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Does Education Have the Potential to 'free' Marginalised Groups?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2506 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Does education have the potential to ‘free’ marginalised groups? Critically discuss the educational challenges experienced by one of the marginalised groups examined in the module. Consider the work of Paulo Freire and decide whether his theory (or another’s) is best suited for your argument.

Marginalisation is the action of excluding particular groups of citizens to the lower levels of society. This is done by not giving them the freedom to have an active voice, identity or place within society. This is carried out by direct and indirect actions, which means marginalised groups maybe demoted to a lower level of society than those who hold more power or privilege in society. Marginalisation can occur individually or as a collective, on the grounds of numerous forms of identity, this includes but does not limit to; race, gender/gender identity, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, sexuality, age or religion. Furthermore, various individuals may identity with a number of marginalised groups, leading them to experience further marginalisation as a result of their intersecting identities (Syracuse University, 2011).

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The right and freedom to education is comprehensive and allows no form of discrimination or exclusion. Nevertheless, near enough all countries are faced with objections assuring equal opportunities for all in education access and within education systems. Marginalised groups are often forgotten by national educational policies, declining numerous people their right to education (Righttoeducation.org, 2014). However, considering ‘groups’ can be useful, groups often are heterogeneous. For example, the marginalised group ‘women and girls’, made up of half the world’s population, is majorly diversified. Furthermore, this group contains women and girls from; upper and middle-class backgrounds, with impairments, indigenous girls and girls living in rural areas. An aspect of marginalisation is that people who are marginalised are more prone to be exposed to numerous levels of discrimination. Although this may be true, non-discrimination and equality are vital human rights that apply, specifically in regards to education (righttoeducation.org, 2014).  Education is a fundamental human right, it is also an impetus for reduction of poverty, economic growth and social mobility. Furthermore, one of the essential priorities for all governments should be for all citizens to receive a good quality of education, however, majority of countries advocate the principal of equal opportunity in education (UNESCO, 2010). Within the centre of this principle is the belief that what children achieve within education should reflect their efforts and talents, not their social circumstances; however, continual inequalities based on gender, wealth, ethnicity, language and location point to marked discrepancies in their chances in life (UNESCO, 2010).  Within the Education for All, Global Monitoring Report, it was stated that, ‘Marginalisation in education is a form of acute and persistent disadvantage rooted in underlying social inequalities. It represents a stark example of ‘clearly remediable injustice’ (UNESCO, 2010).  The purpose of this paper is to answer the research question, ‘does education have the potential to ‘free’ marginalised groups?’ While critically discussing the educational challenges experienced by one particular marginalised group, furthermore, the work of Paulo Freire will be explored and critically analysed, alongside other theorists such as Robert Merton and his Anomie and strain theories. The marginalised group chosen to be discussed is youth and deviant youths.

Deviant behaviour is any form of behaviour that is adverse to the primary ‘norms’ of society. There are various theories that assist in explaining how behaviour appears to be categorised as deviant and the reason behind why people in – in particular youths participate in it, within this, biological, psychological and sociological explanations. (Crossman, 2018). There are a large portion of deviant youths in education, which form a particularly vulnerable group, majority of these youths are impoverished of their freedom in education due to ‘ status offences’ such as: truancy, begging, running away from home, alcohol or substance abuse or homelessness (righttoeducation, 2014). Moreover, this also applies to youth who are in juvenile detention, who are in essence the most disadvantaged group in society. Additionally their right to education is more than often not granted before or during their incarceration. This is quiet problematic as education is a key aspect of deviant youth’s rehabilitation and integration back into society. When discussing juvenile justice systems particularly, access to education of adequate quality is not granted to people in juvenile detention or of poor quality (righttoeducation, 2014).

A theory that associates well with youth deviancy is sociologist Robert Merton, who developed the structural strain theory as an addition of the functionalist perspective on youth deviance. The strain theory follows the creation of deviance to the pressures that are created by the rift between cultural goals and the means people have available to achieve these goals. Furthermore, according to Merton’s theory, societies are formed of culture and social structure, culture forms targets for people in society where as social structure provides or neglects to provide the resources for youth to achieve these targets. Within an integrated society, people use acceptable and correct aims to achieve the targets that society forms. In this instance, the targets and the resources of the society are of equal balance. It is when these are unbalanced with each other that youth deviancy is more likely to take place. The unbalance between cultural targets and structurally available aims can in fact encourage youth deviancy (Crossman, 2018). 

Labelling theory is one of the most crucial concepts to understanding youth deviant and criminal behaviour. It begins with the expectation that no act is per se criminal. Instead, interpretations of misdemeanour are formed by those in power through the creation of laws and the definitions of those laws by police, courts, and correctional institutions (Crossman, 2018). Youth deviance is thus not a set of attributes of individuals or groups, but comparatively it is a process of interaction between deviants and non-deviants and the circumstances in which misdemeanour is interpreted.

Those who serve as forces of law and order and those who implement the confines of appropriate behaviour, such as the police, court officials, experts, and school authorities, provide the main sources of labelling (Crossman, 2018). By assigning labels to people, and in the process forming categories of deviance, these people augment the power structure and hierarchies of society. Customarily, it is those who possess more power over others, based on race, class, gender, or overall social status, who enforce rules and labels on others in society.

In addition to this, Marxists believed that defiant behaviour is an inevitable outcome in a capitalist society in which one group holds power over another. Whereas, functionalists believed that defiant behaviour is just another essential aspect of society. It serves many functions that are valuable to evolve social attitudes and consolidate moral values. Additionally, deviance is produced by a process of interaction between the potential deviant and the agents of social control (Haralambos and Holdburn 1995: 406).

