Equality & Equity

What’s the difference between equality and equity? These concepts seem very similar to most people, but are in fact quite different. Equality gives the same or identical opportunities and resources to all people equally, but equity gives varying types and amounts of opportunities and resources to different individuals, based on each person’s specific needs.

Let’s look at an example of sharing an apple pie. If the pie is sliced for a group of people based on the concept of equality, it will be cut into equal or identical parts so each person gets the same size slice regardless of how much he or she needs. Now if instead the same pie is shared based on the principle of equity, each person will get a slice of pie that matches his or her needs. An adult might get a larger slice than a child…it’s acceptable and fair that one person might get a larger slice of pie than another person.

Let’s look at another example where a family is out picking apples to bake in the pie. The father is the tallest of the three family members and has a higher reach than the mother or the child. He can reach the apples on the tree without any form of help. But in order for the mother or child to reach the apples, each will need some kind of help. If we use the concept of equality and give each family member a crate of similar height to stand on, what happens? The father will get more help than he needs, the mother will get exactly what she needs, but the child will still not be able to reach the apples. Everyone has been given equal help, but is this fair in meeting each person’s specific needs? If our goal is to give each family member the same opportunity of reaching the apples, we need to rethink our approach of distributing the resources…as in this case… crates. We can use the principle of Equity to provide equal access to each family member to reach the apples. The father will not be given a crate to stand on, the mother will get one crate, and the child two crates. By this method, all family members will be able to reach the apples in an equal manner.

To summarize, equality leads to sharing opportunities and resources in the same manner for all regardless of individual needs, and equity leads to sharing opportunities and resources in a fair manner, taking individual needs into consideration. By applying the principle of equity the ideal of equality can be achieved in that everyone will receive the opportunities and resources that they need to help them meet their goals in life.

These concepts have been, and may continue to be, highly debated in education and other social institutions. Some see equality as a sufficient leveling of the playing field whereby the onus to succeed is on the individual. Others see equity policies as a reverse form of privileging. How diverse, democratic societies approach equality and equity, particularly in education, will have long-lasting impacts on society. Imagine the outcomes if already privileged students believe they competed with disadvantaged classmates on a level playing field... what kind of lawyers, doctors, teachers will they be? What about those students who believed they had equal access and worked their hardest only to continue to experience exclusion on some levels?

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Equity vs Equality by Jonathon Fulton, Robbi Forsythe, Gail Morong, Dr. Monica Sanchez-Florez, and Dr. Kyra Garson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.