The effects of income inequality in education

In education, it is a commonly held belief that a student’s success in learning comes from a student’s talent and merit; that success can come to anyone provided they persevere above all trials and tribulations. If everyone is going to get a fair start in life, the best place to apply one’s self is in school. This mindset is generally extrapolated into a view of society as a whole, that in a free country one can climb the social ladder simply through achievement regardless of wealth or social class. It’s optimistic, to say the least, that regardless of any peril in one’s upbringing, one can be at the top with enough dedication towards bettering oneself and skills.

Since 1990, the richest Canadians have increased their share of wealth, while the poorest and middle-income groups have their share diminished.

The effects of these gaps are rather hidden in education, but research has consistently shown that in Ontario, social standing has a definite effect on student’s education. Toronto, one of the most unequal cities in Canada, has it’s high-scoring elementary schools concentrated in high-income areas, while lower-income neighbourhoods have a higher percentage fail the reading, writing and math tests. According to a 2010 TDSB study, close to 60% of gifted students come from the 3 highest wealth deciles, on the other hand, only 11 percent were from the three lowest deciles. Kids from low-income households have a higher chance of taking applied courses in high school, reducing the chances of graduating or attending post-secondary.

In other provinces, families have the freedom to send their students to whichever school they want. In Ontario, students are locked to their neighbourhood schools, unless there is room for other students. The “good schools” rarely have extra desks available due to their high demand. This causes a significant search for houses that are within range of the higher-performing schools, driving up real estate prices.

Fund-raising is a key part of many school’s funding for educational tools and actives such as Chromebooks, whiteboards, and field trips. A 2018 People for Education report found that 99% of elementary schools and 87% of secondary schools fundraise. The report also found that elementary schools with lower rates of poverty raise more than twice the amount of money raised in schools with higher rates of poverty. In 2018, the top 10% of fundraising schools raised 37 times the amount raised by the bottom 10%.

Cuts to education will only worsen this divide, as schools deprived of funds cannot meet the needs of all students. Education is a key factor in a child’s development, a fundamental step towards success. Post-secondary is sold as the key to job opportunities to secondary students, however, the exponentially increasing tuition costs and reliance on harsh student loans make it inaccessible for the less fortunate. The downsizing of the Ontario Student Assistance Program will only further limit university degrees to those who can afford it. Those born in lower-income neighbourhoods will see a dip in their quality of education, which will only exacerbate the income divide between the social classes.

In order to increase the success of students from lower-income households and social mobility in Canada as a whole, it is important to work towards equity in our school system and acknowledge that in this status quo, education favours the wealthy above merit.

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