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Tim Cliffe - Blog

Education - A Promise of Social Evolution, or Unfair Discriminator?

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone interested in the social benefits of education.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) When the expectations of education-for-all were first expressed, some 70 or more years ago, the future was bright. The dream did come true, at least in part. But what now?

03 Structure of This Article

  • (04) Introduction
  • (05) Education and Income
  • (06) Education and Health
  • (07) Education and Crime
  • (08) Income Since the 1940s
  • (09) What of Education and the Internet?
  • (10) What is the Problem?
    • (10.1) Perhaps the Problem is not just Education
  • (11) Conclusion

04 Introduction

Image (icon) of a student in a cap and gown with a gold effect.

(04.1) My 'learning' life has been very fortunate. For the majority of my first 32 years I was involved in receiving some form of formal education, or other. For the last 30 years I have worked in Further Education, Special Needs Education, Vocational Training, and Multi-media Training and, of course, taken part in many vocationally related courses. I have worked as a Teacher, Trainer, Consultant, Instructional Designer, Manager and Senior Manager. I have been privileged to meet, work with, and learn from thousands of talented people, from all walks of life, all committed to the ideals and principles of education.


(04.2) The education I have received has provided me with the capacity to more greatly appreciate my world and enjoy experiences and opportunities that would otherwise not have been available to me, thanks to the countless professionals committed to the ideals of education-for-all.


(04.3) With the above in mind, it may be surprising this blog presents a rather different perspective on learning in general (not just multi-media), and my thoughts on the historical, and present day, facts regarding the distribution of wealth and prosperity, when compared with the expectation 'education-for-all' would lead to fairer societies.


(04.4) When considering the influence of education, there are important and significant social factors that have consistently undermined the realisation of the predicted benefits of education-for-all. Three such (correlated) factors are: income, health, and crime.

05 Education and Income

(05.1) It is important to remember, it is only since the 1940s, education-for-all, typically by a state-sponsored and obligatory system, has become the norm in many societies.


(05.2) It is well known, and documented, that research has repeatedly, and for many decades, identified a direct causal relationship between income, levels of educational achievement, and future opportunities and prospects.


Graph showing Literacy and Numeracy attainment for 11-year-olds eligible for free school meals.

Source: United Kingdom Department for Education, National Pupil Database (2011).


(05.3) Statistically:
  • Families on lower incomes are far more likely to have children who perform less well in education;
  • Families on lower incomes have children with less access to educational options (e.g., the schools/colleges they attend);
  • Children of lower income families are far more likely to have lower incomes in adulthood, and so the cycle repeats.
These factors continue to be true, today.


Source: American Psychological Association Visit the APA website.
(External link, opens in a new tab/window)

06 Education and Health

Image (icon) of a student in a cap and gown with a gold effect and a Caduceus.

(06.1) Again, it is well known, and documented, that research has repeatedly, and for many decades, identified a direct causal relationship between income (education) and health.


(06.2) Statistically, a better educational outcome:
  • Increases life expectancy by 0.6 years, for each year of education;
  • Reduces morbidity from acute and chronic diseases;
  • Reduces hypertension, emphysema, and diabetes;
  • Reduces anxiety and depression;
  • Reduces functional limitations;
  • Reduces absence from work;
  • Increases physical and mental functioning;

The savings from such benefits are reported as far out-weighing the cost of the education.


Source: National Bureau of Economic Research Visit the NBER website.
(External link, opens in a new tab/window)

07 Education and Crime

Image (icon) of a student in a cap and gown with a gold effect and an icon of a criminal.

(07.1) Research has consistently and repeatedly identified a direct causal relationship between income (education) and levels of crime.


(07.2) Education has a significant and large influence on individual propensities to commit crime.


(07.3) Consider some of the costs to society, relating to crime:
  • Detection (policing, forensic disciplines, intelligence functions);
  • Prosecution (state and defence, courts, remand);
  • Incarceration (buildings, staff, resources);
  • Loss of productivity of the prisoner (incarceration);
  • Recidivity;
  • Loss of productivity of the victim/enforcement officers (injury or death);
  • Long term costs associated with persisting victim health issues;
  • Increase in benefits paid to families.
The above list is far from exhaustive, however, it is clear the associated costs of crime, to society, are substantial.


Source: Institute of Labour Economics Visit the IZA website.
(External link, opens in a new tab/window)

08 Income Since the 1940s

(08.1) When considering the 'overlooked' costs to society of the correlations between educational outcomes and income, health, and crime, it is clear these costs represent such large sums of money, they are significant on a national scale, demanding resources, and accounting for loss of productivity, that run into the hundreds of billions, if not more. In addition, there are the far more difficult to quantify non-financial costs suffered by the individual.


(08.2) Consequently, as income is a significant, statistical, indicator of educational and social outcomes, an obvious question is, what has happened to incomes since the 1940s, when education-for-all became the norm for many societies?


