The education of our children is the foundation for a successful society. Yet we continue to see striking differences in the quality of that education. How can we improve our systems to help all children thrive?
Strong, nurturing early relationships at home, school, and in the community, set the stage for healthy learning. Some children, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, are more vulnerable than others. Factors such as poverty, poor nutrition, limited healthcare, and inadequate education can lead to adverse outcomes as children develop, including lower achievement in school.
While it is widely agreed that one of the goals of education should be to narrow the achievement gap, identifying the best ways to do so is a challenging endeavour. Early interventions are not available to all children, nor are they effective for every child. So, although such interventions may improve achievement overall, they do not eliminate differences between individual children.
To provide better support for children from diverse backgrounds, education systems should do two things: First, they should focus on equity, and second, they should embrace children’s individual differences.
Equity vs equality
In education, the terms equality and equity are often used interchangeably, although they are not synonymous. Equality in education means providing all students with equal resources and learning opportunities. Equity, on the other hand, means ensuring that every child has the tools needed to thrive, which may differ from one student to another.
“If we truly want to narrow achievement gaps and increase equity, we need to give low-achieving students greater access to resources, funding, and exceptional teachers.”
Children enter school as unique individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses, and life histories. Therefore, it is not surprising that when equal resources are provided to children with different abilities and experiences, the children’s subsequent levels of educational success will differ as well. In other words, some students require more resources than others to reach the same level of achievement. So, while equality, in the sense of distributing equal resources to all children, may seem ‘fair’, this fails to consider the fact that children may have been exposed to radically different opportunities by the time they enter school.
In education, therefore, we should instead strive for equity. This means distributing resources fairly, so that students are not prevented from reaching their academic potential by their personal and social circumstances. If we truly want to narrow achievement gaps and increase equity, we need to give low-achieving students greater access to resources, funding, and exceptional teachers.
Individual differences should be embraced
While striving for educational equity is critically important, we must not naïvely assume that all children will perform identically across every educational domain if equity is in fact achieved. Children would not all turn out to be the same height if fed an individualized, ideal diet; similarly, we cannot expect that an equitable education system will result in identical educational attainment for all children.
Children enter school with a unique genetic makeup that has been interacting with their environment since they were in the womb. As a result of this constant gene-environment interplay, children have different levels of tolerance to stresses, different preferences, and different strengths.
“We must seek to minimize adversity and ensure that all children have the same opportunities, while also embracing individual differences.”
As a society, we must seek to minimize adversity and ensure that all children have the same opportunities, while also embracing individual differences. Indeed, individual differences are one of the strengths of humanity and a key reason for the incredible advancements that that have taken place in society throughout human history. Therefore, as education systems strive to provide students with equitable, individualized inputs and environments, we must also be aware of and embrace individual differences in our children.
Striving for an equitable education system, while taking into account and celebrating individual differences, will help students maximize their potential across a diverse range of educational outcomes.
Read a more detailed discussion here.