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Intersectionality, Educational Equality and Equity, Social Heterogeinity & Diversity and Political Education


Many interviewed teachers during our needs analysis, expressed the need to understand the structural parameters of migrants. To respond to this, PREDIS uses the intersectionality framework which was developed by Crenshaw to analyse the structural inequalities of minority groups and migrant women. First, it is essential to understand  that ESL is not a result of one risk factor. Rather many structural factors interact and impact at the same time.  Many migrants encounter muttiple discriminations due to the interaction of gender, ethnicity, age, etc. .This interplay is most times not seen. It is intensified by the interaction with other forms of inequalities like  language barieriers.  As a result, many disadvantages accumulate and eventually underlie achievement gaps. The concrete risk factors  will be broken down and discussed  from a practical perspective  in our modules in order to establish a link between what teachers and VET Trainers can do to intervene during learning and training environments. Below, we present Crenshaw's as a theoretical Framework and draw on her to touch on some of the issues.

  Intersectionality (Identity level): One limb is intersectionality resulting from the interaction of grounds like gender, race, ethnicity, age, etc ( individual identities as social constructs) with each other that marginalises affected persons. Law, policy, etc tend to think that these are covered by one ground or another, while they are not. This leads to a vulnerable situation that needs to be recognised. Crenshaw also introduced the concepts of structural, representational and political intersectionality. Structural intersectionality occurs when one's experience of disadvantage combines with existing background structures like class, patriarchy, unemployment, or other discriminatory practices, to make the position of the individual disproportionately vulnerable. Thus other forms of discrimination (identity level) occur in a social-economic context that is already weak. Crenshaw focuses on gender, so we will take it as an illustration: The social-economic status of migrant women tends to be precarious; they are more likely to work in the lowest occupational strata, with low remuneration and in dangerous and unregulated areas (e.g. domestic workers with no corresponding labour policy protection). This weak social economic status creates the structural background feature in which discrimination takes place. Non-migrant women experiencing gender discrimination have a different structural background which may act as a buffer. Addressing structural intersectionality becomes a must. Even law is not capable of fully addressing it, as it focuses on the identity level. Likewise in the educational domain, a deficit approach which individualizes achievements gaps of Roma and migrant youngsters in terms of individual failures has been widely applied due to lack of adequate  knowledge of structural parameters. According to our observations migrant and Roma youngsters inherit the inequalities experienced by their parents and in addition experience their own discrimination based on their multiple identities. Some youngsters are not allowed to attend vocational education or to work. Many children and youngsters who have no right of stay end up changing schools frequently. Despite the fact that absenteeism is a strong indicator of ESL, school attendance cannot be effectively monitored and addressed by teachers and trainers. The wider effects of general structural exclusion  and inequality  impact differently according to gender. Female youngsters are often constrained in unpaid household work and disadvantaged in age selective VET that do not take into account the many years spent in overcoming migration barriers. Stereotypes around feminized occupational sectors like nursing which may offer readily occupational opportunities, can hinder male youngsters from participation and have profound impacts on their career paths and life chances.

According to Crenshaw, political intersectionality is mostly experienced when intersecting goals and interests are in conflict with each other. Typical scenario: ethnic minority women constrained from work outside the home might be reluctant to expose their husbands, as this would create a bad image of the group to outsiders. Girls may keep quiet about arranged early weddings. Relevance: those affected are forced to endure their situation; policy and other strategies remain silent on the matter too.

 Crenshaw's concept of representational intersectionality relates to how Black women are depicted in cultural imagery, for instance as being over-sexed but the concept is applicable to other contexts of migrants, for example, the veil (Kopftuch) and what society thinks of the wearer as being subservient. In addition, young migrant boys sometimes endure harsher punishment, simply because they do not act like non migrant boys (e.g. avoiding eye contact as sign of respect, whereas in the dominant culture this is disrespectful; not airing their opinion, or contradicting the teachers which is sometimes misevaluated and results in the form of poorer grades for orals.  Knowledge of and measures addressing structural conditions need to go hand in hand with intercultural competences.

