Reading the guest blogs on equity over the past two weeks has been a real treat for me, my colleagues at CEA and, we hope, for you.
What are some of the ‘take aways’ from these diverse yet related perspectives? Here’s some of what we heard that we need to do:
- Acknowledge that Canada is one of the few countries that has managed to combine excellence and equity in its school systems, and yet not become complacent;
- Make equity and inclusion explicit priorities at all levels of the system;
- Recognize the impact of poverty, racism, historic oppression of First Nations people, and other forms of discrimination that result in stereotyping and low expectations of students, and yet not use these as excuses for not achieving greater equity within education;
- Provide adequate and equitable funding, an issue that has seriously affected First Nations on reserve schools and low income neighbourhoods with limited access to fundraising dollars;
- Expect and support leadership within schools and schools system to lead the charge;
- Require responsibility and accountability for achieving equity goals. Rhetoric and even policy are not enough. Do we need explicit timetables for achievement of goals?;
- Provide research evidence and data to identify problems and to monitor our progress. This includes longitudinal data tracking students over time, research evidence on what works in schools, as well as an understanding of the context within which students are functioning, e.g. statistics on poverty, inequality, unemployment, etc.;
- Allow greater flexibility in policies and practices to address inequities and discrimination (e.g. specialized school programs) and to reach all learners (e.g. more creative and effective use of technology); and
- Support school-community partnerships to achieve greater equity and other educational goals. Although schools have a critically important role to play, they cannot do it alone. Schools and community agencies can work together to enhance students’ learning.
To these, I would add the following:
- Broaden our understanding of equity in policy and practice. Equity is not just about closing gaps in differential outcomes on test scores or graduation rates, as important as these are for young people’s future prospects. Equity is also about students’ school experiences which may have a lifelong impact and, equally important, may make the daily lives of some students miserable and devoid of dignity. As has been observed before, young people are not just adults-in-waiting; their lives and experiences as children are equally valuable and important.
- Understand that equity and inclusion go hand in hand. It is encouraging that many provincial government policies focus on equity AND inclusion. If we understand equity only as closing achievement gaps, we miss addressing the situation of many students, e.g. LGBTQ students who may be keeping up academically but may be experiencing bullying and disrespect on a daily basis, or of children with intellectual disabilities who may be socially excluded and not expected to be intellectually engaged.
- Recognize that, without solidarity, equity and inclusion will likely not be achieved. Equity and inclusion are not about ‘us’ and ‘them’; they are about recognizing our common humanity and our common goals. Solidarity does not imply homogenization or ‘one size fits all’; it means mutual recognition and respect, as well as an end to divisive policies and practices that pit students, parents or teachers against each other in competition for resources, time and attention, and system priorities.
- Equity also involves narrowing the gap between students’ in school and out of school lived experiences. Students in CEA’s soon to be published research on Youth Confidence in Learning and the Future indicated a low level of ‘fit’ or connection between their in-school and out of school lives and learning;
- Student engagement is critical to equity and inclusion. CEA’s research on What did you do in school today? found that only 36% per cent of students were intellectually engaged in their classroom studies. Given the importance of engagement to learning and to motivation, this is a reality that must be recognized and addressed in all equity strategies.
Finally, what else is CEA doing in this area? In recognition of the importance of research and data to achieving and monitoring equity and inclusion, CEA is commissioning research that looks at issues related to collecting student sub-population data, such as race and sexual orientation. We are working with Charles Ungerleider and Directions Group on a policy options paper that will be the basis for a series of consultations next spring. We will keep you posted on this and other developments.
On behalf of CEA, thank you to all of the guest bloggers, commentators and tweeters who have contributed to this important conversation about equity and inclusion.