Is it ensuring that everybody is treated equally..? That we are all treated in the same fashion and those that work the hardest, those that 'want it' the most and those who are the most effective will reap the greatest rewards..?
Or is it focusing on equality of outcomes..? i.e. providing extra assistance to those that need it most and reducing assistance for those that are already advantaged..?
It often seems like a natural reaction to treat everybody in a consistent manner. As children, we are taught to 'share'... And by 'share' they (parents, teachers, et al... ) don't mean, "give your younger brother more than what you are keeping for yourself... "
It is natural for us to want the same treatment as other people, as well as to question why other people get 'better' treatment than ourselves...
Unfortunately, the 'survival of the fittest' mentality of treating people equally, is destined to result in unequal outcomes. Darwinism might make sense in the field of evolution, but when we have control over the outcomes, we can do better at 'spreading' the opportunity to succeed.
If choosing equality of outcomes over equal treatment, we need to direct and focus resources where they are needed most and reduce the level of support provided to people and groups of people that already have a high level of opportunity to succeed.
Why give people more than they need..?
Why leave people short of the opportunities that they need..?
A recent development that has occurred in most modern democracies is the increasing rate of income inequality (Fisher and Hout 2006). Such income inequality "undermines societies: the more inequality, the more health problems, social tensions, and the lower social mobility, trust, life expectancy." [Durante, Fiske, Kervyn & Cuddy]
An OECD study identified Australia as part of a group with some other English-speaking countries, each of whom had above-average inequality in labour earnings, with the significant factors driving this earnings disparity being a wide wage dispersion range and a relatively low rate of full-time employment.
i.e. Our top earners are doing very well for themselves... and we have lots of people without full-time employment...
At the other end of the spectrum were a group of Nordic countries [and Switzerland], each of whom had below-average inequality in labour earnings, due largely to a narrower range of wage dispersion and a high employment rate.
i.e. There is a smaller 'gap' between high and low income earners... and a higher rate of people are working full-time.
SchoolsThe Government has a responsibility to provide an education for its young citizens and it is this provision of education that is oft-promoted as the the vehicle for long-term societal change, particularly for those that are facing disadvantage.
If this is to be more than lip service, then Governments need to use their education systems to take on some of the responsibility of addressing the many and varied instances of disadvantage that are existent in our society today.
- Greater support for schools that are struggling.
- Proportionally greater support for schools that service disadvantaged students.
ClassroomsWithin schools, we are probably more clearly on the path towards equitable outcomes. Most teachers and school leaders know (and put into practice) that students in greater need deserve greater support.
- Younger students are more dependent upon adult support and therefore need more of it. eg: Better teacher : student ratios in classes with younger students...
- Academically struggling students need greater support, so they can engage with age-appropriate content and not face 'dumbed down' learning expectations and curriculum content...
- Students with behavioural issues often need higher levels of time, attention and support than their peers, in order for them to close 'gaps' in their learning regarding appropriate behaviour - we accept that some students need extra assistance with reading [Maths, speech, fine motor skills, etc... ], but sometimes it is harder for people to accept that students are at different 'levels' regarding their skills and understandings about appropriate behaviour. It is no different to academic areas - we need to differentiate the support we provide so that all students have an equal opportunity to engage in and learn at school.
So, if we are pursuing a more equal society as an outcome, we need to treat our individual students and schools differently, giving them what they need to ensure that they have equal opportunity to achieve success.
“Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.”
― Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid