More efforts needed to help children from disadvantaged families succeed


06/12/2017 - Too many people from disadvantaged backgrounds are falling behind in education and future job market, according to a new OECD report.


Educational Opportunity For All says that children, students and adults from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds receive too little support to succeed in school and in learning opportunities later in life.


“Education, particularly in early childhood, plays a vital role in combating rising social inequalities,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa and who also oversees the OECD’s work on education, launching the report in Paris. “Our evidence shows that children at a disadvantage in the education system typically go on to receive smaller salaries and, most worryingly of all, to live shorter lives. To build more inclusive societies, every country needs to step up its education efforts to help the poorer fulfil their promise of self-realisation and have access to opportunities in life. We need to make disadvantaged children our priority!”


According to a new set of 12 indicators on equity in education, only a few OECD countries offer people from poor backgrounds the same opportunity to succeed as their better-off peers, notably Estonia, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands. On the other hand, in Chile, France, Israel, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, there are exceptionally large gaps between the more advantaged in society and the disadvantaged.


Analysing PISA data over time reveals that across most OECD countries, the equity gap in learning outcomes has changed little between 2006 and 2015. And in Finland and Korea, which have relatively low equity gaps in performance compared to other OECD countries, the gap has widened.


In many countries, access to quality early childhood education, to schools with highly qualified teachers and to adult education and training is still the preserve of the highly skilled, well-educated adults and employees of large firms.


Indeed, OECD data shows that social background, in particular parental educational background, plays a significant role in influencing children’s opportunities. On average, in OECD countries, children with lower-educated parents have just a 15% chance of attaining tertiary education, whereas, they are four times more likely (63%) to finish university if at least one of their parents has attained tertiary education. Children with better-educated parents are six times less likely to drop out at lower secondary level or before, compared to students whose parents have a lower educational background.


To help ensure societies are more inclusive, governments should support education for life and throughout people’s lives. To create an equitable lifelong learning system, equity must be made an explicit priority, says the report, with progress rewarded systematically through monitoring and evaluations. Goals for reducing inequality in education should be set at local and national levels in schools and classrooms, and the best principals and teachers attracted to work in disadvantaged schools.


Investment in good quality early childhood education and care is needed, especially for children from poorer families. Family and community-based support and programmes can help, as well as targeted support for low performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds and schools.


To help all adults do well in today’s changing world of work, governments, employers and local communities should pool their efforts to offer adult learning programmes that focus on employability, through a combination of education, training and practical job training. Support should be targeted to the most vulnerable in society.


Education is a key pillar of the OECD Inclusive Growth Initiative. More information about it can be found at


For more information, journalists should contact the OECD Media Office (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).  


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


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