Equality and Meritocracy: Contending Ideas

Britain may be dreaming too much, too soon.

A meritocratic society is a great idea. Everyone would play by the same rules, with no privileges; all would have the same opportunities to advance and live a good life. Talented and hard-working people would have equal standing in all spheres of the society and lateral thinking would be encouraged. Sounds good in theory.

Theresa May promises to make this a reality. She started it by lifting the ban on new Grammar schools in September last year.  “Britain will be a country that works for everyone”, she said. Indeed, she delivered a great speech; it was motivational, encouraging and visionary. The idea of it is not new, as such. Michael Young criticized the school system that evaluates students on tests based on narrow measurements of IQ. But, are we looking to make a fairy tale come true?

Indeed, schools are built for making of powerful, opinionated generations of students who would contribute to the making of better societies. However, Brexit has had its own challenges and aftermath. Inequalities, doubts and resentment after Brexit, may be harder to manage.

May wants to do this with broader social reforms, which will start in the school system. As the primary school is the basis for further education, the Government plans to renew focus on learning the basics of reading and to encourage all, especially parents and teachers to bring in fresh ideas and innovations for improvement of the school system. In England 1.25 million pupils attend schools that require improvement or are inadequate. Theresa May estimates that with her plan, at least 200,000 more pupils would be attending good schools. The plan is to extend schools’ capacities and broaden benefits like free school meals, and thus to give every child equal opportunities to attend good schools. Some disagree and argue that it is better to promote specialist, technical subjects in schools in order to create a future generation that will have the skills necessary for the post-Brexit economy. May has an answer to that too. Meritocracy, she said, also means to boost economy, to build more houses, to increase salaries, to open more jobs and all factors that are necessary to decrease inequality in the society.

Categorically, the concept of promotion based on merit sounds very reassuring, but it also means acceptance of the minority, and rejection of the majority. Will middle-class parents not allow their children to enroll in the desired school because children from the working-class are smarter? Hardly. Also, if some students from the working class get a chance, they would still be in a minority and still there would be great inequalities in the society.

But all said and done, politics hardly desires the opinions of ordinary people. Yes, this could be a great idea, but to be realistic, social inequalities are inevitable and the only solution might be an attempt to slightly reduce them. The promised ‘meritocracy’ seems hardly achievable. On the other hand, there is always an opportunity to increase employability in the post-Brexit economy. Not that May’s agenda is flawed; but it could be more pragmatic. Removing social inequalities is not an easy task in an economy that has seen great divides in various categories like gender, race, and ethnicity, and one of the highest income inequalities in developed economies. But it is worthwhile making the society more resilient to the Brexit shock. The promised ‘meritocracy’ seems hardly achievable. On the other hand, there is always an opportunity to increase employability in the post-Brexit economy. Creating courses that will make people employable in sectors that need specific skills, will go a long way. And perhaps, May’s agenda could be less politically inspired.

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