• Opinion
  • 2 de May de 2024
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  • 11 minutes read

Equity, what equity?

Equity, what equity?

Equity, what equity?

The real challenge lies in understanding how, to what extent, and according to what its application should be understood

Image: WOKANDAPIX e- Pixabay

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Xavier Massó


One of the biggest problems we face when critically challenging the hegemonic educational model is the inherent ambiguity and confusion in terms borrowed from other disciplines. When these terms are applied to education, particularly in its pedagogical aspect, they often become biased or diluted, altering the original concept they represent. In other words, these terms are arbitrarily assigned a meaning that may align with the conceptual framework of the specific educational model, which generates itself creating a self-referential jargon composed of terms that have different meanings outside this context.

This issue isn’t necessarily problematic as it’s common across all sectors and disciplinary areas. The real challenge lies in understanding how, to what extent, and according to what its application should be understood, as well as what use is being made of it. Colloquial language terms have been and continue to be adapted to various registers – philosophical, legal, scientific, religious, technological, etc. – and they acquire a different meaning in each case. Sometimes the homonymy arises from establishing a certain analogy in what the signifier defines in both fields of meaning, which can be sometimes self-evident, but which can sometimes lead to error.

Consider, for instance, the term “Trojan”, which refers both to the inhabitant of ancient Troy, and to the “virus” “spy” “hosted” – three notions also in turn adapted to the computer register – in a computer to capture and transmit information to an external system. This term is a fitting example of an inverted analogy relevant to our discussion.  A person unfamiliar with classical mythology but introduced to the term “Trojan” in the context of computing might mistakenly assume that the ancient inhabitants of Ilium were nosy individuals who spent their days spying on others with malicious intent, precisely the opposite of what it was. In reality, instead of saying that we have a “Trojan”, it would be more accurate to say that we have an “Achaean,” “Danaan,” “Argive,” or “Greek” on our computer, referring to those who entered Troy inside the legendary wooden horse to surprise and attack the unsuspecting Trojans and slit their throats while they were sleeping.

While this error may reveal a lack of knowledge in classical culture, it’s generally harmless. However, this may not always be the case, especially when discussing equity in education.  Equity is a central concept around which the entire educational system currently revolves, making it crucial to clarify its meaning. It embodies a principle whose effective implementation is seen as a non-negotiable goal of inexcusable achievement. But what do we mean, or what should we understand, by “equity” in today’s educational context?

Let’s say, as a preliminary, that, assuming the universal right to education and the principle of equal opportunities, the question arises as how this right, which everyone claims to want and guarantee, is effectively implemented. In other words, in terms of equity, as a criterion for actualizing equal opportunities and how to promote and ensure it from a governance management perspective. With this, equity becomes the quintessential requirement for the distribution of educational quality, which makes it a central theme whose correct and fair application is associated with the achievement of educational success.

This inference is valid within its strict scope, i.e., its application in the context of an educational model that, in our case, is assumed. Without delving into the strictly academic, or making it the subject of the debate, the focus is placed on the “equitable” recipe for application to an educational model that, particularly, is not being challenged. This could potentially modify the very notion of educational success, whatever it means, according to what is understood by equity in each case, without presupposing an assessment of the prior reality to which it is applied, a reality that we accept uncritically from the beginning without further contemplation.

The right to education is intrinsically linked to equal opportunities, necessitating the establishment of criteria and guarantees of equity for its actualisation. This much is clear. However, we still have a problem of priorities and subordinations. Or in other words, if we focus solely on prioritising equity, relegating curricula and content to a subordinate role, we reverse the logical sequence of things. Equity is not a precursor to education, but a requirement for its fulfilment within a context of equal opportunities. Otherwise, we would be interpreting equity as a subjective right and promoting its perception as such, when in reality it is, or ought to be, objective.

The term “equity” itself is ambiguous, depending on which centres of preferential attention we choose to prioritise. The RAE1 provides five definitions: 1) equality of spirit; 2) habitual temperance, tendency to be carried away, or to err, guided by a sense of duty or conscience, rather than by strict justice or by the letter of the law; 3) natural justice, in contrast to positive law; 4) moderation in pricing or contractual terms; 5) disposition to give each one what they deserve.

