Inequality in School Materials


by Jesper Damberg, UWC Red Cross Nordic
April 20th, 2018


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Over the course of the last year, I have spent around 500$ on supplementary learning materials. IB study guides, Cambridge books, and SAT books have all been valuable investments to my learning. I believe these resources have helped me a great deal and undoubtedly made it easier for me to construct an overview of my learning. In a way, these books have put me ahead of other students in my classes. Not because they put in less effort, but simply because they cannot afford  such great resources. Naturally, this makes me question the fairness of the IB and the education we follow in general. Even at a UWC, the claws of inequality stretch all the way into the one place that should be a sanctuary from the powers of divergence: the classroom. While unsettling, I believe it should be a straightforward problem to address – so why are our schools not doing more?
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At most UWCs, special funds are set up for those in particular need. At Red Cross Nordic, students from less privileged backgrounds have their travel expenses covered through the Travel Support system and are offered financial support for ‘Special Opportunities’ during their stay. These can be longer trips or more comprehensive projects. At UWC Maastricht, students who lack the funds to purchase their own computer is granted one from the school with the needed programs to complete their studies such as Kognity and Microsoft programs.
These are excellent ways of levelling the playing field as well as great evidence of the integrity of our institution. Still, I believe the inequality in financing of supplementary study materials has been overlooked or underestimated. At UWCRCN, it is argued that “we have what we need to learn” or that “old books are still useful.” However, the fact is that the IB – and other systems that we engage with such as Collegeboard – frequently changes the curriculum in each subject, and if the institution does not reinvest in books quite frequently, the students that cannot acquire books on their own are left with out-of-date materials. The alternative becomes for these students to get their hands on such books through illegal means on the internet. Of course, this could be regarded as a minor issue – but is it really the way we want our educational system to work?
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The result at many UWC have been the reliance on so-called ‘inheritances’. Some students are lucky enough to have the latest Collegeboard SAT book or the new History Study Guide from Cambridge passed down to them from a graduating second-year. While these are great gestures, I believe that UWC students should not rely on gestures from more well-off students to get through their studies. This would make the issue of privilege even more visible on campus, something I believe we aspire to avoid.
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Furthermore, this is an issue that we should all be willing to address. Months back, the Flying Dutchman months wrote an editorial stating that:
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“We cannot deny that by being a part of the UWC Movement, we are a part of a political movement. A political movement that today is as relevant as ever. As a political entity, there exist universal issues which our Movement should engage in politically. These are issues central to the very ethos of UWC and cannot be disputed:
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Gender Inequality
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Climate Change
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Income Inequality
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Racial Injustice
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Rise of Nationalism
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If we acknowledge that our Movement has certain political standpoints, then we can have significant impact on society. We can become a greater force for change.”
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I think, obvious to many, income inequality should have no place in our classrooms, nor should we perpetuate an educational system where the few can gain an advantage over the many. Luckily there are easy ways to address this. For instance, a fund could be put up through which students from less privileged backgrounds can apply to for financing of supplementary learning materials. In fact, I suggest we, as current students, push this forward either through the respective student government bodies or by setting up such a fund on our own. Often external funds or grants for educational materials are easier to receive than for other purposes. Another alternative is to call upon the Alumni network of the respective UWCs to support such a fund. Many of the colleges are currently planning their next strategy plan and this is definitely an issue to consider.

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