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Educational Policy Studies News

Global Inequality, Global Education: 2017 EPS Annual Conference

April 05, 2017
by Lesley Bartlett, Professor of Educational Policy Studies

Global inequality persists and, by some measures, has gotten worse. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, while the share of the global population defined as “poor” (making less than $2 per day) has fallen since 2001 by nearly half, wealth has become more concentrated. The world’s wealthiest individuals total only 8.1 percent of the global population but own 84.6 percent of global wealth. According to Forbes, the world’s 10 richest billionaires own $505 billion in combined wealth, a sum greater than the total goods and services most nations produce on an annual basis. In 2006, scholars with the United Nations University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research published the first paper to tally global household wealth. This research found that the richest 1 percent of world adults owned 39.9 percent of the world’s household wealth, a total greater than the wealth of the world’s poorest 95 percent. In 2010, wealth disparity in the United States is much higher than in similarly developed countries, while the middle class in the United States held less than half the wealth share of middle classes in much of the rest of the developed world. 

At the same time, ethnic inequality –- the political and economic disadvantages felt by racial minoritized groups -– persists across the globe. Inequality affects long-term settled communities, such as Dalits in India and Roma populations in eastern Europe. It features prominently among the people forced migrate at different periods, such as the estimated 10-12.5 million Africans who were forced into the TransAtlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries, and the people who have recently immigrated, including an estimated 244 million people in 2015 alone. Rooted in the legacies of colonial exploitation, contemporary capitalist development continues to exploit labor, often organized around racist lines, while engaging in unsustainable practices of extraction and prompting displacements ranging from land grabs to gentrification to unprecedented levels of migration within and between countries.

2017 EPS ConferenceSimilarly, the unequal treatment of individuals based on their gender remains a global issue. The Gender Inequality Index shows how discrimination against and underrepresentation of women in health, education, politics, work and other parts of life has repercussions for the development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice, as well as for national development. For example, the 2016 Africa Human Development Report estimated that gender inequality cost sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year, and it calculated that African women achieve only 87 percent of the human development outcomes of men.

What is the role of schooling and, more broadly, education in these processes? While schooling can and does reproduce inequality, there is also, always, the chance that education can change society and help to establish more equitable relations.

In this conference, we explore various educational policies and practices that address global inequality, and we ask how our own work as researchers and educators can contribute to efforts to create a more just world. Given the widespread mobility of people in this contemporary era, it is important to consider these issues in global perspective. Further, there is much we can learn by comparing our challenges, successes, and experiences to others.

We gratefully acknowledge sponsorship from the UW-Madison Graduate School Professional Development Fund, the School of Education’s Global Education Committee, and the UW-Madison Anonymous Fund.

For a full conference schedule, visit the Global Inequality, Global Education website.

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