Equality and Equity

Australians pride ourselves on having an egalitarian society, so it is interesting to consider a value, such as equality, and to examine how this is implemented within a society, organisation or institution.  A focus on equality usually results in scrupulous provision of exactly the same for everyone; whereas a focus upon equity indicates that individuals are provided with what they need, even if this is different to what others receive.

With increased societal awareness of the impact of disabilities, there has been an important shift from equality to equity. In some contexts, emphasis may be placed upon a community trying to reduce disadvantage and disability; making a range of adjustments; attempting to ‘level the playing field’, as politicians are fond of calling this approach.  Within other contexts, equality of opportunity is the main focus, with a range of provisions made available to enable individuals with differing levels of abilities and needs to realise their potential, resulting in the provision of true equity.

Eminent, historical figures have commented on the issue of equality and equity. Thomas Jefferson is attributed with the statement: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequal individuals,” and Mahatma Gandhi said: “My idea of society is that while we are born equal, meaning that we have a right to equal opportunity, all have not the same capacity.”

The familiar motto of the French Republic is: “Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité”, so it is hardly surprising that the concept of ‘equalité’ pervades all aspects of French society, including the French education system and their schools.  An interesting discussion about how the nature of ‘equalité’ can be interpreted has occurred. Does this societal value suggest that all students should get exactly the same educational provisions, irrespective of their abilities and disabilities; or does ‘equalité’ refer to equality of educational opportunity, indicating delivery of different educational provisions to meet a range of needs, abilities, disabilities and interests? U.S. President, John F. Kennedy stated; “Not everyone has equal abilities, but everyone should have equal opportunity for education.”

National and international sporting organisations now recognise the importance of equity by providing opportunities for exceptional athletes – irrespective of abilities and/or disabilities.  Athletes’ exceptionalities and successes are widely celebrated by us all. Acknowledgement of abilities and achievement in various fields, together with provision of specific opportunities, designed to develop a range of talents, is shifting societal emphasis from equality to equity.

Whenever parents and teachers recognise and respond to a student’s individual interests, abilities and/or disabilities by providing appropriate interventions and support, we are creating a more caring, equitable and just society. We each have a role in identifying students’ strengths, abilities, weaknesses and/or disabilities; likewise, we each have a role in supporting development of each student’s capabilities so they can each realise their potential, be fulfilled and contribute to furthering the development of a just and equitable society.

© Michele Juratowitch                    
michele@clearingskies.com.au