OECD report underlines link between poverty and educational outcomes

published 23 October 2018 updated 22 November 2018

The causal relationship between poverty and low educational performance has been underlined in a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The report, “PISA: Equity in Education – Breaking Down Barriers to Social Mobility”, focuses on the relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and student achievement, wellbeing, and social mobility. Its results point to the educational challenges faced by low-income families, given the proven relationship between poverty and low educational performance. For Education International (EI), this is more evidence that social justice demands government action on this issue.

The study, published on 23 October, is supported by a wide array of data, ranging from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), to the International Mathematics and Science Survey for ten-year-olds (TIMSS) and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Key findings

One of the key findings of the report is the link between socio-economic background and student achievement, particularly when it comes to disadvantaged schools. Surprisingly, this link appears to have minimal negative effects on children's wellbeing in schools, according to the report. Its findings also reconfirm EI’s long-standing stance concerning the crucial positive influence of early childhood education on mitigating the effect of disadvantage.

The report also debunks the myth of school choice – one of the preferred arguments of education privatisation proponents – stating that reforms aimed at fostering school choice “tend to increase academic and socio-economic zoning”.

The report also includes recommendations for governments and policymakers, including increased resources for disadvantaged schools and access to early childhood education for all children.

EI: Government action vital

According to EI, the global teachers’ union, the OECD report is important because it highlights a fundamental fact about education: the impact of disadvantage on the lives and learning of young people.

“The OECD rightly challenges governments to take practical action,” said EI General Secretary David Edwards. “We cannot rely on young people being academically and socially resilient enough to transcend disadvantage. Too many slip through the net.”

Edwards welcomed the OECD’s proposals in favour of greater support and resources for students, teachers, and schools in disadvantaged areas. He underlined, however, that equal educational opportunities could only be ensured through effective policies to eliminate poverty and improve tax justice. “Schools are central to the social and economic health of society but it is the responsibility of governments to tackle its wider ills,” he concluded.