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Access to education has been an issue of discussion for a while now, where the society through various agencies have attempted to articulate the place of education in the society and its benefits to the individual members of the society. Education is a broad term, which can be summarised into the process by which acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes is facilitated. How accessible this education is to every member of a society has been raised as a concern in countries, both the developing and the developed. Therefore, this issue is universal and requires critical approach while handling it. It is important at this level to note that education takes place throughout the life of an individual because they are always exposed to new ideas and information, which means that they acquire new knowledge daily. For example, a seventy-year old grandmother may learn how to switch on the lights. This can be called learning, hence education.
Although learning as an aspect of education is said to be a life-time process, education as a wholesome process is confined to the institutional learning provided by nations and states for the purposes of this study, which is formal education. This paper is aimed at answering the question of whether or not everyone should have equal access to education. In the attempt to answer the question, the concepts of education and equality will be discussed in details. Still, the benefits of education at the economic and non-economic levels will be critically evaluated. Finally, the effects of unequal access to education will be assessed in order to prove the importance of equal access to education for everyone. Despite the challenges that exist in providing education to every individual, all human beings are entitled to equal opportunities to access education.
The summarised meaning of education, above, provides for the main aim of education. This aim involves impacting knowledge, skills and attitudes to the beneficiaries of education. In this case, these expected outcomes are the very motivation behind education. As the learners go through the process of learning, they directly or indirectly acquire these elements in order for education to have been achieved. The term ’educate’ means to expose to or equip with, therefore, the learner is exposed to knowledge and equipped with skills and attitudes that are relevant for the post-academic life. Knowledge and attitudes are abstract in nature, where they inform the capability of a person to perform a certain task.
While knowledge provides the basis of handling that task, attitudes determine the approach that will be used. Skills on the other hand, are demonstrated through practicing the relevant knowledge and attitudes. Skills are the evidence of knowledge and attitudes (Durkheim, 2012). For example, the approach that a doctor may use to treat a patient is based on the knowledge and the attitudes that they acquire during training such as interviewing the patient to acquire information about their condition. Skill is the application of the acquired knowledge on interviews to acquire maximum information from the patient. Therefore, these three elements constitute the concept of education.
Equality involves similar treatment or approach to individuals. In the field of education, equality means embracing each individual irrespective of their race, gender or social and economic background. This implies that all the learners in a class feel equally appreciated and are treated the same. Treatment involves the manner of instruction used as well as the quality of education that they are exposed to. From the three elements of education, equality means that the learners are equal in the acquisition of these elements. This is achieved through standard classrooms and same professional teachers. However, there has been a heated debate on the current system of education in the world generally. The debates have been based on concerns over the rise of issues of inequality in the access to education. These are evident through unequal admission into universities and colleges, where the female gender has been limited.
Factors ranging from society and culture to political reasons have led to the unequal admission of girls in schools. For example, the previous society expected the girls to concentrate on household duties and home care. This resulted to bias where girls were denied the opportunity to higher learning (Cummings, 2014). Still, the girls who had grown to that culture had also bought into this perception, where they were not intrinsically motivate to attend school. The rise of movements that demanded for equality resulted to gradual change in this equality, although it has not been satisfactorily achieved.
In addition to the approach of inequality in terms of gender and race, recent studies have also pointed out other factors that have informed inequality, including politics and economy. To begin with, politics involve power and influence. A political person has power and influence over a group of people (Kahler, 2015). It has been noted that some institutions, mostly public, have been politicised and the main business in the entry and exit of learners without paying attention to the quality of education that the learners have been exposed to. Prestige is paid to the institution that admits most students and releases most graduates to the society. This approach has influenced the equal access to education in terms of quality.
Most of the learners that go through such systems are exposed to poor quality skills because of the overcrowded classrooms. Such classrooms are difficult to manage for the teacher, hence the individual needs of the learners are overlooked. Such institutions are also under-equipped because the ratio of the equipment to the large numbers of the learners is absolutely not proportional, thus contributing to poor results. The result is that the graduates that may be released in the society may be short of certain skills and even knowledge.
Still on the political influence on the institutions, the number of learners released into the society as graduates are esteemed as an indicator of the stability of that institution (Brown et al., 2013). This means that the institution becomes popular, hence admits even more learners in the subsequent years. The long-term result is that the emphasis of the college or university will not be on the impact of education on the individual learner but on the influence or command of the college in the society. Consequently, the graduates will acquire inadequate skills, hence affecting them as they compete for employment opportunities with other graduates that acquire quality education.
The economic view of education has also resulted to unequal access to education. The public institutions are mostly for the middle class and below members of the society (Rotella, Carlo). Such institutions are mostly overcrowded in the attempt to make education accessible to as many needy students as possible. The result is the provision of poor skills for the learners, which renders them incompetent in the demanding job market. Quality education is made available for the rich few who can afford quality services, mostly at a higher fee. Consequently, the rich acquire the high positions in the society because they are more competent for the same jobs for which the poor students were inadequately trained in the public universities. The result is that the equality that is being enhanced through equal admission in these institutions is also disabled by the economic statuses of the learners.
In addition, some students may drop out of school due to insufficiency of funds, which causes them to resolve to technical and vocational trainings such as dress-making and in industries as the labourers. Although these earn them income, it also maintains their low economic status compared to their peers from wealthy families who end up occupying the more-powerful jobs such as lawyers, doctors and engineers. Clearly, the economic gap widens as the generations pass.
The result of these political and economic factors is that the learners unequally access education. Cummings (2014) postulates that it is important to understand the benefits of education in order to evaluate whether it is important to equally access education. The benefits of education can be varied and inexhaustible, but can be classified into economic and non-economic benefits. Economic benefits are based on the material gain from education. For example, when a graduate is employed as a teacher, they receive a salary. The salary caters for the needs of that graduate and their family. That graduate is at a better position that that peer who did not go to school and barely survive from hand to mouth.
According to Busemeyer (2014), society is composed of classes in various levels, including economic levels. The higher the economic class, the more the influence of the member of that class to that society. Employees of various fields acquire diverse positions of influence in the society. The society has a tendency to pay more attention to the rich than to the peasants. Education empowers the individual indirectly through enabling them to be high in the hierarchy of status. Respect from others and a sense of command and influence cannot be attached monetary value but are satisfactory. In the hierarchy of needs, self-esteem is among the secondary needs. It involves the recognition of the efforts or class of an individual by self and others (Sharma and Jain, 2013). This means that the educated individuals acquire status through the forms of employment that they acquire. For example, the engineer will be more respected in the society than a carpenter. That respect cannot be attached monetary value, but is desirable towards achieving self-esteem.
Another benefit is the liberalism that results from exposure. Colleges and universities expose the learners to diversity and wide range of information, for example in literature. Even if such knowledge and information may not be primarily applicable to the learners for example, through employment in that specific field, the learners is rich in knowledge. Knowledge liberates the mind, where the individual gains different perspectives of approaching situations. As a result, the individual can solve problems and challenges better compared to that who did not get educated. The exposure to diversity also equips them to live harmoniously with other members of the society, hence enhancing peace and unity among members of that society.
On the other hand, Cummings (2014) opines that unequal access to education results to various effects at the different levels. At the individual level, unequal access to education results to difference in exposure to knowledge and skills, which results to different types of employment. This difference threatens the achievement of personal goals and objectives where some individuals may be disillusioned and frustrated. In worse cases, some previously ambitious students have fallen to depression from what they view as ‘failure’ in life. Secondly, the gap between the rich and the poor widens. While the well-educated become powerful and influential in the society, their less-educated peers are less disadvantaged in terms of power and influence.
These effects could also be social in nature. In some cases, the peers may also be economically unstable, resulting to crimes such as robbery and violence as they seek attention and economic stability. Busemeyer (2014) explains that liberalism and associated skills such as problem-solving and decision-making skills also become less in the society. This reflects to the social institutions such as family, where violence and conflicts may result. The effects of such issues affect not only the involved parents but also the subsequent generations of children. Such social issues such as conflicts over power and resources as everyone seeks to acquire better living standards threaten the general order ion the society.
Despite these effects, Ary et al. (2018) feels that unequal access of education could be a way of maintaining the status quo, where the society cannot exercise ultimate equality. Normally, there has to be social classes with the rich, the poor and those in the middle. While equal access to education could result to crisis as the job market seeks to accommodate all the learners in similar positions, unequal access naturally distinguishes between the levels of employment, professional or vocational. For example, some become lawyers while other become house helps in the houses of those lawyers, resulting to some sort of equilibrium.
In summation, the aim of education to impart knowledge, skills and attitudes on the learners is essential in maintaining a society which is economically stable and socially functional. When all the members of the society are equally educated, then they will empower the society in unison. Still, they will enhance peace and order in the society because issues will be approached in a reasonable manner. Still, members of that society will feel equally appreciated, where none is more influential than the other. Despite the fact that unequal access to education maintains the status quo of diversity naturally, it threatens central institutions in the society such as family. In order to achieve the discussed benefits and prevent the effects, then it is important that there is equal access to education for everyone.
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