Equality versus equity in education

Malya Chakaravarty


George S. Mickelson Middle School

Short Description:

We must strive to better understand our differences and commonality through open communication to achieve equity in education.

Wokini (meaning a new beginning) Initiative by the SD State University President has improved college access for Native Americans, thus receiving the 2022 McGraw Prize for championing equity and inclusion in higher education. Despite opportunities such as Wokini, only 9.3 percent of Native students attain college, making one ask how well the K-12 system prepares Natives or other minority students for higher education opportunities?
Equality is not enough
K-12 schools generally present equal educational opportunities to all students. However, students may not be on a level playing field to be able to utilize those opportunities. For example, some students learn well from visual cues while others learn better from auditory cues. “Equity” is bridging the gap between a student and those awaiting equal opportunities through individualized support and resources, thus turning the education system into that level playing field.
Equity in education and cross-cultural understanding are compromised when minority students do not see a representation of their people and culture around them. Negative stereotypes of Native Americans exist. Stereotypes can follow children into the classroom resulting in low self-esteem and academic disengagement. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Native students are 237 and 207 percent more likely to drop out of school and get expelled than white students, respectively.
Equity is not possible without dignity
Hyperfocus on competitive college admissions often compromises the dignity of the students as human beings. “Our schools promote talent based upon average-based yardsticks like academic GPAs that ignore the true nature of our individuality”, says Todd Rose of Harvard University while discussing his 2016 book The End of Average. “Teaching or learning to the test” allows little room for other important things for the development of a student’s nuanced perception of the world. Respect should be earned by our behaviors and actions which reflects how we were nurtured at home and school. But dignity is a birthright. Every student matters irrespective of their social background or GPA. For who they are, their inherent human potential is worthy of honor and nurturing to prevent disengagement in education.
Dignity provides a framework that is inclusive of everyone around us and allows us to reflect on ourselves as well as think from others’ shoes. Feeling vulnerable can result in avoidance (like school absence or dropout), self-harm (like suicide and addiction), or violence (like harming others) all of which are counterproductive for the individual and the community. It feels easier to not tell a teacher or a friend that a comment they made was hurtful. Many such words or actions are frequently unintentional, nevertheless, it is important to bring them up to help increase mutual understanding. While the metric-based system providing uniformity across our education landscape is here to stay, in schools, we must strive to better understand our differences and commonality through open communications from the top down. Only then we may achieve equity in K-12 education.