At a high level, equity in education means ensuring that everyone has fair and equal access to quality education.
This means fair and equal access regardless of their socioeconomic status, geographic location, race, religion, cultural or political preferences, or any other factor that might deprive them of fair access to a high-quality learning experience. As part of giving everyone fair access to high-quality education, equity also means ensuring that everyone has a real and fair opportunity to take advantage of that access.
The authors of the 2018 OECD publication, Equity in Education: Breaking Down Barriers to Social, Mobility, provide this helpful elaboration:
Equity does not mean that all students obtain equal education outcomes, but rather that differences in students’ outcomes are unrelated to their background or to economic and social circumstances over which the students have no control. Equity in education also demands that students from different backgrounds are equally likely to earn desirable post-secondary education credentials, such as university degrees, that will make it easier for them to succeed in the labour market and to realise their goals as adult members of society.
Given this definition, it’s easy to see why equity in education is important in any modern society. In short, equity in education leads to improved social mobility, increased education attainment by a greater portion of the population (particularly among disadvantaged youth), and an overall increase in the knowledge and skill level of the general workforce. Each of these benefits is a direct contributor to the economic productivity and health of a society, as well as its cultural and political stability.
Equitable Education in Practice
In practice, equity in education is achieved through a multi-faceted framework consisting of five separate areas or components, each with its own set of requirements and needs.
Affordability: Economic inequality is a significant factor in educational inequality. In order to provide equitable access to education—primary, secondary, and post-secondary—we must ensure that it is truly affordable for everyone. Such affordability must be extended to all aspects of education, including instruction, learning materials, and technology.
Accessibility: While accessibility certainly means that everyone should have fair access to education regardless of their personal challenges, it also means providing fair access to address specific areas of financial disadvantage, including lack of adequate transportation, adequate sources of nourishment, and access to technology.
High Quality: A common complaint directed toward inequality in education is that, while most students have access to education, the quality of the education available to them varies according to their socioeconomic status, race, religion, or geographic location. For education to be truly equitable, it must offer high-quality learning opportunities to everyone. At a minimum, this means high-quality learning materials, high-quality instruction, and high-quality support.
Low Barriers to Entry or Access: Equitable education lowers the barriers that make accessing it difficult for many people. Such barriers include lack of adequate transportation, not having access to technology or connectivity, and excessive paperwork or other bureaucratic requirements for registration and enrollment.
Ease of Use: Equity in education means designing educational experiences—online or face-to-face, analog or digital—so that students can access and navigate the learning process intuitively, with common sense. In other words, equitable learning experiences are designed to be easy to use for everyone, both the initiated and the uninitiated.
A Fair Opportunity to Flourish
Ultimately, equity in learning is about empowering students and making sure that each one has a fair opportunity to flourish both personally and professionally through education. At a societal level, empowering all students in this way will lead to increased economic growth and stability, as well as stronger cultural and political foundations for successful families, communities, and institutions.