Equity in education vs. equality of opportunity: what’s the difference?
The data show that access to school has become more equal over the last 15 years, but when you dig deeper, it’s clear that opportunities for education remain deeply inequitable.
Figures for out-of-school children show huge improvements in the number of children, girls and boys, going to school. This is fantastic news.
Globally, in 2000 there were almost 100 million primary-aged children out of school. Now there are 59 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of out-of-school children has fallen from 40 million to 30 million in 15 years, despite high population growth. Country data paint the same picture: more children than ever are in school. More children are being given an equal chance to learn.
However, with 59 million out-of-school primary-aged children, there is clearly a gap. A deeper dig into the data reveals that large numbers of children from certain country regions clearly do not have the same opportunities and it is the most vulnerable who are being left behind. We have not achieved equity in education.
Equality is giving each child the same chance.
A poor, rural girl should have the same opportunities to go to school and get a quality education and a city boy from a wealthy family. This is fair. This is equitable.
To ensure that all children have the same opportunities, disadvantaged children need a little extra help to redress the imbalance. This is equity.
You can see what UNESCO has to say about equity in this policy paper.
Further, the Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG 4) calls for exactly this. It’s objective is “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Not just equal quality education, but equity in education.
So who are the out-of-school children?
Children who remain on the periphery of educational opportunities are prevented from going to school due to barriers that are out of their control.
Gender, poverty, living in a rural area or a war zone, being handicapped or from a minority ethnic group are the main factors keeping these vulnerable children out of the classroom. Sometimes children face multiple, overlapping barriers.
A poor rural girl from sub-Saharan Africa is among the most likely to be left behind, without access to education.
Conflict accounts for an ever-growing cohort of out-of-school children. The infographic below clearly illustrates the change in enrolment for Syrian children, a country which used to have near-universal access to school.
Moreover, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), 19 countries account for half of all out of school children (and this does not even include Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, conflict affected countries with large numbers of out-of-school children but where data is still too difficult to compile).
So, groups of children are still being left behind in the educational sweepstakes and this will hamper their health, income earning capability and ability to stand up for what they believe.
We are inching our way to greater equality, overall, but equity in education is clearly not in place and the most vulnerable groups continue to need extra support.
The 60 million girls Foundation strives to work with marginalized children so that more are given the chance to get a quality education. It’s their right.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @60milliongirls to find out how you can help and to learn more about education in developing countries.