The Difference Between Equity and Equality

When doing the work of an early childhood consultant, it is common to hear teachers say that it is difficult to dedicate too much time and attention to one child because it is not fair to the other children.  To a degree, this is true; teachers cannot focus all of their attention on just one child.  But on the other hand, when we shift our thinking from equality (everyone gets the same resources) to equity (everyone gets the resources they need to succeed), we can begin to identify opportunities to support children in different ways.

Consider the example of the child who is acting out as a way to get attention from teachers or peers. The behaviors can be looked at as a form of communication that is telling us that an underlying need is not being met. The child is likely seeking connection, relationship, affirmation, and/or reassurance. The equality mindset says, “I want to spend extra time with this child but I can’t because I have to divide my time equally amongst the children.”  However, an equity mindset says, “I recognize that, at this stage of development, this child needs something more from me.  I would like to find a way to provide this child with what he needs in this moment, to ensure he/she has the tools needed to succeed moving forward. This extra time or attention will not be required forever.”

In this case, the teacher may choose to do some reflection to identify times of day where a little extra attention and nurturing can be provided to the child.  Perhaps the child could sit next to the teacher during meals. Perhaps the child could be assigned a job or special responsibility. Perhaps, while other children are working independently during center time, the teacher could read a story to the child and a friend. During these interactions, the teacher could present the child with appropriate options for communicating needs, such as saying, “You know, if you ever want to get my attention, you can just say my name or tap me on the arm.”

This targeted approach to supporting children as they are learning new skills is at the heart of equity.  Not every child requires the intervention described above. Another child in the class may need support with an obstacle on the playground, while another child may be ready to write the letters of his name.

Early childhood education is the perfect place to adopt an equity mindset, because the children have such varied needs and abilities.  What can you do today to shift from an equality mindset to an equity mindset?