Exploring equality and equity in education
Exploring equality and equity in education

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Exploring equality and equity in education

1 Equality and you

Across jurisdictions and cultures, there are different policies and practices which result in some people finding it difficult to gain access to education – for example, education may be available in urban areas but not in rural ones, male learners may have priority over female learners, universal education may be limited to primary phase, religious tenets may preclude some learners from participating in education, families in poverty may not be able to have a child in school rather than in labour.

All nations demonstrate some inequality in the quality of life enjoyed by citizens and struggles for equality and justice are widely experienced across the world. A central theme to your study in this course is the idea of ‘equality’ and how we consider achieving ‘equity’ in education and what this means to different people in different places and at different times. Notions of equality in education are not fixed but shift over time and place. The particular meaning ascribed to the concept of equality and how equity can be achieved will be influenced by people’s ideas on the purpose of education, their political priorities and values, expectations from parents, students and other stakeholders in the community or landscape in which they live and practise and prevailing policy frameworks. Thus, your own understanding of what constitutes, creates and perpetuates inequality in education will be informed by your personal history of participation in education and the environment in which you are living and working.

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Figure 1 Equality versus equity. Equality is depicted as equal input. Equity is depicted as equal outcome.

Activity 1

Timing: Approx. 30 minutes
  1. Jot down a few initial thoughts about what ‘equality’ in education means to you.
  2. If you can, talk to an elderly family member or friend, or someone who has been educated in a country or culture different from yours: ask this person how s/he thinks of ‘equality’ in education
  3. What do you see as the dimensions of equality which you consider important?
  4. Now think about an educational context with which you are familiar. This might be the institution in which you practise or an institution you attended, or one which a member of your family attends. What does achieving equity for learners need to look like in this context? What does it feel like for learners/students, teachers, you? Spend a few minutes jotting down your thoughts.
  5. Compare this description with the account given by the person to whom you spoke for task 2 above.


You may have thought about equality in terms of the resources allocated to education for different groups within society: for example, in England, a school usually receives a resource allocation with regard to the number of pupils who are considered to have ‘special educational needs’. Other mechanisms for resource allocation will operate in other jurisdictions. You might have expressed it in terms of students having opportunities to participate in the whole range of education experiences regardless of their backgrounds: for example, you might ensure that all students have access to sporting facilities in their neighbourhood. You might have thought about learner outcomes: for example, do students with a range of socio-economic status seem to be ‘equal’ as regards their transition to university, subject or career choices? You may have found it difficult not to simply describe equality as holding everyone of equal worth. These are all legitimate understandings of the notion of equality and we suggest that by comparing ideas with others, you will encounter a rich array of understandings and experiences.

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Figure 2 Fair selection?

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