Equality or Equity in School?

Yet again, we read that there are too few girls in physics or too few boys in childcare or some other difference between the gender uptake of various subjects. This is not news – as a female Physics student, the ratio was approximately 1:10 and my Dad was the only male on his nursing course. It is an issue that the government and many organisations are sinking lots of time and research into solving. But is this symptomatic of inequity or inequality? Or is the prioritisation of gender parity actually promoting inequality?

Equality and equity are not always the same, in this or any other educational issue. Broadly speaking, equality relates to everyone being treated the same and equity relates to accommodating and meeting the needs of specific individuals. Sometimes, these ideals align. However, any educator can tell you that this is not always the case. Treating students fairly involves accommodating their individual needs.

In relation to gender differences, discrimination in school subjects is far from the norm. Girls and boys are, in this country, offered the same opportunities. Achieving a 1:1 ratio is an oversimplification of both our responsibility as educators and of the gender argument in general. While numbers are important, our students are more than statistics.

Perhaps the reason government initiatives for gender prioritisation are ineffectual is that teachers are, rightly, guiding students on an individual basis towards the subjects that best meets their needs, goals and talents. Our ethical responsibility is, without discrimination, to make students aware of the possibilities and help them make the right choices for themselves, rather than the right choices for a political ideal. Attempting to force females into Physics or males into Childcare is almost as discriminatory and outdated as forcing them into traditional gender roles. Show all students the engaging, fun and extended worlds in these subjects and we will come closer to achieving both equity and equality in our educational system.