It is evident that each definition implies some form of external correction to a given situation. This correction presupposes some form of imbalance, grievance or dysfunction among the various parties involved, necessitating intervention to rectify it in accordance with the desired terms. It also appears to be an ad hoc adaptation of the universal principle of equal opportunities, ensuring its effective implementation. This approach is entirely logical within a model of equal opportunities, which is, of course, the starting point.

From an educational standpoint, let’s explore the concept of equity as delineated by F. López Rupérez2, who provides seven broadly accepted interpretations:

  1. Delivering the same level of education to all.
  2. Guiding everyone to the same level of cognitive competence.
  3. Leading everyone to a certain, but common, minimum level.
  4. Ensuring each individual receives an education that allows them to realise their full potential.
  5. Provide educational resources to individuals based on their ability to utilise them effectively.
  6. Offering everyone the same starting opportunities, regardless of subsequent outcomes.
  7. Ensuring that all groups (sexes, ethnicities, social classes, etc.) are proportionally represented at all levels of the educational system, in line with their demographic significance.

It is evident that, in education, this extrinsic corrective intervention we referred to is conceived in very different ways. It’s understood that all these interpretations together are hardly combinable, if not incompatible, not just in practice, but from their very theoretical approach. To assume all of them, these interpretations form a heteroclite amalgam that is practically impossible to realise, and the primacy of some interpretations inevitably impacts others.

While interpretations 4, 5, and 6, suggest that the concept of equity derives from and is subordinate to the principle of equal opportunities (as a starting point), interpretations 1, 2, 3 and 7, regardless of their problematic incompatibility, suggest the opposite. Here, the adopted notion of equity, with its corresponding bias, imposes itself on the principle of equal opportunities, which is subordinated and inevitably referred to as a point of arrival. This is a contradiction in terms, if not an oxymoron.

In summary, from all this it follows that, the second group’s reification of the concept of equity can substantially alter the educational system’s objectives and functions, as the system itself becomes subject to the applied equity criterion. This is not the case, or to a much lesser degree, in the set of interpretations that adhere to equal opportunities as a starting point. It goes without saying that the currently prevailing model conceives equal opportunities as a point of arrival, subject to the criterion of equity that is adopted as a priority, according to prevailing trends.

It’s worth noting that within the various interpretations of “equity” that lead to the perception of equal opportunities as a final goal, underlies a true leitmotif. This leitmotif is the aspiration for the educational system to have an omnipotent influence on the individual, who is reduced to a mere social construct, subject to roles determined by the adopted definition of “equity”. This concept clashes with the very notion of equal opportunities, which in this model, paradoxically, sounds more like individual inequity, and in some cases, even social, group, or identity determinism. In essence, it’s a predatory social engineering model that is diametrically opposed to the “equitable” dream that it is said to be pursued. This is currently referred to as the exit profile.

Equity is not a central category, but derived from the universal right to education and is subordinate to equal opportunities. Conversely, positioning equity at the core of the system implies the subordination of the right to education and equal opportunities to the chosen definition of equity. This is not only an inversion in the hierarchy of concepts but also a perversion in its most original sense: a deviation from the intended goals. It’s hard to overlook this, and it’s surprising that its ardent proponents continue to advocate for it, seemingly impervious to discouragement, especially given the catastrophic effects of its implementation, which are verifiable and contrastable.

Therefore, understanding equity as the application of the principle of equal opportunities is not the same as understanding it as the criterion to which it must be subordinated. Equity can be seen as a potential ad hoc correction of the imbalances that inevitably occur in the application of the principle of equal opportunities. However, placing such a sense of equity above the superior principle of equal opportunities leads to subjective arbitrariness or social engineering that reduces the individual to a mere instrumental construct: the legitimisation of educational inequality. This is the very denial of equal opportunities.

Believing that the Trojans of ancient Ilium are named after their computer counterparts is simply ignorance, correctable and somewhat endearing. However, believing that equal opportunities are governed by criteria of equity, instead of these being an application of the former, even being the result of an inversion analogous to the previous one, is not endearing at all: it’s a conceptual aberration with devastating consequences. This is precisely what we are currently experiencing in our educational system.


[1]  https://dle.rae.es/equidad?m=form

2 F. López Rupérez, ‘La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones’, Narcea (2021). (Citing M. J. Bowman, ‘Education and opportunity’, Oxford Review of Education, 1).

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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