The Education Trap: Education for All?

The Education Trap: Education for All?

WVEE (PERIPHERIE. Politik - Ökonomie - Kultur)
PERIPHERIE. Politik - Ökonomie - Kultur
Vom - Bis
28.12.2022 - 28.12.2022
Michael Korbmacher

Call for Papers, PERIPHERIE, 170/171 (publication date summer 2023)

The Education Trap: Education for All?

In the development discourse, formal schooling is closely linked to the "development" and modernization of a society. It is a central component in measuring poverty and human development and in determining gender equity. Formal education is referred to as the central measure to break the "poverty trap" and enable development. However, formal education is not only a central component of development goals (e.g. Millennium Development Goal 2 or Sustainable Development Goals 4) and considered as one of the three dimensions of human development in the Human Development Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Index but is also an essential part of the aspirations of many people in the Global South (as it is for broad sections of the population in the Global North). Children's schooling and university attendance is closely linked to expectations of a better life in the future, participation in development and modernization, and social mobility.
Families, therefore, often accept very high costs in order to provide their children with a good education. In this context, there is often talk of a poverty trap, a self-reinforcing structural mechanism that makes it impossible for people to change their situation due to a lack of opportunities, low income or lack of access to educational opportunities. This is precisely what needs to be broken through educational expansions in the Global South, so the logic goes.
However, this educational promise of the development goals is increasingly being called into question. Paradoxically, the reason for this is the expansion of formal schooling, which in many places leads to an inflation of educational qualifications and de facto devalues them. This is reinforced by the increasing privatization of formal education and the associated marketization of education systems, which causes new exclusions. In addition, labor markets in many places are not developing as dynamically as enrollment rates, so that "educated unemployment" has become a worldwide phenomenon. The ambitious educational promise of the World Development Goals has become increasingly fragile, and this despite the fact that more and more people are investing in the formal education of their children.
Two contrasting trends can currently be observed with regard to formal schooling. On the one hand, we observe the global spread of schooling, which has penetrated even remote rural areas. On the other hand, it has been apparent for some time that the promise of modernization and development, according to which education leads to individual and collective emancipation, is not being fulfilled for the majority of formally educated young people and their families. While the development discourse continues to point to the lack of access to formal schooling and many policies address better access to formal education for girls, the urban poor and marginalized groups, the situation in many countries of the Global South is as follows:

1. While more and more children are attending school, education systems are becoming increasingly differentiated. There are major differences in quality between private and state schools, between educational institutions in the Global North and in the Global South, and regional differences within postcolonial nation-states are also coming to the fore.
2. In order to open up future opportunities through education, ever higher and more exclusive educational qualifications are becoming necessary. Young people are trying to obtain degrees in a global education market that will make them competitive in the labor market. As a result, education costs are exploding, requiring families to make great efforts, often at the expense of other areas of their lives.
3. The few graduates who are successful on the labor market are offset by a large number of unemployed school leavers and university graduates as well as school dropouts. Formal schooling has led these young people and their families into a dead end and their aspirations are not met.
4. While marginalized groups have increasing access to schooling. the limits of state and international education policies become evident in the poor quality of state schools on the one hand, and in fragmented educational trajectories on the other, as poor families continue to have to pay school fees, albeit often low ones.
5. Given this situation, the question arises why the promise of education continues to dominate development discourse and policies at both the nation-state and global level. Why do not only development organizations but also many families stick to the idea that (school) education guarantees a better future for their children? In the face of the dominant discourses, can a future without formal schooling be imagined? What alternatives are available to young people and their families?

The dominant discourse is also problematic because it is limited to formal schooling, which is often seen as incompatible with other livelihoods. Studies on schooling in the Global South show that postcolonial states attempt to use education to promote a national culture, in this way, integrating marginalized populations into that culture, and gaining control over it: As a result, young people identify with the nation-state and distance themselves from local cultures and alternative forms of belonging. Moreover, alternative livelihoods are discredited and no longer play a role in the visions of educated young people.
We would like to see contributions that explore these and similar questions from both empirical and theoretical perspectives. We are particularly interested in the following questions:

- How does educational inequality present itself in postcolonial nation-states and at the global level?
- What are the alternatives to formal schooling?
- What is the relationship between schooling and vocational training in the biographies of young people and their families?
- To what extent does vocational training become an alternative to compensate for the failure of the formal school system and to help young people achieve degrees and have access to income opportunities?
- How are educational hopes and disappointments described and perceived by different actors -- young people, parents, teachers, and educational actors?
- To what extent do religious educational opportunities compete with or complement each other in educational biographies?
- Which alternative educational offers are accepted after/instead of school attendance? We think, for example, of the increasing importance of educational certificates through private providers, apprenticeships or private institutes.
- What forms of belonging are being pushed by alternative education providers against the background that formal education is mostly connected with statehood and the formation of a national identity? To what extent do their offers contradict other forms of belonging, e.g. belonging to the nation-state?
- What do individual educational trajectories look like? What individual, family and/or societal expectations are associated with education? How is failure reacted to?
- How do families and kin group decide on education? Who makes them, who finances them, for how long and for whom?
- To what extent do educational decisions also influence domestic and international migration decisions of individuals or families?
- Which alternative educational offers have emerged in the Global South in the last 50 years, for example in connection with liberation pedagogy, and how do they deal with the challenges and problems outlined here? To what extent do these approaches still offer starting points for the development of alternative, emancipatory educational paths?

Manuscripts, abstract and proposals on possible contributions, and further questions should be sent to Further instructions for authors are available for download on our website at


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