(250) 860-3866   (778) 753-0681

Professional Development Articles

The Unpleasant Truth About Equity

Sep 24, 2018 jjamison

by Bruce Dxon

Equity is a topic that takes center stage in many education conversations, and rightly so. It’s about every child being given a “fair go.” We often voice our concerns about the plight of the underserved in our communities, and as educators, we always strive to address their disadvantage within the resources we have available.

At times, it can seem almost pointless when faced with the barriers and handicaps that society has placed in front of so many of our young people, yet as educators, our moral compasses guide us to try and give every child equal opportunity.

It’s not easy. Whether you are dealing with disability, cultural or demographic limitations, or probably the most challenging, financial disadvantage, every day schools across the globe seek to offer a leg up to the less fortunate in our communities.


It can be as minor as funding books or technology or lunches, or as major as comprehensive welfare support programs such as those that are now common place in many countries challenged by recent influxes of refugees. Whichever way you look at it, schools across the world are often the first place where equity intervention is offered, and many school communities offer a wide range of living support services for millions of kids far beyond what some may see as a traditional role for schools.

Understanding Hidden Inequities

However, while we will continue to celebrate the extraordinary impact these interventions can have on a child’s life opportunities, I want to walk down a far more sensitive path and talk about a form of equity that is more subtle, almost hidden, and that few seem to want to discuss.

Put simply, how equitable is it for some students to be better prepared for life than others as a result of their schooling?

While it’s common to hear the superficial answer when we say kids need to be “literate and numerate to make their way in the world,” by any reasonable measure that is an extremely narrow view of the learning experiences a student might have during their years of formal schooling.

To put it more bluntly, how fair is it that some students will spend twelve to sixteen years preparing for life as it has been, while others are being prepared for life as it is, or rather possibly will be?

To what extent is a child being offered equal opportunity if on the one hand they are taught in a traditional teacher-led classroom, while their colleagues are developing skills and experience as modern learners in the school down the road?

How well will the students in the former adapt to the realities of the perpetually changing world around them when they have spent twelve or more years being fed a highly selective diet of information and facts to be then tested on their ability to recall it?

And while they have spent a good part of their schooling preparing for those tests, the modern learners down the road are becoming resourceful, critical and creative thinkers, and are developing the discipline and dispositions to be passionate self-directed, lifelong learners.

Giving Learners Input

Meanwhile, our traditional learners have had little or no input into what they learned, and even more importantly how they learned, or how they expressed their understanding of their learning, rather deferring to the choices provided to them by their teachers. And dare we say it,  so many will become so bored, disillusioned and disenfranchised by the whole regime of school that they have left the place, hopefully, to seek more relevant options on their own.

Meanwhile, at the school down the road, the modern learners there are developing the skills, competencies, and dispositions that will allow them to be better informed to make better choices, and most importantly to understand that their future will be guided by how well they make those choices.

Is that fair and equitable?

I know which school I would want my kids to attend.

But then, that would be giving my kids an unfair advantage, wouldn’t it?

You get where I am going with this, and yes, undoubtedly I am offering rather polarizing options, but the circumstances are very real, and yet there is little or no discussion about how inequitable this scenario is.

Schooling for the Stereotypical Child

Finally, if you want to add fuel to this equity fire, think for a moment about the impact that choice and agency have to demographic disadvantage. No matter which way you look at it, traditional school was designed and built for a stereotypical child, for a narrow band of outcomes, with an extremely limited range of expectations.

Modern learning flips this model on its head, where the focus is the child and their learning. On what makes sense to them. On identifying their talent. On what they are passionate about, without fear or favor or pandering to traditional post-school experiences.

And the really unpleasant part is this. No test scores, real-estate rankings or car park gossip would show this disadvantage, because it can’t be easily tested, measured or quantified, so very few are even aware of the insidiousness or scale of its impact.

But over time, more and more alumni stories will start to form a pattern of the directions the kids from those two schools took.

Of course, there will be students from both schools who achieve their life goals, but over time the evidence of the “unfair benefits” offered in schools for modern learners will undoubtedly build a compelling case for us to rethink where we can focus our time and energy in addressing equity in our schools.

Photo by Søren Astrup Jørgensen on Unsplash

Five for Further Reading

Here’s an extra post that will interest those who are looking for some grassroots stats on the profiles of people who are the developers at the coalface of all things technology…and if anyone can tell us, StackOverflow certainly can.

If you’re not in there already, don’t forget to check out our Modern Learners Community

Sign up for our FREE (usually) weekly Modern Learners’ Podcasts

Share this article: