05 Feb 2019


It is widely accepted that educational opportunities for students ought to be equal. Education significantly influences a person’s life chances in terms of labor market success, preparation for democratic citizenship, and general human flourishing. Children’s life chances should not be fixed by certain morally arbitrary circumstances of their birth such as their social class, race, and gender, but the precise meaning of equality of educational opportunity is  the fairness of processes through which individuals with different backgrounds or from different social groups reach particular outcomes, such as educational or occupational goals.

The best way to achieve and maintain equal opportunity in Africa is through quality education that targets the poor and offers them the means to gain experience and advance their prospects in a substantial way. Only high quality, relevant education can provide profound, long-term empowerment. Education should be a top priority for Africa because education is truly transformational in ways that palliative measures, including black economic empowerment and affirmative action, can never match.

Just a few teachers will leave a lasting impression especially when they leave the student at the end of the school year because they have worked so hard to get to a point where academic excellence is even possible and institutions have a hard time both measuring that kind of success and valuing it as it deserves. Schools need to do more to create meaningful access to quality higher education, this requires taking a hard look at the ways that inequality is built into colleges and universities. And since education is an integral function of government, and because it is an opportunity that government largely provides, there are special constraints on its distribution. Justice, if it requires nothing else, requires that governments treat their citizens with equal concern and respect. The state, for example, cannot justly provide unequal benefits to children on the basis of factors such as their race or gender. One of the most important and difficult things we can do to level the educational playing field is to abandon the idea that there is a single definition of “qualified” for college. Grades and test scores are easy to measure, but they depend as much on teachers and parents as on the students themselves. When a new school year begins at any point in time, students will bring a wide range of talents, skills and needs to their studies that enrich all. There is the need to ensure that children from state schools have an equal opportunity to reach a university that can enable them to fulfill their potential. But in the determination to do this, there can be a tendency to assume if only we can ensure that students from a state-educated background have as good a chance of going on to higher education as their privately educated peers, we have pretty much solved it. Ensuring young people from less well-off backgrounds get into university which is certainly vital. Education transforms and equalizes opportunity, of which there is an important role for both the state (as regulator and provider of public education) and the private sector (to complement the provision of education services) to play. Today, the essential challenge when it comes to fixing our education system is political rather than practical. The government should encourage, support and positively regulate the development of an expansive system of private education to relieve the burden on the public component. One goal of education is to enable young people to grow into adults who have flourishing lives. Giving children the equal opportunity for flourishing lives depends on the view one should have about the appropriate obstacles. Less privileged students have scantier knowledge as to how to go about achieving their ambitions; have been less equipped with the soft skills employers want; have had less access to useful networks; struggle more to build new professional networks; and have generally had less professional experience though work experience and internships.

It is essential to enable less privileged university students to seize the opportunities they deserve, do something about leveling a playing field. Education has long been prized as the most important rung on the ladder of opportunity. Yet education as a societal resource has seldom, if ever, been distributed equally in a country. Government should facilitate equal educational process by supporting Higher Education, which is responsible for the accreditation of both public and private higher education institutions. This system would allow some universities to play a bigger role in the teaching of undergraduate students and the production of professionals, and others to focus on postgraduate students and undertake high-level research – both essential if the country is to develop a knowledge-based economy.

Research shows that a good education not only propels individuals up the ladder of economic opportunity, it can also keep them from falling down the ladder.  Consequently, people at the bottom who are denied access to a quality education are prevented from achieving upward mobility, and people at the top who gain such access are unfairly insulated from experiencing downward mobility. Race remains a stubborn marker of status in our society. And education is the most important engine of social mobility. If we are ever to achieve the kind of equality of opportunity we aspire to, we are much more likely to succeed by ensuring the broadest access to the best schools for all students than we are by allowing a select few to hoard these elite educational opportunities for themselves. 

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