Marginalisation: our definition, some gaps we have found

By Ram Ashish Giri

Defining Educational marginalisation
As part of the ReMaLIC first phase, the team investigated what educational marginalisation means. Here, we summarise our first findings from the literature. Educational ‘marginalisation’ is defined as an unfair, favoured or biased distribution of access to learning, learning facilities, and resources (Messiou, 2013) based on geography, gender, socio-economic conditions or personal circumstances. For Mowat (2015), it is low participation of disadvantaged or excluded student communities in mainstream education.  The terms ‘under-privileged’ and ‘disadvantaged’ are used interchangeably to refer to the socio-cultural, ethnic, linguistic, economic and skills barriers faced by under-privileged students who consequently only have limited access to basic levels of learning. Marginalisation, thus, may be identified on the basis of poverty (UNICEF, 2014), socio-cultural practice, education, social status and power (Devkota, 2018), race, ethnicity or disability (Slee, 2013), gender or sexual orientation, linguistic, and cultural minorities (Khanal, 2017), religion (Smith & Barr, 2008) and personal circumstances such as being displaced, migrants or refugees (Shapira, 2011; UNCHR, 2018). Marginalisation, in this sense, is a relational and intersectional phenomenon (Pihl, et al., 2018) which is experienced and recognised at different levels in different contexts. Our review of global literature indicates that marginalisation is caused by a combination of a multitude of factors; and that marginalisation in education is pervasive and entrenched in most under-resourced contexts.

Articulating the Gap
After the formulation of United Nation’s Millennium Goals in 2015, countries around the globe have widened representation and participation of students from under-represented and under-privileged social and ethnic groups in education. These groups are socio-culturally minority or displaced students who are unable to complete their basic education. Governments have implemented policies on widening participation and accelerating progress towards fairer educational representation and participation with a focus on making education accessible for all students. Despite the rise in government initiatives, inequity and exclusion remain persistent. Recent research demonstrates that students from under-represented and under-privileged groups continue to fall behind as they do not have the same level of access to the required resources and opportunities. (Devkota, 2018).

Marginalisation, thus, can be explained by a two-point conceptual framework – “access to learning” (Spaull & Taylor 2015) and “zones of exclusion” (Lewin & Little 2011). Access to learning, in particular access to quality learning is socio-economically and geographically determined. For example, besides school enrolment rates (or educational attainments), quality learning or learning achievements are considered crucial for future life chances. Thus, simply enrolment rates do not reveal how well the education system is serving the children of the lower strata of the society. (Ahmed, et al., 2019, p. 559).  Similarly, the “zones of exclusion” enables understanding of inequalities in terms of learning opportunities. The model focuses on students who are ‘silently excluded’ (Lewin, 2007) and hence cannot continue learning or achieve the required level of knowledge or competence. For example, at the school level these “zones of exclusion” include students who (a) drop out from school, (b) work as a child labour and have low attendance at school, (c) belong to marginalised group (such as Dalits/ untouchables)  (d) do not have access to technology and digital devices at home, and (e) complete school education but learn very little because of barriers to learning opportunities at home and/or or low attendance at school. In Nepal, for example, if one is born into a dalit or untouchable caste (janajatis ethnicity), s/he is already marginalised. If such a child is female, then she is further marginalised as socially she will not have equal access to education and other opportunities.

Gaps in the literature
Our review of the available literature has identified a number of gaps:

  1. there is a dearth of rigorous studies and reports providing in-depth analysis of educational marginalisation.
  2. most literature takes ‘gender’ as the primary factor in marginalisation. In-depth analysis of other contributory factors such as ICT, language and/or English is almost non-existent in the research countries (Senegal, Sudan, Bangladesh, Nepal).
  3. there are discrepancies between the governments’ policies on combating/managing educational marginalisation and their implementation strategies. As a consequence, the governmental programs have not produced the desired outcomes.
  4. there is a lack of comprehensive educational marginalisation management plans at the government level. As a result, combating educational marginalisation is patchwork and largely donor driven, producing no major impact on managing/combating educational marginalisation.


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