Education and Inequality: AS & A Level Sociology Notes

Synopsis– In this article, the complex interplay of education and inequality has been tried to simplify. Education is a social construct which helps the society to upholds its functional value and maintains social stability within. However, social stability doesn’t imply that their exists no inequality in the society. The concept of inequality is inherent is every society in morphed forms as it has a huge role to play in the power dynamics and the working mechanism of the society. Thus, this article caters to the deeper analysis of its operationalization.


Educational attainment is more like an outcome which is factored  on multifarious positions that an individual holds in the society. The disproportionality in the education system is an inevitable feature as it is the puppet that gets controlled by the bourgeoisie elites. This hierarchical social conformity becomes an impediment in bridging the inequalities in the society. Besides these, the process of socialization plays an important role for the social viability and its good health as it subsumes an individual in the structure which roots inequality totally. These multifactorial areas are analyzed deeply in this article.

Intelligence and Educational Attainment

Often in the contemporary times, an individual come across the word ‘intelligence’ as the starry feature which one shall endow. The key question lies whether this endowment is natural or social or is this catering to the hierarchical stability or promoting a revolutionary change in the structure? The answer lies in one’s own reflexivity!

Intelligence is often associated with educational attainment in the modern society. Since intelligence thrives on multiple factors, therefore objectively defining its criteria doesn’t seem feasible. Intelligence depends on one’s social positioning, their statuses, their roles, gender  etc. Intelligence can also be partially roofed under inherited meritocracy. For example- The Western Lens, in the historical context, hints that pupils studying in the periphery or the semi-periphery countries was assumed to be less intelligent than the Western cultural studies; however that wasn’t the holistic picture of the same. Similarly,  an individual who lies in the upper rungs of the social ladder gets access of all resources, and they utilize it in full length and breadth. The material and the cultural deprivation affects a lot in the growth of ‘intelligence’ of an individual, which often becomes the major impediment in the unequal social construct. All these social disparities create a  barrier in generalization of intelligence criteria in the society.

Social class and education attainment

Social class plays an important role when educational attainment needs to be analyzed. Often observed that pupils with a better social class background are more likely to have greater educational achievement. The reasons which facilitate intelligence in such pupils are parental encouragement from a young age, teacher’s attitude in the school environment, their access to educational materials and most importantly their cultural values. In the lower rungs of socio-economic ladder, the parents attitude is more oriented towards making pupil earn from an early age rather than encouraging for skill-development or for persuasion of their hobbies. Their speech code varies and it is not in synch with the lingua franca of modern times.  Additionally, there exists language barriers for minority students whose first language isn’t English. Children who were raised speaking their native languages at home most likely face disadvantages compared to students belonging from elite background. For example- Setting English as the standard language for taking  exams, is highly unfair for the native speakers as their mother tongue has been undermined behind the masked face of elitism and social class politics.  Thus, pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds need to put in a lot of extra efforts to line themselves up with those elite kids who since birth has access to all sort of privileges.

The legacy of the cultural capital is very much enmeshed in the catering of growing inequalities in the society. Elite bourgeoisie and the upper-middle class provides a conducive environment and effective resources for the development of ‘intelligence’ in their child but the lower strata hardly is able to fund for their child’s education, irrespective of what IQ  their offspring possesses.

The In-school environment gets highly polarized due to the regionalism, elite and dominant popular cultural endowment. The division of the institutional class into different segments, the influenced behaviour of teachers showcasing favoritism to the labelled ‘elite groups’, the isolation and aloofness faced by the children who belongs to relatively less advanced socio-economic class; all these factors create a profound line of demarcation of inequalities in the institutions. The increased cases of suicide among students globally and the multiple social movements serves as a prominent example to substantiate the argument that how institutions promotes depravity in the most explicit manner.

Influence of Ethnicity in Educational Attainment

Every society of different communities, varied cultures, distinct social groups etc. but the commonality that they all share is inequality, class antagonism and elements of rivalry to supersede others. It has subsumed within itself all the social institutions, out of which education tops the list. The intersectionality of race, gender, class, politics etc. creates the hindrance in the educational achievement of pupils belonging from relatively ‘backward’ classes. In 1985, the Swann Committee, appointed by the UK government, stated that IQ scores are not a cause of differing results among ethnic minorities thereby reaffirming that educational attainment is also based on non-biological factors. Smith and Tomlinson (1989) studied 18 comprehensive schools and pointed out a range of factors that significantly impacted the performance of ethnic minority students which majorly catered to three reasons: the quality of teaching, the availability of educational resources and the commitments and policies established to create equal opportunities for all students. However, equal policies were only seen on paper instead of its proper manifestation. Another research conducted by Reid (1996) reassured that a pupil’s social class, both in and of itself and combined with their ethnicity explains differences in academic achievement. For example- Pupils of non-White, non-British cultures and backgrounds may find it difficult to assimilate within academic institutions, norms, values, and behaviours that are generally overwhelmingly White and British. In American and European countries, mostly it has been observed that pupils have high prevalence  of ethnocentrism in them. They have given a face and a figure to the mankind and any deviance to their illusion isn’t welcomed by them. The cases of ragging, bullying, fat-shaming etc. clearly shows the existence of domination, class-antagonisms and the element of rivalry among different groups to supersede one another. Explicitly though educational institutions tend to not support such practices but covert analysis displays the opposite reality of the same.

