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The Problem of Social Inequality at Schools in Canada


Social inequality at schools is a serious issue that undermines the effectiveness of secondary education and leads to long-term and short-term problems of individual and group nature. Presently, it is recognized as a global problem by a variety of worldwide organizations such as UNESCO, UN, and OECD. These organizations coordinate local and global efforts to tackle the issue yet, in Canada, social inequality persists as vulnerable groups such as immigrants continue to feel excluded in highly divided classes. Social inequality also serves as a detrimental factor to the country’s economy, as disadvantaged and secluded people will complement the less educated and, therefore, less-skilled workforce. Given the gravity of the social inequality issue and its significance in multiple domains, it is paramount to research into ways of conquering the problem. The research question is as follows: is it possible to form a socially inclusive environment at schools in Canada utilizing socially integrative practices and involvement of parental community?

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Literature Review

The problem of social inclusiveness and disparities between different social groups in relation to schools has been researched previously and is still popular in the scientific community. Historically, segregation in education existed and was based on financial, gender, or religious differences. Early education in Canada featured Catholic and Protestant schools that had quite a different opinion on the delivery of knowledge and morale (Bruno-Jofré, 2014). Canada houses the decedents of French-speaking and English-speaking colonists with the former being the pressured minority at the beginning of the 20th century. Private single-sex schools existed as a community for rich uptown boys or girls who received a high-quality education, while poor working families were receiving basic education in Catholic public schools. For years, the school system has undergone considerable changes, and researchers note the decline in the presence of various forms or types of segregation (Bruno-Jofré, 2014). As such, English-teaching Protestant schools that were quite divided by confessions eventually united into the single integrated system.

With the onset of the modern age, much of the religious elements were removed from curricula, which led to the cessation of debate and segregation on accounts of religion. Nowadays, researchers tend to divide the problems of social inequality into certain domains and research each vulnerable group separately. Currently, much attention has been given to the problem of the newest waves of immigration. For instance, Georgiades, Boyle, and Fife (2013) argue that immigrant adolescents and their poor connection to the social and political norms of the country exacerbate the issue of their integration. Hardy and Woodcock (2015) back the significance of the problem, adding that serious work on all levels is needed to establish an inclusive educational system. In addition, Baker (2016) notes that schools for boys and girls are the manifestation of gender inequality that contributes to the formation of the wrong perception of the opposite sex. According to the author (Baker, 2016), it could lead to long-term issues in Canadian society and families. Modern Canadian society also faces the issue of children being overly centered on their parents’ education choices, which forces them to make similar ones, contributing to furthering inequality and segregation (Krahn & Barron, 2013).

Another standing issue of social equality is the integration of native Canadians. McGregor (2013) adds that conventional education systems do not always consider the needs of indigenous people, which marks the necessity for specially-tailored programs and educational interventions. Other minorities such as homosexual students also experience issues with education in Canadian schools. Peter, Taylor, and Chamberland (2015) find that physical and non-physical manifestations of homophobia are an issue that happens on a more-or-less regular basis. Most of the researchers identify the need for reform to properly meet the needs of the groups treated unfairly (Peter et al., 2015; McGregor, 2013; Baker, 2016; Dei, 2016).

Prevalence of the Issue

As for the prevalence of social inequality, it varies across the region and the oppressed groups of the population. As such, LGBT students at schools experience daily exposure to homophobic discourse in 30% of cases in British Columbia and up to 70% in the Northern Territories (Peter et al., 2015). Given that, daily verbal and non-verbal abuse constitutes up to 24 and 50% accordingly (Peter et al., 2015). As to the native population and their social inclusiveness, McGregor (2013) states that programs specifically tailored to all the language, cultural, and other needs of the indigenous population in schools are currently absent. Yet, certain progress as to the development of such programs has been made. The arrangement of preliminary testing and school readiness is already provided to the natives who live in the Northwestern territories where indigenous people constitute a sizable part of the community.

The problems of separate education and the existence of separate-sex schools are rather small compared to the issues above, such private schools constitute only a small portion of the total number of schools (Baker, 2016). Immigrants are considered a nationwide issue as approximately 37,5 % of children have at least one parent from another country (“Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures,” 2016). Georgiades et al. (2013) also note that this issue pertains not exclusively to Canada but also to many developed countries such as the U.S., U.K., and European Union. Krahn and Barron (2013) note that prestigious schools often have an informal ‘referral’ system that creates inequality as children of the graduates are often given priority. Such social inequality at a school admission level gives rise to the inequality in economies, creating disparities between annual salaries of former prestigious students as opposed to those who received a regular education. The difference in earnings between the groups reaches as high as 51% in men, and 62% in women.

