Educational inequalities and perceptions of students’ life chances : A critical ethnographic account of an elite and a non-elite school in Gilgit-Baltistan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Professional Development Centre, Karachi


There is a growing intensity of educational inequality, as the credentials one holds plays an increasingly powerful role in determining one's life chances. While the socioeconomic backgrounds of students are considered crucial, very often schools are complicit in advantaging the already advantaged ones. The present study explores the nature and extent of educational inequalities existent in elite and non-elite schools in the context of Gilgit-Baltistan through critical ethnography and exploring the teachers', students' and parents' perceptions about the life chances of their students. Two research sites, an elite one referred as Research Site A (RSA) and a non-elite one referred as Research Site B (RSB) schools, were selected through purposive sampling, were studied for a period of 10 months. Carspecken's (1996) five non-linear stages of critical ethnography, incorporating periods of prolonged non-participant and participant observations, semi-structured individual and group interviews, and document review guided the data collection process. The theoretical framework of the study was developed drawing on the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein and it guided the data analysis process.

The study revealed some major inequalities between RSA and RSB in three different but interlinked and interdependent domains: context, processes and life chances. The study found inequalities in the endowment and possession of different forms of capitals, which are then lived in the day to day school practices and their production, and reproduction are facilitated by the schooling processes. The curriculum exposes students to a body and level of knowledge which appropriates their specific class positions in the society. The pedagogical processes promote, reward and reinforce the disposition of the upper middle class and distance the dispositions of the students coming from poorer families. The assessment system serves the purpose of continual learning in the case of RSB and the purpose of selection and exclusion in the case of RSA.

The unequal socio-economic conditions and schooling processes are perceived to contribute to the unequal educational, occupational, civic and social life chances. The students of RSB are perceived to be more likely to complete their schooling, enter prestigious colleges/universities and choose professional fields for their further education, whereas the chances of school completion, getting into decent colleges and entering into professional fields for the students of RSA are seen as comparatively low. The students of RSB are believed to have a comparatively secure future in terms of their jobs and employability, whereas the students of RSA are believed to engage in home making endeavors. The students of RSA express a limited range of jobs as compared with the students of RSB whose awareness and expression of job range was much wider. The likelihood of students of RSB living a healthy, disciplined, individualistic yet responsible and informed civic life and enjoying higher status in the society is observed to be greater, whereas the students of RSA are observed to be more vulnerable to diseases, social stigma, have less chances of enjoying personal freedom, and to be more humble and self-restrained.

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