12.9. Social class and social justice

Group: Krista, Karoliina, Katariina, Wilhelmina and Hanna, writer of this post

“Freedom of choice” in education 

The articles our group read had some very interesting points and they offered different aspects to the discussion about social class in education. The themes of the articles were about educational choices, inequalities, differentiation and social hierarchy. Social justice in education is linked closely to social class. Peoples’ backgrounds affect their educational paths and choices they can make to achieve their educational goals. Even though choices in education are considered the same for all the students it is established in the articles and the discussion in class that this is not always the case.

What was particularly interesting and was shown in every article was the climate of the educational policy nowadays – students are considered as responsible of their own choices and it is assumed that they can have an impact on their educational paths and social status. They are seen as autonomous self-regulating actors in the field of education and society. There can be some risks in this kind of thinking: if the youngster doesn’t care about his or her future no one will. Also, as Dovemark and Beach (2015) point out in their article, if students have troubles in school and are regarded as “low-ability learners” there are not many choices for them. They argue that teachers have different kind of expectations and demands on students from different backgrounds. Students get labelled by their social status and that effects on how teachers understand their educational needs and capabilities. Low-ability learners are pushed to vocational careers as they are regarded as non-academic and lack the kind of qualities that are needed in academic world.

Berliner (2013) points out that misleading ideas about one’s ability to rise in social class hierarchy from lower classes to higher ones through education are particularly harmful when it comes to making political decisions in the field of education. He states that school reforms are not the solution to the educational problems – the problems arise from the inequalities of the society. Therefore, it is important to talk about the real issues and not to cover them under concepts such as individualization and freedom of choice. It seems that society is attempting to shift the responsibility to the individual by stating that choices are the same to all the people. It is up to the student what kind of educational choices he or she makes and how that impacts on the future. This responsibility can be very overwhelming to young people.

So, what can be done to the issue here? For example, as Berliner (2013) suggests, improving teachers’ skills, finding individualistic ways to teach different kind of learners, smaller groups in schools and tutoring could be ways to increase the impact of students’ social class in school.  However, he continues that these kinds of improvements are not enough as the biggest reason to inequalities is the income gap. Changing that would demand more powerful actions and changes in society. Until then, smaller steps to better education that were mentioned before can have some impact on the issue. In Finland, where the differences between incomes and inequalities in education may not be that big of an issue yet, it is important to see that this can change in the future. And what is also important is to talk about social class and inequalities in society and not to pretend that they do not exist. When we can see the problems, we can do something about them.

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