Understanding and Addressing Inequality in Education

Inequality in education is a defining challenge of our time. Around the world, students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are far more likely to underperform in school than are students from advantaged backgrounds. This gap emerges early in development and widens with age. This represents an enormous loss of potential and perpetuates harm into adulthood.

What are the causes of inequality? And what can we do to reduce inequality? With our special Collection in npj Science of Learning, we will work toward developing an interdisciplinary understanding of inequality in education, as this topic goes beyond one single discipline related to learning and education.

This special Collection invites submissions from a wide variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) psychology, pedagogy, sociology, neuroscience, genetics, economics, and educational science. We are open to monodisciplinary submissions, but we encourage submissions that move beyond disciplinary boundaries, propose inter- or multidisciplinary perspectives on inequality, and approach inequality from new and unexpected angles. We encourage a developmental perspective, so we welcome submissions that focus on a critical developmental phase, transition, or trajectory (e.g., how inequality develops in early childhood or manifests across the transition to university). We invite both empirical articles and theoretical articles (e.g., Comments and Reviews).

Some of the many questions that might be addressed by the articles in this issue include:

  • What are the barriers faced by individuals from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups? This might include students from poor or working-class backgrounds, first-generation students, Indigenous students, and students of color.
  • How do parents, teachers, and educational contexts (e.g., school norms and policies) contribute to inequality in education? For example, what are the roles of cultural capital and elitism?
  • How do genetic and neurocognitive processes interact with contexts to produce inequality in education?
  • How do stereotypes and students’ beliefs (e.g., mindsets, self-perceptions) perpetuate inequality in education?
  • How can we design interventions that reduce educational inequality at scale? How can these interventions be adapted to local contexts (e.g., in low- and middle-income countries)?
  • How can we reconcile individualistic and structural explanations of inequality in education?


SDGquality education

Children's hand holding chalk in front of chalkboard


  • Eddie Brummelman

    Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

  • Nienke van Atteveldt

    Professor, Free University Amsterdam, the Netherlands

  • Sharon Wolf

    Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, USA

  • Jellie Sierksma

    Assistant Professor, the Department of Developmental Psychology

About the Guest Editors


Guest Editor NienkeEddie Brummelman is an Associate Professor at the Research Institute of Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam. His lab studies the developing self: how children develop self-views, how these self-views shape mental health and educational outcomes, and how interventions that target self-views can help at-risk children flourish in school. He is committed to using developmental science to address social problems, such as inequality in education.



Guest Editor NienkeNienke van Atteveldt is a full professor at Vrije Universiteit (VU) where she leads the Lab of Learning. Nienke is interested in how neuroscience interacts with society, and the challenge of optimizing the educational value of developmental cognitive neuroscience research. She is currently Vice-President of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society (IMBES), and co-chair of the UNESCO MGIEP International Scientific Evidence-based Education (ISEE) Assessment.



Jellie Sierksma is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Developmental Psychology. Her research focuses on children’s prosocial behavior and the development of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination. She studies these topics taking an interdisciplinary approach, combining insights from developmental, social, and educational psychology and by using experimental- and survey-methods.



Sharon Wolf  is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. Wolf’s lab studies how early family and school environments affect learning outcomes. In addition, Wolf studies the links between poverty, social policies, education, and child development using experimental and quasi-experimental methods, including assessing the role high-quality early education plays in bolstering learning for children who face adversity.