Educational Research and Innovation

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

2076-9679 (online)
2076-9660 (print)
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This series of books from the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovations provides the results of OECD work on innovation in education.

Also available in French
Educational Opportunity for All

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Educational Opportunity for All

Overcoming Inequality throughout the Life Course You or your institution have access to this content

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

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06 Dec 2017
9789264287464 (EPUB) ; 9789264287457 (PDF) ;9789264287440(print)

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Equitable educational opportunities can help to promote long-lasting, inclusive economic growth and social cohesion. Successful education and skills policies can empower individuals to reach their full potential and enjoy the fruits of their labour, regardless of their circumstances at birth. However, as this report shows, far too many children, students and adults from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind. In many countries, substantial learning gaps exist between students at opposite ends of the socio-economic scale, and these differences tend to increase in the transition into adulthood.

All countries have ample room for improvement to ensure better learning outcomes for all. Early childhood education has been identified as an important element in future success, and requires investment, as do family and community-based support and programmes for children from families that have not attained a high level of education and skills. In the schools, targeted support is necessary for low performers from disadvantaged backgrounds and for poorly performing schools. As for the adult population, learning should be focused on improving employability, through a combination of education and practical job training. Barriers to participation in learning need to be removed, and delivery methods need to be more innovative and flexible. Targeted support is needed for the most vulnerable members of society.

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  • Foreword and acknowledgements

    Many OECD countries are experiencing an increase in social inequalities, not only with regard to earnings, income and wealth, but also in access to many other social goods and opportunities. Social inequalities are responsible for weakening the fabric of societies, a growing disconnect between citizens and public institutions, and a feeling amongst many individuals that they have been disempowered. Social inequalities are also connected to weakened economic growth, a waste of human capital and the failure to translate rapid technological change into shared productivity growth across all firms and economic sectors.

  • Executive summary

    In a globalised, knowledge-intensive economy where technological change is continually reshaping the labour market, individuals with low levels of educational attainment and skills are increasingly penalised. Gaps in the labour market outcomes between highly and poorly educated workers have been widening in the past three decades across OECD countries. Education and training play a significant role in helping individuals to climb the socioeconomic ladder and to reach their full potential. Education and labour market policies and practices that support the most vulnerable groups can bolster inclusive economic growth and increase social cohesion. A country’s prosperity depends on how well it equips individuals of all backgrounds with the skills to obtain decent jobs, to become more productive and innovative, and potentially, to create jobs, as well as to make smarter political, economic and life choices.

  • Overview: Towards equitable learning opportunities throughout life

    This Chapter provides the background to the publication which is the main output of the Fostering Good Education for All project – the contribution of the Directorate for Education and Skills to the OECD-wide Inclusive Growth initiative. It outlines the main factors that can affect an individual’s life outcomes such as lack of skills and unequal learning opportunities. It also provides policy recommendations for ensuring equitable educational outcomes at each stage of life.

  • Accumulation of disadvantages over the life course

    This chapter describes how disadvantages can accumulate over the life of an individual, starting at birth and moving on to varying economic and social outcomes in adulthood. In the context of rising inequality in income and wealth, the extent of inequality in opportunities has become a particular concern in recent years. Acknowledging that such disadvantages accumulate over time, equity policies need to take a comprehensive view of human capital accumulation over the life cycle. This implies that investments and support need to be continuous throughout an individual’s life span. The role of public policies has become ever more important in ensuring equal educational opportunity.

  • Start by investing in education

    This chapter highlights the importance of early childhood development, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Early childhood is a critical development phase for individuals, and its outcomes have an impact on outcomes later in life. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to benefit from high-quality home learning environments than their peers from more affluent families. Disadvantaged children are also less likely to receive high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. Therefore, public provision of high-quality ECEC services and additional family-based support need to mitigate these early learning deficits. This chapter addresses these issues in detail, and makes policy recommendations for how governments can help children from disadvantaged backgrounds obtain equal opportunities to develop human capital.

  • Support low performers and disadvantaged schools

    The chapter examines and discusses the importance of school years and the role of educational institutions, teachers, school leaders and parents in ensuring equitable educational opportunities and outcomes. The findings suggest that early identification of low performers and targeted support needs to be provided to those students at risk of falling behind or dropping out of school entirely. Additional support needs to be provided to disadvantaged schools through the adequate allocation of resources, to ensure that all students receive the high-quality education and training needed to fully participate in society. School budgets need to be prioritised in recruiting and maintaining well-qualified human resources, such as school leaders and teachers, who play a critical role in reducing educational inequalities in their schools.

  • Provide second learning chances for adults

    Failed interventions and investments in early childhood and schooling can result in serious consequences that are harder to resolve in adulthood. Individuals who have left the education system are harder to reach, and adult learning and training is generally much less available and less generously funded than formal education for young children and students. This chapter discusses inequality in outcomes in education, skills and labour market participation during adulthood, as well as the gaps between various groups of the population in participation in formal and non-formal adult education and training. It also discusses policy interventions that can mitigate inequality in learning and labour market outcomes between adults from socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. First of all, learning should be focused on improving the employability of adults, through a combination of education and training and practical job training. Targeted support needs to be provided to adults with a low level of educational attainment and without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Particular attention should be paid to young adults who are not in employment or in education (NEETs), single mothers and women who have had to leave the labour market due to child care responsibilities, as well as the immigrant population. Barriers to participation in adult education need to be removed through financing mechanisms such as co-financing, tax credit and allowances. To tackle situational and time constraints, delivery methods need to be more innovative and flexible.

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