and economic differences among our populace have left certain backward sections forsaken in terms of the opportunities that they should be entitled to. The article sheds curtains with a mention of the of SDG 4 (quality education) and the enthusiastic performance of some India’s contemporaries in the accomplishment of the same. I completely agree with the author. Finland for example is functioning on a tax funded education system thus eliminating any historical discrimination. In our country, redressal policies like reservation have run their course with blots of ineffective implementation and never ending extensions. We must take guidance and adapt the foreign episodes to ameliorate our present education status.

  9. Malvika Rathi

    The post highlights the harsh reality of the education system. We are too privileged to acknowledge these issues. I just want to stress on another aspect of our education system and why it fails to cater to our needs. With exorbitant high cut-offs and minimal focus on practical education we are just training our youth to participate in the rat-race. The goal is to train them to have an innovative and growth mindset. But the present system is just distressing and overwhelming. Our education system should be reformed in a way that it is inclusive and at the same time has the power to bestow youth with high caliber.

  10. Himanshu D. Medak

    This post really struck a chord with me, I wholly agree with all the points raised I am glad Baibhabhi emphasised the historic aspect of the great divide between the privileged and the marginalised, the systematic opression of women, transgenders, POC, indigenous people etc can still be felt today, hundreds of years of institutional oppression does not disappear so easily, education an equalising factor ironically has put such communities at a disadvantage classism and favouritism when choosing students is all too real furthermore access to free quality education is still a dream for many. I think the SDG put out by United Nations for Quality Education is an admirable move which was greatly needed additionally the current system needs to be done away with.

  11. Pragyansh Nayak

    It is certain that the society we live in is divided into two sections which include- people of the economically stable backgrounds and the people of low-income backgrounds. The setbacks of the system are pretty well summed up in the article and it’s time we talk about the solutions by delving deeper into these setbacks.

    The first problem a child (from low income backgrounds) faces is economic instability, and because of this, even if the child has adequate knowledge of the higher education to be received, isn’t able to pursue it further, although education is compulsory and free for children of ages 6-14, this level of education is only enough to classify individuals as literates, not educated, literacy is just a step to education. Because of this lack of education, these children again grow up to become individuals who again, are economically unstable and not in a capacity to give their children proper access to education and this cycle of improper education continues. Even if somehow, a child manages to study, the quality of education and infrastructure provided in government schools is very inadequate. Teacher training also is a huge task to achieve, it has been seen that teachers (usually in government schools) are untrained and sometimes, not fully educated themselves These circumstances are there despite the passing of the National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993, hence, the system system requires more implementation and expenditure to be spent in the sector by the government
    For the understanding of the merits of education and employment, workshops should be held by the government and NGOs in the areas where the people who face these circumstances reside.

    Another issue is with the education of the girl child, conservative backgrounds stick to their own policy of keeping girls inside homes, not educating them. This has mostly to do with the older generations present in the homes with conservative mindsets, and somewhere in the way, this is done because of wrong interpretation of religious beliefs. In order to decode the solution to this, we have to consider several case studies, Population of several countries in Africa practice FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) To quote a women from an African rural area where this FGM is practiced, “In the past, grandmothers used to tell fairy tales and fables containing concealed life lessons. But nowadays children just don’t want to know. Similarly, grandmothers were the ones who provided sexual education. We’ve lost that role too, but I think it should be reinstated.” says Ma, 65. We have to change traditions with the help of older generations who are the ones responsible for the rigid, repressive structure of not educating the girl child.

    The education policy needs a frequent change adapting to the changes in scenarios in the world. Although the NEP 2020 has been introduced, it still needs several amends which would be made after it is fully implemented and any demerits (if there) are into notice. The education provided and the education required to be employable or to do a certain job has a huge gap.

    Let’s strive for a better world

  12. charvi mendiratta

    Education a tool meant to bring equality is acting as a tool to widen the gap between the opportunities different social groups are provided with. The education system in Indian is mostly dependent on the private sector for quality education despite efforts being made in the public sector. The private sector services can’t be afforded by a lot in the nation due to the high level of poverty. This leaves backward social economic groups uneducated leading to unemployment further widening the economic gap and forming a chain for generations. A lot of gender discrimination can also be seen in the education department especial in rural areas to improve these situations it’s high time government works on a better public education sector.

  13. nishita popli

    First of I think that education is the most important that one has access to from a very young age , and plays a key role in implementation of not one or two but all SDG’s . I feel that education contributes to the individual self-worth ,character and the country’s economy all at the same time .That being said certain sections of our society do not have access to education perhaps because they are not educated or made aware about how education can not only pull them out of their unfortunate circumstances but also make them an asset for the country .

  14. Sargam Gandotra

    Meritocracy is a need not a demand and that people and our education system needs to understand. Every student have a right to get same sort of education so that they could seek for more and better opportunities. Every student can’t afford such high quality education because a quality education is way to expensive and hence forth not affordable. The public school students barely can read a line and therefore we can’t expect them to become a good and successful person in this world of competition and perfection. Meritocracy not only includes equal education but equal excesses as well as then only we can have a fair merit based choice. I totally agree to the fact written above that we all are teached as education is all about merit but the truth is its all about privileged peoples privileged choices.
    Quality education is one of the SDG’S that I am passionate about because without good education we can’t expect our upcoming and youth and the new generation to be useful enough to be a change or fit enough to survive as well.

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