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Why Closing The Opportunity Gap Is The Key To Reducing Inequality

28/12/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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India, Uttar Pradesh, Agra, young girl studying school textbook.

India is a land of contradictions. We have among the highest number of millionaires in the world but a large percentage of the population lives in poverty. We churn out doctors and engineers but also have a high illiteracy rate.

Inequality is present in every form in India. The extent of the wealth gap is not a disputable fact any more as several research papers and newspaper articles have rightly proven. Unequal distribution of wealth is a very dangerous thing. It can lead to civil unrest and also block the development of the country. It is for this reason that everyone takes this very seriously and they are right in doing so.

The problem begins when people try to bridge the wealth gap by using the misguided "Robin Hood" principle i.e. to take from the rich and give to the poor. Sometimes we get so caught up in figuring out how to best distribute the wealth we have that we forget to concentrate on generating that money in the first place.

"Sometimes we get so caught up in figuring out how to best distribute the wealth we have that we forget to concentrate on generating that money in the first place."

It is impossible to create a world where everyone has equivalent levels of wealth but even if it was, it would not be morally right. Why should people who work hard not have more wealth than the people who don't work as hard? Wealth should ideally be the reward for hard work. Here we are assuming that the justice system works well and that anyone using illegal means to earn wealth is punished. Questions about the efficiency of the justice system should be dealt with separately.

What we should really focus on is the opportunity gap. Due to multiple reasons, a lot of citizens in the country do not get the chance to compete. Levelling the playing field is different. We first need to make sure that everyone has access to a field.

Giving people opportunities does not mean reservations. In fact, reservations are possibly the most inefficient way of giving people opportunities as India has found over the last couple of decades.

Let's take education for example. On an average, a student from a low-income family studying in a government school will not do as well as a student from an affluent family who studies in a high-end private school. It has little to do with their financial backgrounds. This difference in results is attributed to the difference in the opportunities that both the students access from their education. If you give every child an excellent education then the comparison would give you different results.

This can partially be attributed to the fact that students from affluent families sometimes don't have that burning need to succeed because they have a fall-back option while students from low-income families know that they need to make the most of every chance they get because of the sheer lack of opportunities. Hence, if both are given equal opportunities it is very possible that students from low-income families will do better than the rest.

Of course this is not true in each and every case but there are a lot of examples out there to prove that this is not just a theory. Once the opportunity gap is closed, the achievement gap will close as well and slowly but surely that will lead to the wealth gap narrowing down.

Providing more opportunities to people who don't have them will not take away opportunities from people who already do. We merely need to give everyone access to the same field to everyone -- they will level it themselves through sheer perseverance.

Written By Apoorv Shah -- a 2015-15 Teach For India Alumnus who currently works with the organisation as a Program Manager in Ahmedabad. His interests include school leadership, education policy and mediation.

Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Apply now at http://apply.teachforindia.org/user/register.

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