 Similarly, Travis Hirschi’s (1969) developed Social control theory, is a form of functionalist theory, that suggests that deviance occurs when a person’s or group’s attachment to social bonds is depleted. According to this theory, people care about other’s opinions of them and conform to expectations of society because of their connections to others and the expectations of others. Socialisation is significant in generating conformity to social rules, and it is when this conformity is broken that deviance occurs (Crossman, 2018).

Furthermore, the social control theory concentrates on how deviants are attached, or not attached, to common value systems and what issues break people’s commitment to these values. In addition to this, the social control theory also implies that most people most likely feel some inclination towards deviant behaviour at some time, but their bond to social ‘norms’ prevents them from taking part in deviant behaviour (Crossman, 2018).​

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In addition to the social control theory the learning theory, theory of differential association focuses on the actions by which individuals lead to commit deviant and/or criminal acts. Edwin Sutherland (1924,1939) suggests that criminal behaviour is learned through communications with other people. Through these communication and interaction, people determine the values, attitudes, techniques and motives for criminal behaviour (Crossman, 2018). The differential association theory accentuates the communication between people and their peers in their surroundings, those who cohort with deviants attain to value deviance.Moreover, the greater time spent and intensity of their time spent in deviant surroundings, they will more or less become deviant themselves.

Overall, the two main groups of marginalisation in the UK are, youth deviancy and socioeconomic. Gender and socio-economic gaps interact with each other so that poor male students in particular, are vulnerable to educational marginalisation. Evidence suggests that these gaps surface early and remain embedded in primary school and increasing when entering the secondary school phase. Some progress has certainly been made in reducing the socioeconomic gap in education achievement during the last decade or so, but it remains large.  The UK, unlike most other education systems, has for some time followed a quasi-market approach to education policy (parental choice and markets were introduced to the system in 1988) (Vignoles, 2009).

 This has not had a huge impact on overall educational standards but equally nor has it increased or reduced educational marginalisation to any great extent. Therefore although the fears that markets in education inevitably lead to greater educational marginalisation have not been realised, the potentially positive effects of markets have not come to pass either. Reducing educational marginalisation has been the major policy objective in recent legislation and initiatives. Policy-makers have recognised however that much of the socio-economic gap in education achievement is related to factors outside the school system. Thus policies such as Every Child Matters or Extended Schools attempt to both involve parents in their children’s schooling and to broaden the role of schools to undertake activities often done by parents (e.g. homework supervision).

The effectiveness of these policies has not yet been evaluated, although on the basis of previous broadly targeted interventions we might worry that they will tend to benefit the less deprived students rather than necessarily reduce marginalisation. In this paper, we highlighted two specific approaches to reducing marginalisation. Interventions to raise standards in the most deprived schools, such as the Excellence in Cities programme, and policies to encourage greater participation of poor children, such as Education Maintenance Allowances. Both have had some impact but neither has substantially reduced the socio-economic gap in education achievement (as opposed to participation). EMA did however, at least raise education participation of poorer students post age 16.

 On the basis of just two policies it would be dangerous to conclude that area based initiatives like EiC are inherently flawed and an individual approach like EMA is best (see Lupton, Heath and Salter, 2008). Indeed many of the difficulties that deprived students face in deprived schools are systemic and can only be addressed at the whole school level or even at a more aggregate level16. However, there are difficulties inherent in area based approaches, including the significant deadweight loss as more advantaged pupils in deprived areas tend to benefit disproportionately from such interventions.

 Only by putting in place policies to reduce educational marginalisation early on in the system can we be hopeful that policies that extend education participation later on (e.g. EMA or raising the education participation age to 18) will genuinely reduce gaps in educational achievement. Early intervention is a necessary but not sufficient response to marginalisation however. Further investments in later years, targeted at marginalised students and building on success in early years are also needed (Cunha and Heckman, 2008). In particular the evidence base points to the importance of teachers and interventions to improve the quality of teachers in deprived areas and schools are also likely to be most effective.

  • Crossman, Ashley. “Sociological Explanations of Deviant Behavior.” ThoughtCo, Jun. 22, 2018, thoughtco.com/sociological-explanations-of-deviant-behavior-3026269.
  • Cunha F. and Heckman, J. (2008) “Formulating, identifying, and estimating the technology of cognitive and non-cognitive skill formation”, Journal of Human Resources (forthcoming)
  • Lupton, R. (2006) “Schools in Disadvantaged Areas: Low Attainment and a Contextualised Policy Response”, in H.Lauder, P.Brown, J.Dillabough and A.H. Halsey (eds.), Education, Globalization and Social Change, Oxford University Press.
  • Lupton, R., Heath, N. and Salter, E. (2008) ‘Education: New Labour’s Top Priority’ in J. Hills (ed) Towards a more equal society, Policy Press, UK.
  • Lupton, R. and Tunstall, R. (2004) ‘Is Targeting Deprived Areas an Effective Means to Reach Poor People? An assessment of one rationale for area-based funding programmes’, London School of Economics, Paper No’ CASE 070.
  • Anna Vignoles, (2014). Marginalised groups. [online] Right to Education Initiative. Available at: https://www.right-to-education.org/marginalised-groups [Accessed 14 Mar. 2019].
  • Syracuse University (2011). Impact of Marginalization | Syracuse University. [online] Counselingcenter.syr.edu. Available at: http://counselingcenter.syr.edu/social-justice/impact-of-marginalization.html [Accessed 14 Mar. 2019].
  • UNESCO (2009). Educational marginalization in the UK. London: UNESCO, pp.2-32.


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