Can a Meritocratic Education System Deliver Equality?


  • Tina MacVeigh


In Ireland, it is more difficult for the child of an unskilled manual labourer to reach university than it is in other European countries despite the existence of free primary school education which is, in theory, available to all1. As everyone has access to education, the prevailing assumption is that innate talent and ability, combined with effort, will yield positive educational outcomes. Those who achieve the highest educational attainment are rewarded with status and higher incomes in adult life. This is described as a ‘functionalist meritocracy' where positions of status in the labour market, and attendant wealth, are rewarded on the basis of merit. However, this view atomises the individual on the basis of personal characteristics, ignoring their relationship to the social and economic institutions and structures that stratify society along class lines.