Educational Inequality

Intersectionality is applicable to addressing educational inequality. The inequalities and systems of discrimination that migrants encounter in the society interact with inequalities they encounter within the educational system. This intensifies their vulnerability to underachievement and ESL. Of principle importance, our needs analysis has shown that migrant learners encounter double segregation in schools and poor neighborhoods where they interact with learners struggling with language barriers, poor school notes, material deprivation and lack of parental support. This structural complexity remains frequently unaddressed but reinforced through early school tracking. Subsequently, the ways in which inequalities are modified both in the society and within the school will determine the levels and benefits of structural changes for our target groups. In support of our perspective, Riegel, observes that disadvantaged learners are incorporated in educational contexts of diversity shaped by social differences and inequality (Riegel 2012). Mecheril & Plöser argue that educational institutions do not exist outside of societal relations of power but are part of societal differentiating phenomena, routines and processes of attributing positions. On one hand, equality and equal opportunities are normatively embedded in institutional frameworks and promise same starting conditions. On the other hand, the educational system often leads to reproduction of inequality because due to social background, the privileged learners profit from same conditions of unprivileged (Mecheril & Plöser 2009). Equity in education implies that individual social contexts like gender, ethnicity, family background and social economic status, etc., should not present obstacles to school achievement and individual potential. Instead all learners should at least acquire a basic minimum level of skills that will enable them to continue with education and employment. Equity has to be combined with quality education that starts right from early childhood, primary, secondary and VET (OECD 2012). To change this, it is necessary to  recognize and address unequal starting conditions.

Social Heterogeneity and Diversity

Riegel finds that treating everybody equally neglects conditions of difference, given that students’ life situations which are always connected with unequal preconditions for learning and scope of possibilities are ignored (Riegel 2012). Considering social heterogeneity in educational contexts, implies not only paying attention to students in all their individuality and variability but also paying attention to differences associated with social inequality in their life chances, their individual social positioning, possibilities and limitations (Riegel 2012). Diversity and social heterogeneity refer not only to the variety of ways of life and social backgrounds, but also to the socially constructed but significant differences and distinctions that have social implications, mark symbolic boundaries, and structure the entire society. Social heterogeneity and social inequality are directly connected and they are linked with the asymmetrical distribution of power and dominance. Social differences mirror different ways in which individuals are socially constructed and embedded in social structure. They are therefore always related with unequal evaluations and unequal access to social resources and power (Riegel 2012). In this light, Mecheril argues that educational inequalities mirror the underlying culture and how it deals with identity and diversity thereby molding the structural dimension. The effective tackling of disadvantages requires deconstruction of culture, whereby culture is understood as a social construct and a central difference dimension which determines educational opportunities (Mecheril 2004:6). To critically deal with culture moves the lens away from the external other to the inside perspective of own self-reflection in order to produce better understanding of own interpretation and action patterns. The focus is not on cultural differences, but on the question of under what circumstances do we use cultures and with which effects (Mecheril 2008, 26). PREDIS adds that supporting disadvantaged learners requires understanding own culture, identifying own location within the social structures and identifying how this affects the way we design lessons and teaching in ways that may be inclusive or exclusive to some groups. At this intersection, concepts and social practices of social justice and inalienable equal human-worth should be entrenched in curricular and all levels of the educational system, creating the basis for integration and intercultural competences. At the very least, diversity and equality require polices and their reinforcement. As such, all VET institutions and general schools should develop a policy framework which is visible, known and accessible by all employees and learners.