In relation to in-class segregation Papapolydorou (2014) notes that out of 75 students, most of them demonstrated one or the other form of adherence to segregation based on national, language, class, or other characteristic features. All of the students admitted having interests that are more common with their chosen group and the natural character of the segregation process. The conclusions of Papapolydorou (2014) can initiate a discussion on the necessity of integration as a whole given its natural affinity. However, the authors’ own determination based grounded in research data does not let one consider this idea as segregation and inequality have historically created problems for all countries.

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Positive and Negative Experience of Other Countries

The experience of other countries is able to provide valuable insight into the nature of the issue and the ways they resolve it. It is noteworthy to mention that not all experience is usable in Canada due to the differences in the economic model, history, education system, and other parameters. Therefore, it could be considered paramount to review the experience of developed countries such as the U.S. and European Union countries as their problems are rather similar to those of Canada.

The United States is of particular importance as the processes of immigration and inclusion of immigrants there persist for a long time, are widely researched, and certain notes can be taken. The U.S. as many other countries utilizes the approach of assimilation of the new population. One of the main barriers to school environment inclusion is language. As such, schools feature special courses for English learners or those for whom it is a second language. Above that, in the U.S. special care is administered to students with disabilities. Within community school districts state boards of education implement the Dynamic Learning Maps test in order to assess the student’s ability to fit in with other students and enroll in the regular program. In case the test scores are not high enough, a tailored program is being taught to a group of such students separately. Due to such division, in the first case, students with mental disabilities will feel comfortable studying with their own group and receiving an adapted education.

In the second case, those whose limitations do not severely undermine learning capacity are presented with a chance to socialize and challenge themselves with attaining educational achievements. The second case is supported by data that states that less than 50% of mentally-challenged students in regular classes feel lonely or excluded (Amado, Stancliffe, McCarron, & McCallion, 2013). In addition, a large part of them ties these feelings with an absence of a girlfriend or a boyfriend rather than to group exclusion or absence of friends (Amado et al., 2013). This intervention can be called positive, yet researchers note that further enhancements should be made to staff professionalism and education on how to increase social inclusion. In addition, they note a high role of community involvement parallels to school interactions in order to boost the social potency of the disabled.

In addition, in the last 40 years, the U.S. has conducted a great political and multilevel social campaign against racial segregation and prejudiced behavior. As of now, abusive words and rude language is forbidden on all territory of the country, which positively influences the problem of inclusion of racial, cultural, or sexual minorities. There are certain limitations of these interventions. For instance, there is insufficient data on the experiences of former school members with disabilities (Amado et al., 2013). It does not let researchers conduct an assessment of the social development and connectedness of these people.

The experience of the U.S. is partially relevant for Canadian schools as the inclusion of ethnic and sexual minorities is of concern. The practice of pre-school assessment and division in conjunction with increased community and school staff involvement appears to be a prominent intervention to address social inequality in schools. Notwithstanding, there are certain problems that need to be tackled before considering local implementation.

European experience of inclusion features a variety of issues pertaining to different social groups. Flecha (2014) outlines one of the prominent methods of creating inclusive classes such as adding another teacher to the class. In such conditions, a continuous reallocation of resources and a tailored approach to information delivery is possible. It partly ensures the quality of academic achievements among natives, non-natives, or minorities. From a social standpoint, such a system allows building trust-based relationship with the class and offer motivational, problem-solving, and other services to those in need. Such intervention is reported to be working in conditions, where the class consists of several students in need of special attention (Flecha, 2014).

As a continuation of this measure, European countries also implement interactive groups. An interactive group is a heterogeneous body of students accompanied by an adult volunteer whose task is to foster interaction within the group. Being introduced to 20 schools in 6 countries, the measure demonstrated a significant enhancement in social inclusion in different groups of the population including, low-income students, ethnic minorities, second-language students, etc. As Flecha (2014) specifically notes, the catalyst of change was the process of resource reallocation and efficient use rather than increased funding.

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As for the failures of the countries in creating a fully-inclusive school environment, one can note the rapid increase in the number of learners in need of social integration. Recently the EU faced a refugee crisis that created a rapid influx of people with a high level of cultural diversity who have specific education and inclusion needs. Due to the nature of the situation, schools, educators, and legislators are still in the process of creating acceptable conditions for them and ensuring an inequality-free stay. There have been negative reactions towards the newcomers among locals that further destabilize the inequality. The presence of more than 250 thousand new learners with special needs rendered the effect of inclusive educational interventions practically unnoticeable (“Access to education failing many migrants,” 2017). Despite certain methodological progress, the practical application falls under a crisis situation.

