Sociology of Education

Equity in education is focussed on the student’s individual needs as a learner. It is about putting systems in place to ensure that every child has an equal chance for success (Lazăr, 2020).

“Equity vs Equality” by MN Pollution Control Agency is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Prior to commencing the content of Sociology of Education as part of my PME, I had undertaken a three-week period of subbing in my old secondary school. Of all the students I had interacted with in those three weeks, one student stuck in my mind in particular. This second-year student, who had a very poor standard of English, as it was not his first language, had to sit through science classes during times of Covid-19 restrictions and try to understand a substitute teacher. A substitute teacher with little to no prior experience in teaching, with a muffled voice through a mask, attempting to teach the science topics of photosynthesis and respiration. At the time I was unequipped with the pedagogy and understanding addressing this major problem of inequity for this particular student and so for this reason I took a major interest from the sociological perspective of social conflict theory with the lenses of equality and equity. I would have had a vague understanding of equality and equity and would not have been able to differentiate between the two. I think equality and equity are one of, if not, the main social issue facing teachers today and these social issues form the basis of many pedagogical techniques.

Equality in education can be defined as the matter of dividing educational, and educational related, resources more equally and fairly, so that every student is provided with equal education resources as best it fits. Baker et al. (2009) identifies four major equality problems in education: equality of resources; equality of respect and recognition; equality of power and respect of love care and solidarity. Although these four major equality problems are quite broad, I think they can be broken down in such a way as that each school and staff members can aid in combatting these inequalities. For example, for teachers, combatting the inequality of respect and recognition could be as simple as appreciating and respecting each students’ differences and opinions as opposed to merely tolerating them.  

I believe Ireland is making great strides in providing equality to students in post-primary schools. Under Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ‘State Parties’ in Ireland recognize the right of every child to equal opportunity to education (Lazăr, 2020). Additionally, ‘State Parties’ in Ireland are also encouraging the development of different forms of secondary education such as general and vocational and are aiming to make them accessible and available to every student.

The issue of equality in education links with Philosophy of Education and the work of Freire (2000).  From the struggles we have seen from oppressed groups, as in the case of Ms Gruwell’s class in Freedom writers, education can play a role in empowering students who experience multiple disadvantages in society. Education acts as a powerful emancipatory function for oppressed groups to counter inequalities in other social institutions that they may face in the future (Baker et al., 2009). Baker et al. (2009) further a link to History of Education where I think the idea of equality in education serves to combat how schools once served to socialize people into particular religious beliefs. This is seen in Coolahan (2017) while discussing the control the Catholic Church had on schools in Ireland during the 20th century. Although I believe equality and equity to be equally important to improving education for students, I think it is creating equity in post-primary classrooms where the teacher’s role will make the greatest impact.   

I now understand that equity in education is focussed on the student’s individual needs as a learner. It is about putting systems in place to ensure that every child has an equal chance for success (Lazăr, 2020). Equity differs from equality in education as equality aims at providing each student the same level of resource and opportunities, whereas equity delves deeper to an individual level where it aims at providing students the individual resources and opportunities, they require based on their own individual needs to succeed. As hopeful future teachers we can strive to incorporate more equity in the classroom through offering a range of rich learning activities that will incorporate each student learning preference and needs as equity should be the end goal for educators.

We learned how Universal design for learning (UDL) is one such framework that teachers can apply in their classrooms to reduce inequity. UDL embraces differences with diversity among students by presenting content in diverse ways to let students express their learning in ways that makes sense to them (Landin and Schirmer, 2020). As students have unique combinations of learning preferences, UDL supports the idea that teaching content in alternative ways allows students to internalize their learning more deeply.

UDL embraces differences with diversity among students by presenting content in diverse ways to let students express their learning in ways that makes sense to them (Landin and Schirmer, 2020).

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
By: ahead.
Video source : YouTube.

Although the concept of differentiated instruction are similar to UDL, there are differences between the two. Both are designed to enhance flexibility and students learning based on students individual learning preferences and needs. Differences appear where differentiation focuses on curriculum and changing the instruction according to individual needs, whereas UDL reduces the learning and environmental barriers from the beginning (Alsalamah, 2017). This means that teachers do not have to wait to notice the student struggling before differentiating instruction when it comes to UDL. I think the interconnection between these two frameworks have the potential to significantly reduce inequity in the classroom.

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), ‘In 2016 12.5% of Irish people whose full-time education had ceased had primary or no formal education’ (CSO, 2017). Additionally, 14.5% of people in Ireland full time-education ceased at lower secondary level, giving a total of 27% of Ireland’s population ceasing education before reaching senior cycle in secondary school.  These are some clearly worrying statistics for educators and I think ensuring equality and equity in schools could assist in lowering these figures.

The Irish education system has identified ways in which it is aiming to address the issue of inequity in education. The ‘Looking at Our School 2016’ quality framework for post-primary schools is one such policy issued by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) which aims at addressing the issues of inequity in education. One of the principles of the quality framework emphasizes the need of teachers to create learning experiences for all students and therefore should be ‘broad, balanced, challenging and responsive to individual needs’ (DES, 2016, p.6). I think it is this idea of addressing the students learning preferences and needs on an individual level to aid each student to achieve the learning intentions and success criteria of the lessons, where equity will be seen in education.

Reference List:

  • Coolahan, J. (2017) Towards the Era of Lifelong Learning: A History of Irish Education 1800-2016. Dublin: IPA.
  • Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
  • Landin, J. and Schirmer, P. (2020) ‘Teaching At-Risk Students Using UDL: Cure or Curse?’, Journal of Higher Education Theory & Practice, 20(13), pp. 24–29. doi: 10.33423/jhetp.v20i13.3831.
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