Classism, covid and climate education

Charlotte L and Mary G
March 14, 2021

The education system has always been classist, and over the last year the gap between working class students and our middle class peers has just kept on growing. So much so that people are beginning to notice, and are starting to question the government's decisions surrounding our education. It's a step in the right direction, but we need action not just words.

Since the a-level results day in 2020, when we saw just how much the algorithm discriminated against state school students, things have gone from bad to worse. When it was announced that free school meals wouldn't be continued over October half term, it became very evident to us that the Government didn't really care about some of the most vulnerable in society who were in need of support, particularly in this time of crisis. The free school meal scheme allows students from low socio-economic families to be able to thrive in an educational setting. Food allows these students to be able to concentrate on their studies and be able to work to the best of their abilities. 

This has been a relief to parents and guardians, especially when the pandemic hit and people were either furloughed, fired or could no longer work. Therefore, during the first lockdown, those in lower income households who may have already been struggling as it was to put food on the table, felt some support from the Government. Since the pandemic, the percentage of students being eligible for free school meals has increased:

  • The percentage of pupils in state-funded primary schools known to be eligible for free school meals has increased from 15.8% to 17.7% in 2020.
  • The percentage of pupils in state-funded secondary schools has also increased from 14.1% to 15.9% in 2020
  • The percentage of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased from 38.3 to 40.1% in 2020

But how does this link to climate change? As global temperatures rise and growing food becomes harder and harder, those who have the least will suffer the most. Currently, people all round the world are struggling to afford food, and this has been heightened by the pandemic and by the impacts of climate change. But just think, as food shortages increase and prices sky-rocket, how many more people will start to experience food poverty, or will die because they can't afford to eat? We are already seeing this happen in the global south because of the actions or lack thereof from leaders in the global north.  

Our Government is able to fill the stomachs of every hungry kid in this country, so why do they keep choosing not to? Countries all around the world, including the UK are already experiencing some of the impacts of climate change and those from low income backgrounds will experience the negative effects from the climate crisis before others. Given our Government isn't even feeding the most vulnerable now, how are we expected to trust and believe that they will take radical action in order to protect us in the future? 

Another way that our education is affected, especially during the pandemic, is the technology barrier. Thousands of young people across the UK don't have access to WiFi, devices or the equipment that we need to learn. Many schools have done their best to support us with this during lockdown, but what about the government? In January, Gavin Williamson actually denied an offer made by BT to provide free or cheaper WiFi to disadvantaged families. What would this have cost the Government? Absolutely nothing. So why did they say no? It’s becoming more clear than ever before that this Government does not care about working class young people. During the pandemic, they haven’t even cared about keeping us alive, let alone supporting us with our online education. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that technology is now an essential part of our education, and to be without it is a huge barrier to success. As technology continues to evolve and become more efficient and less damaging to the planet, who will be left behind once again? The working class student, who maybe has an old, out-of-date device that is terrible for the environment and doesn’t work well enough to properly support education will continue to struggle and fall behind through no fault of their own. How are we supposed to limit our impact on the planet if the newer, greener technologies we need to learn aren’t accessible to everyone? We need a justice focused approach to tackling climate change that supports disadvantaged, marginalised communities and prioritises people over profit.

Despite all of this, the education system itself continues to uphold class oppression by directly targeting the upper classes. For example, these people are often able to move areas so that their children can attend a better school or some could even send them to a private school. More affluent families are also able to spend money on private tutoring if their child isn’t succeeding in a certain subject, and support them with buying textbooks and revision resources. Even the ways that some teachers speak is inaccessible to working class students as some haven’t grown up being exposed to certain phrases or vocabulary. On top of this, middle class parents are more likely to have had a positive experience of the education system and therefore would be able to understand the marketisation of it and help their children more with their homework and assignments. The list goes on and on...

But, another thing to consider is the way in which the curriculum contributes to class oppression. By failing to teach about issues that predominantly affect the working class, students will never grow up with the knowledge to tackle institutional classism, or any other forms of oppression. Topics such as capitalism, meritocracy, colonialism and climate change should be taught in schools so that all students understand the consequences and inequalities caused, and have a chance to explore some of the ideas and solutions needed for change. We need an education that prepares us for our futures, and is inclusive and supportive of everyone.