2 Other perceptions of equality
The concept of equality and how we should address inequality has been debated over many centuries by philosophers, theorists, politicians and campaigners; its meaning remains highly contested and open to interpretation and negotiation.
Along with a moral imperative to enable everyone to participate in learning, in many countries there is a legal imperative to avoid discrimination against different groups of people. In the UK, for example, the Equality Act 2010 requires education providers to avoid discrimination and make reasonable adjustment for disabled students. Within legal frameworks aiming to protect individuals and groups from discrimination, recent approaches to equality in education tend to fall into two groups – those emphasising equality of opportunity and those focused on equality of outcome. As the illustrations in this course highlight, addressing equality is often far more complex than it might first appear to be. One of the things you are encouraged to do is to challenge ‘simple’ explanations and ‘disrupt’ commonplace assumptions. You may find that this shifts and develops your understanding of ‘equality’ and the aspects associated with it.
The various approaches to ‘equality’ are based on different notions of what is valued and whether individual agency or society structures are seen as the primary force in determining life chances. The approaches fall into two main groups: those that focus on equality of opportunity (i.e. setting everyone off at the same starting point – or ensuring a ‘level playing field’) and those that focus on equality of outcome (i.e. aiming for equal success among different groups in society). Can you think of an example of each of these?
Each of these two main approaches has what is termed a ‘strong’ (or doing the maximum) and a ‘weak’ (or doing a minimum) version. They are usually associated with different political stances.