(08.3) Income inequality, over the past seven decades, can be summarised as follows:

  • End of World War II to the 1970s:
    • Substantial economic growth and broadly shared prosperity, across society;
    • Incomes grew rapidly and at roughly the same rate across the income spectrum, roughly doubling, in real terms, between the late 1940s and early 1970s;
    • The income gap between high earners and middle and low earners (whilst considerable) changed little during this period;
  • Beginning of the 1970s:
    • Economic growth slowed and the income gap widened;
    • Incomes grew rapidly for high earners in contrast with middle and low earners, which slowed rapidly;
    • Concentration of income for high earners rose to levels not seen since the 1920s;
  • 1980s to now (wealth is defined as the value of a household’s property and financial assets, less the value of its debts):
    • The share of wealth held by the top 1 percent of earners rose from approximately 30 percent in 1989 to 39 percent now;
    • The share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent of earners fell from approximately 33 percent in 1989 to less than 23 percent now.
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Visit the CBPP website.
(External link, opens in a new tab/window)


(08.4) The summary above is for the USA, however, the statistics are broadly representative of relative income levels across Western Europe, over the same periods (A comparison with incomes in Eastern Europe is not appropriate, due to the existence of the Eastern Bloc (post World War II) and the changes following its collapse in the 1980s).


(08.5) It is interesting to note, the period between the 1940s to 1970s, is the only period, during the last 70 years, when increasing prosperity was broadly shared amongst all earners, however, the income gap between high earners and others has never decreased. In fact, since the 1970s, the income gap between high earners and others has increased. It can be deduced, from the above, not only have income inequalities remained steadfast, but the bottom 90 percent of earners are financially worse-off today, in real terms, than at any time during the last 30 years.


(08.6) With regard to the predicted benefits of education-for-all, some 70 years ago, and to income and the issues presented above, the democratisation of wealth and social transformation has not been realised.

09 What of Education and the Internet?

Image showing a graph of mobile and fixed connection use of the Internet.

Source: International Telecommunication Union Visit the ITU website.
(External link, opens in a new tab/window)


(09.1) I have been involved in multi-media learning since 1997. In the early days of 56 Kbps connections, multi-media learning resources were written to CDs, and had to be accessed locally. Of course, today, things have changed. Broadband and fibre-optics have transformed what can be done on the Internet. 5G will revolutionise an Internet already transformed.


(09.2) I remember well the expectations of multi-media learning (which are regularly repeated to this day) and its inevitable benefits for attainment and social transformation. It cannot be denied, mutli-media training resources have transformed the way vocational training is conducted, and is increasingly present in traditional education.


(09.3) Having looked at a large number of statistics relating to Internet use, it is clear people use the Internet primarily for enjoyment.


(09.4) In March 2019, 57 percent (4.4 billion) of the world's population accessed the Internet. The vast majority of Internet use can be categorised as:
  • Using social networks;
  • Streaming music, video, games;
  • On-line purchasing.
Education occupies a very small section of the Internet 'use distribution'. The is especially so when considering the percentage of a person's life, spent in education, can range from (assuming compulsory education starts at 5 years of age, and an average life expectancy of 80 years):
  • Compulsory/Further Education (11 to 13 years) 13.75% to 16.25%;
  • Higher Education (up to additional 4 years) 21.25%;
  • Advanced degrees (at least, additional 2 years) 23.75%.
The figures above do not include general vocational training or professional vocational qualifications.

10 What is the Problem?

(10.1) It is irrefutable, the benefits promised of education-for-all, in the 1940s, have not materialised. The economic facts of the last 70 years, and decades of research prove, beyond doubt, the democratisation of wealth has simply not happened, in fact wealth is more concentrated now than for almost 100 years.


(10.2) Even the Internet, with its vast penetration, its accessibility, and its pervasiveness hasn't made a measurable contribution, in almost 20 years of useful capacity.

10.1 Perhaps the Problem is not just Education

(10.1.1) Many, in society, argue it is reasonable to discriminate, financially, between the well-educated and others. After all, the well-educated have spent many (additional) years being educated and, typically, have paid very well for the privilege. Of course, this is a reasonable argument. However, it does not take into account the full picture.


(10.1.2) It can be argued society does not sufficiently value the roles performed by those on lower incomes precisely because of the lack of need of qualifications (education) to perform 'low skilled tasks'. A case-in-point being a strike by refuse collectors Visit The Guardian website.
(External link, opens in a new tab/window)
(UK, 2017).


Image showing piles of rubbish bags and bins on a residential street.

(10.1.3) The above newspaper report gives clear evidence as to just how quickly, in the case of the refuse collector's strike, our cities, towns, and villages become very unpleasant, and dangerous (from a public health perspective) places to be.


(10.1.4) It is only when such events force society to realise how crucial 'low skilled tasks' are, that people recognise the real value of those tasks being performed.

11 Conclusion

(11.1) Perhaps education, regardless of any flaws, is not the sole issue. Perhaps an important component is society's failure to recognise the true value of those who perform all manner of 'low skilled tasks', as the refuse collector's strike so clearly illustrates. When tasks are fully valued for their contribution, not simply the educational requirements of the role, many of the issues highlighted in this blog may well become mute points.


(11.2) Of course, my conclusion inevitably leads to the question "How do you define and measure 'true value'?".

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Education - A Promise of Social Evolution, or Unfair Discriminator? by Tim Cliffe © 1997-2020.


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