Impulses: Political Education and Citizenship Awareness

Given the above, our impulses for addressing gender, social inequality in migration, employment and education base on the fundamental concepts of AGORA political Education: Citizenship awareness is central to building equitable societies and cultural transformation. The thematic complex of AGORA political education as regards gender and migration societies presents a central thematic area which aims to strengthen citizenship awareness, democratic competence-oriented education as well as democratic practices in the everyday life orientation. At the centre of political education is the human being who through the development of political judgement and political action competences is enabled to lead a self-determined life in orientation to the principles of democracy and inclusion in an increasingly complex society. Political education aims to enable learners to recognize the societal reality, evaluate it and act upon it. The political judgement is a prerequisite for the functioning and sustainability of democratic systems. Cultural learning constitutes one of the five platforms of learning that are developed for this thematic complexes. It aims at building competences for recognizing, questioning and developing norms and values in societal discourses. (Dirk Lange, Agora Political Education, online available at: www.ipw.uni-hannover.de/3655.html ).

Inspiration From Common Wise Sayings

It pays off for any society to invest in quality education for all. Education is key to addressing the multiple deprivations that overlap and reinforce each other. Low educational achievement results from earlier spells of exclusion and drives future deprivations by limiting future opportunities. A better education results in higher qualifications and improved chances of gainful employment, thereby acting as a vehicle for lifting people out of poverty. Education has an intrinsic value whose benefits not only improve labour market competitiveness but also prevent the waste of human talent through better social skills, higher flexibility and competences for adjustability to a dynamically changing world. High quality, inclusive and mainstream education is as important to the full development of the child as it is for the overall societal development. Education builds children and young adult skills for entering the labour market and contributing to general social cohesion. Compulsory education is crucial for the acquisition of the eight key competences that represent a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes which EU Member States consider necessary for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment (European Union Fundamental Rights Agency 2014). This is particularly so in light of the fact that absenteeism is a core risk factor and indicator for early school leaving. 

‘It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a society to destroy a child’

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophies . Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water “(John Gardner).

The VET has traditionally been stigmatized  which has in the past contributed to keeping many learners away from the sector. While this stigmatization is relatively absent in countries like Germany and Austria  whose  dual vocational education  has strongly reduced early  school leaving and while this stigma  may be currently lifting in some member states, migrants and Roma still disproportionately encounter the stigmatization of VET and the effects. This ironically means that even where migrant youth have succeeded to integrate into European educational institutions, they may choose prestigious academic profiles  with dead ends to the labour market or without labour market occupational opportunities. New pedagogical concepts and extension of internships for migrants and Roma is crucial.


Bourdieu, P./ Passeron, J-C (1990/1970): Reproduction in education, society and  culture, 2nd ed., (trans. Richard Nice). London: Sage Publications.

Crenshaw, Kimberly (2000): Background study for the Expert Meeting on the Gender-Related Aspects of Race Discrimination, November, 21–24 in Zagreb, Croatia.

European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (2014): Roma survey data in focus. Education. The situation of Roma in 11 EU member states. Luxemburg: Publications office of the European Union.

Mecheril, Paul & Plößer Melanie (2009): Differenz und Pädagogik. In: R. Casle, S., J. Larcher, Oelkers & S. Andressen (Hrsg): Handwörterbuch Pädogik der Gegenwart. Wienheim:Beltz (Pp. 1-13).

Mecheril, Paul (2008): Kompetenzlosigkeitskompetenz. Pädagogisches Handeln unter Einwanderungsbedingungen. In: Auenheimer, Georg (Hrsg.): Interkulturelle Kompetenz & Pädagogische Professionalität. 2. Aktualisierte & erweiterte Auflage: Wiesbaden. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 15-34.

Mecheril, Paul (2004):  Einführung in die Migrationspädagogik: Weinheim& Basel.

OECD (2012): Equity and Quality in Education. Supporting Disadvantaged Students and schools.  OECD: OECD Publishing. Online:  http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2012/situation-roma-11-eu-member-states-survey-results-glance

Riegel, Christine (2012): Dealing with diversity and social heterogeneity: Ambivalences, Challenges and Pitfalls for pedagogical activity. In: Zvi Bekerman & Thomas Geisen (eds.): International Handbook of migration and minorities education. Understanding cultural and social differences in processes of learning. Springer: London, pp 331-345.