Gender as a unit of analysis in the educational attainment

Gender and education is a broad category where several thematic strands of inquiry emerge like socialization in schools, the social experience of schooling, curriculum, educational attainment, cross-cultural educational practices.  It becomes an important unit of analysis when it comes to educational attainment as it is the only way for each individual to escape poverty and contribute meaningfully to the economy and society. The question then arises ‘Why such gendered discriminatory practices then?’, ‘ Why lack of opportunities for gender minorities?’, all these questions points to the patriarchy supporting norms. Often it has been observed that boys are expected to study and later go on to work and support their families financially while girls are taught to take over the domestic responsibilities, which often did not require extensive or high education. Such discriminatory gender norms leads to unequal power structures which makes woman insecure throughout. In-school teaching-learning process often gets partial when the attitude of teacher is inclined towards the dominant gender masculine group For example-. Statements like ‘Girls are meant to be subservient and shall help in domestic chores’ create an atmosphere of insecurities, fear and low-confidence among  these young girls. Schools which are meant to provide security and equality of opportunity to all, itself widens the gap along the axis of gender. Besides these, girls are often assumed to be ‘less intelligent’ in the technical field or less capable in in display of ‘sports’, such biases and prejudices against them in the educational institutions lead to hierarchized society where zenith of patriarchal norms exist. Unfortunately, even in the contemporary times, it has increased manifold.

Access of education provides a direct threat to the concept of dominant masculinity. With the increased educational achievement among gender minorities, they become aware of the partial social practices and they protest for reforms. Females are now more on their toes and the rise of radical feminist way of thinking has brought in a large difference. The reformist perspective endowed by gendered minorities has led to several positive steps taken by the government. For instance- Girls scholarship in every institution etc. Such positive discrimination has  not only brought a conducive environment in the educational sector but also lowering of gender disparities in all social structures.

Also Read: Education For All? Analysing Social Mobility and Academic Inequalities in India

Steps taken to eradicate inequalities in the educational sector

In order to eradicate the educational disparities, globally a lot of initiatives are being taken. One such step includes the Compensatory Educational Programmes. These programmes are designed specifically to forestall educational deficits associated with adverse socio-historical circumstances.  The funds provided under these schemes helps in the upliftment of those classes which in history, had been  socially ostracized. Besides these, various scholarship programmes for gender minorities like ‘The Point Foundation – LGBTQ scholarship’ , ‘ AAUW International Scholarships for Women’ and many more. Various laws have been made globally against any sort of discriminatory practices in educational institutions which helps in maintaining the very sanctity of its purpose. Such affirmative action programmes results in bridging the social gap.


The social construct of inequalities that once homed every aspect of mankind, is day-by-day loosening its grip. The removal of impediments in the educational institutions is catering to the broadening of perspectives of the different social groups. The power dynamics is now absorbing individuals belonging from diverse backgrounds holding different social and gender positions. In addition to these, the positive affirmation action plans help the students from relatively lower socio-economic background, to compassionately pursue their hobbies, passion and skills according to  their whims and fancies, thereby taking steps towards the formation of an egalitarian society.

Also Read: Education and Society – AS and A Level Sociology Notes


Carter, P., Skiba, R., Arredondo, M., & Pollock, M. (2014). You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Look At: Acknowledging Race In Addressing Racial Discipline Disparities. Discipline Disparities Research to Practice collaborative, Indiana University. Retrieved from Content/uploads/2014/12/Acknowledging-Race_121514.pdf

Noltemeyer, A.L., Mujic, J., & McLoughlin, C.S. (2012). The history of inequality in education. In A.L. Noltemeyer & C.S. McLoughlin (Eds.), Disproportionality in Education and Special Education. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher Ltd.

Reid, J. L., JR. 1965. Intermediate Waters of the Pacific Ocean. Johns Hopkins Oceanographic Studies, No. 2. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Maryland 21218. P.85

Smith, David J. & Tomlinson Sally. 1989. The School Effect: a study of multi-racial comprehensives . London, Policy Studies Institute, pp.325.

Subrahmanyam, Gita (2016). Gender perspectives on causes and effects of school dropouts in developing countries (Stockholm: Sida).

Wright, D. E., & Mahiri, J. (2012). Literacy Learning Within Community Action Projects For Social Change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(2), 123–131.

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Pushpanjali is a Sociology student at Miranda House with a keen interest in reading fictional novels, discerning aesthetics within the ordinary, and expressing her complex emotions through writing. She is dedicated to championing various facets of feminism and is committed to leveraging her viewpoints to effect positive change in society.