Equality vs Equity

Updated: Mar 29

By Shawna Audet

Merry-go-rounds provide a nice metaphor to explain the difference between equality and equity in education. On a merry-go-round, everyone goes on the same ride and travels the same distance. It reminds me of how kids all sign up for the same class and can expect to cover the same topics. If you look at the two pictures of merry-go-rounds (above) you will see that they look very different. The merry-go-round on the left has horses that all look the same. The horses will be okay for most people, but a person who is too small to reach the foot rest will have an uncomfortable ride and a disabled person might not even be able to go on the ride at all, The horses are all equal in the picture on the left, but it doesn't seem fair that some people have to miss out on the merry-go-round for reasons over which they have no control. Fair rides should be fair for everyone.

The merry-go-round that features a sea horse, zebra, and car shows how a merry-go-round can be constructed in a way that allows everyone to hop on board. On this merry-go-round riders can choose a method of transport that works best for them. Everyone is going on the same ride to the same place, but people can choose from lots of different types of transport. A person who chooses to ride the zebra does not have their ride diminished in any way by the person who chooses to ride in the car. Anyone can choose to ride in the car, but having the car there is essential so that some people who are very young or who have disabilities can come on the ride.

As an educator I want to create a learning environment like the sea horse/race car merry-go-round where all of my students can participate fully. This means that I want to strive to create equity rather than equality. Equality implies that everything is the same. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, equality means “identical.” This is an industrialized way of thinking of learners and the learning environment. It is not the kind of environment where all of my students can thrive.

Instead of seeing all my students in the same way, I want to recognize that each learner is different. Each student benefits from having a choice of ways to show their learning so that they can demonstrate their abilities – not their disabilities. If I teach in the traditional style (which means focusing on memorizing content and using writing as the sole way of showing learning) then I am making things equal since everyone is show their learning in the same way. This is not equitable though because I am showing favourtism to students who happen to have a “lawyer’s brain.” Instead, I will give my students many options for ways to show their learning. When I allow students to show their learning through their areas of strengths I a seat that enables them to get on the merry-go-round - and everyone deserves a ride the merry-go-round.