The applicability of European measures to reduce social inequality at schools could be effective in Canada as the latter suffered from a less severe migrant influx in recent years, as compared to the EU. For instance, in 2016 Canada welcomed only 300,000 as compared to a million spread across the EU (“Access to education failing many migrants,” 2017; “2017 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration,” 2017). In addition, since the data analyzed was tested in several countries with high GDP and similar cultural traditions is can be considered highly likely that the same results could be achieved in the country under analysis.

The Need for Family Participation

Several groups of researchers noted that family has a particularly strong influence on outcomes of integrative policies and interventions. For instance, Amado et al. (2013) note on strong family influence on social inclusion is due to the authority of the adults on their children (Amado et al., 2013). Flecha (2014) states that among vulnerable groups there is the active participation of Arab mothers in community and school activities aimed at dispelling stereotypes, gaining trust, and achieving inclusion for their children provides another evidence. These attempts are rendered effective as the school replenishes its resources through such volunteers. Another point in support of family participation in their own personal interest in the child’s development. Parents are more than other groups interested in academic achievements and active and productive social involvement of their children. By letting them be included in the process of implementing inclusive policies, schools enhance the effectiveness of the latter.

Measures to Conquer Social Inequality at Schools in Canada

The research of several theoretical and practical studies together with the analysis of the experience of the U.S. and Europe helped develop and aggregate possible measures to decrease the level of social inequality at schools in Canada. As such, the following interventions are proposed:

  1. Development of guidelines and recommendations for improving social inclusion for each particular county in Canada
  2. Allocation of additional funds to cover the implementation of new methods
  3. Development and implementation of double-teacher classes
  4. Development and implementation of interactive groups with community volunteers
  5. Development and implementation of academic ability testing specifically for vulnerable groups
  6. Collaboration with family members making them active mediators of the inclusion process
  7. Pre-and-post assessment and monitoring of the results


All things considered, social inequality is a difficult and resource-consuming problem that undermines the effectiveness of the whole education system. However, this problem can and must be tackled. Modern global conditions and increased mobility make the school system vulnerable to perturbations such as the recent migration crisis in Europe. Therefore, steps should be taken to create a flexible school system that addresses the needs of both citizens (both majority and minorities), and migrants equally and effectively. As a result of studying scientific literature and assessing the experience of developed countries, the researcher was able to identify measures that could help meet the abovementioned goals. Development and implementation of guidelines, measures, testing, and ensuring family participation together with the allocation of sufficient funds should help the schools tackle the issue of inequality.

The research question may be answered positively as multiple studies, data and existing practices have confirmed that social integration can be achieved. The inequality could be conquered and family participation can certainly contribute to it.


Access to education failing many migrants. (2017). Web.

Amado, A. N., Stancliffe, R. J., McCarron, M., & McCallion, P. (2013). Social inclusion and community participation of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 51(5), 360-375.

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Baker, J. (2016). Single gender education: Reinforcing and challenging gender difference. In W. Lehmann (Ed.), Education and society (pp. 139-152). Quebec, Canada: OUP Canada.

Bruno-Jofré, R. (2014). History of education in Canada: Historiographic “turns” and widening horizons. Paedagogica Historica, 50(6), 774-785.

Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures. (2016). Web.

Dei, G. (2016) Indigenous philosophies, counter epistemologies and anti-colonial education. In W. Lehmann (Ed.), Education and society (pp. 190-206). Quebec, Canada: OUP Canada

Georgiades, K., Boyle, M. H., & Fife, K. A. (2013). Emotional and behavioral problems among adolescent students: The role of immigrant, racial/ethnic congruence and belongingness in schools. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(9), 1473-1492.

Hardy, I., & Woodcock, S. (2015). Inclusive education policies: Discourses of difference, diversity and deficit. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(2), 141-164.

Krahn, H., & Barron, G. (2013). Intergenerational transfers of advantage: Parents’ education and children’s educational and employment outcomes. In Alberta in W. Lehmann (Ed.), Education and society (pp. 36-50). Quebec, Canada: OUP Canada

McGregor, H. E. (2013). Situating Nunavut education with Indigenous education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(2), 87-118.

Papapolydorou, M. (2014). ‘When you see a normal person…’: Social class and friendship networks among teenage students. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(4), 559-577.

Peter, T., Taylor, C., & Chamberland, L. (2015). A queer day in Canada: Examining Canadian high school students’ experiences with school-based homophobia in two large-scale studies. Journal of Homosexuality, 62(2), 186-206.

2017 annual report to parliament on immigration. (2017). Web.

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