Disparités sociales et politiques équitables
Social Disparities and equitable policies
In order to ensure the universal right of education for all governments and donors have made considerable efforts to come up with solutions for the inequalities and disparities which affect the field of education. The Millennium Development Goals include both disparities, with the objectives of promoting gender equality, and making primary schooling universal. In addition to gender disparities it must be stressed that there are huge geographical disparities between regions in the world, within continents and countries. Income disparities and other disparities such as disabilities, post-conflict situations or ethnic minorities must also be added.
To solve these problems development partners and AFD systematically integrate equity criteria in the programmes they finance. A policy can indeed be considered equitable when it manages to create a situation of equality between groups which at the start would not have appeared to have equal access to resources.
In the field of education social disparities are shown through several indicators such as public expenditure per pupil or the level of resource concentration. For instance, in 2002 on average the 10% most educated pupils used 37% of public resources devoted to education (the rate reached as high as 68% in Rwanda).
As far as gender disparities are concerned, in 2002 on average the boy-girl ratio in the primary grade stood at 0.87, meaning that for 100 boys in primary schooling there were only 87 girls. Moreover, this ratio is seen to fall at secondary and higher levels of education: 0.79 in the 1st secondary grade, 0.72 in the 2nd secondary grade and 0.54 in higher education.
However, gender disparities are not the only decisive factor in a student’s school career, other factors being geographical location and his/her parents’ income. It is estimated that location and income weigh three times more heavily on the chances of going to primary school than the child’s sex. It is also noted that the higher the level of studies, the more income is discriminatory in the student’s career. For instance, in 2002 the 40% wealthiest in higher education had 15 times more likelihood of going to school than the 40% poorest, whereas boys had 1.4 times more likelihood of going to school than girls at this level of education. Gender disparities are therefore added to a social selection in favour of wealthy and urban populations.
However, it should not be assumed that such strong disparities are evenly spread on the African continent. Indeed, very few gender disparities are observed in East Africa whereas many Francophone African countries still have considerable differences. The girl-boy ratio is however gradually improving and today stands at 0.87 in primary schooling compared with 0.78 in the 1990s.
The main reason for the persistence of disparities in education systems is the concentric way the systems themselves develop and favour populations the most able to benefit from services from the very start, namely boys from wealthy families living in large urban centers.
However, inequalities may also stem from more specific causes: remote geographical areas, areas cut off from the rest of the country at certain times of year, school fees, schooling is not culturally accepted…
Many specific or targeted policies have been implemented to help social groups suffering from inequalities. However, over the past ten years effective disparity reduction policies have mostly been general policies to develop education supply. For instance, it has been demonstrated that if a school is located over 2.5 km away from the family home there is a sharp drop in the likelihood of the child going to school. The figure drops to practically zero when the distance reaches over 5 km. This is a particularly determining factor in schooling for girls.
However, supply policies come up against the problem of educational demand from families long before universal primary schooling is achieved. It can therefore be noted that policies which have an effect on demand are better in integrating the populations the most excluded from education.
Demand-side policies can be put into three categories:
policies aiming to suppress or reduce education related costs (school fees, subscriptions to parent associations, purchasing pedagogical materials…)
policies on teaching content: demand-side education can be sensitive to the level of teaching in school. It is then a case of skilfully defining teaching content, combining both practical and traditional knowledge and modern knowledge.
Policies on school operating methods: families are often receptive to the existence of a canteen where their children can eat at lunchtime, separate latrines for girls or timetables adapted to, and compatible with, the organization of the domestic economy.