Being Equitable Does Not Mean We All Get the Same Thing

I spent December and January travelling through Europe. Being tuned to all things early childhood I made the following observations:

  1. Peppa Pig is annoying in any language.
  2. Noise cancelling headphones on a plane don’t cancel out everything
  3. Nutella crepes do taste better and are better for you, if made in France
  4. The last flight out of London to Germany on a Friday night has more toddlers on board than adults. (Cabin Crew confirmed this)
  5. Harrods toy department provides a toy concierge service for those hard to find Xmas gifts for the discerning Knightsbridge child.
  6. Hearing a toddler on The Tube say “Are we going to Cockfosters?” is funny.

During my travels I saw many examples of how the most advantaged of young children live. Children that have access to high quality nursery schools, food, housing and health care.  Children whose parents have well paid jobs and therefore choices. Children in London off to see the Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet. Children in France ice-skating.

I also saw how some vulnerable, displaced young children live. Children in Germany huddled close to their parents in train stations and parks. I saw families getting ready to bed down at night in doorways and sports ovals as the winter Christmas markets went on around them full of locals and tourists drinking Gluwein and eating pretzels.

Travel can highlight disparity and inequity. When we see how others live it is naturel to benchmark this to our own experiences. I have come home with the belief that while all children should have access to quality care and education experiences, these experiences need to reflect a more equitable response to children’s and families needs rather than a “one size fits all” approach. I have come home and realised that equity and equality are not the same thing.

The problems that Europe is currently experiencing with refugees will not be fixed by access to equitable childcare, but it does highlight to me that at the very least all children have a right to access a quality early childhood education that is equitable. The implications for not providing this are profound.

Equity is giving children and families what they need to experience success, whether that is accessing services or participating in services. Equity does not mean treating everyone equally. In early childhood services we often talk about treating children and families equally, regardless of gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status. Well, here’s the rub, treating everyone the same is inequitable. Equal treatment most often favours the wealthy.

The world is not fair. It is not a level playing field where everyone starts off life with the same opportunities. That is reality. Australia’s early childhood care and education programs further support inequity in the way that they are funded and accessed, and this contributes to ongoing disadvantage. The new proposed activity test currently before Parliament and the continued emphasis on early childhood education and care as a workforce participation issue is pushing us further towards a system that is inequitable at a time in a child’s development when it needs to be equitable the most.

We know that the early years are most sensitive for brain development. We have known this for a long time. We know that quality early childhood education and care experiences are important and for some children are a real game-changer. Ask any family that is accessing or has accessed quality care and they will understand what that means.

The period of time that marks early childhood may well be the only opportunity for young children and their families to access a care and education system that is equitable. A quality care and education system that sets children up with a life long love of learning in a supportive and stimulating environment. There may be no such opportunities for equity in our education system beyond that.

I teach documentation, pedagogy and curriculum to 1st year University students. There are always lots of equity discussions around documentation and curriculum. Who is the dominant voice in curriculum decisions? Who holds the power? I always encourage students to apply the “WIAWID” approach when making decisions about their programs. Who is advantaged? Who is disadvantaged? Some one is always disadvantaged.

We are encouraged as a profession to be advocates for high quality, accessible care and education programs and services. The care and education sector in this country often talks up the notion of a “level playing field” in the provision of early years services and it has become inextricably linked with equity. Not so. The idea of a level playing field in fact needs to be geared towards giving those who have less, more. That is what we, as a profession, should be advocating for.

This is a federal election year so there has never been a better time to place the education of young children front and centre. Early childhood educators are well placed to do this. Time to speak up.

I stumbled across a website recently that is devoted solely to luxury travel with children to some pretty exotic locations. In an article that was discussing the benefits of travelling with children it stated:

“The sooner children cross borders, the sooner they will realise they don’t really exist.”

After returning home from my travels I am pretty sure that there are children in the world who know that borders exist.

Karen Hope

Karen is an early childhood consultant, lecturer and freelance writer who has extensive experience in a broad range of services within the early childhood care and education context. Her consultancy practice and teaching aims to provide teachers and educators with a disruptive approach to working with, and thinking about, children. Challenging taken for granted practices and dominant discourses is a feature of her work.

3 thoughts on “Being Equitable Does Not Mean We All Get the Same Thing”

    Freya Lucas says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Karen. It’s disheartening that we have these problems the world over.

    I can no longer enjoy fireworks, because I find myself constantly thinking about how the places some children sleep every night become the spaces where privileged children and disadvantaged children alike watch money being wasted on something so utterly fleeting and inconsequential.

    Reminds me of the Little Match girl.

    One of the most interesting ways in which I saw the “equality v equity” debate made tangible was in this exercise from Lara David

    Anne Kennedy says:

    Hi Karen
    Well said! Thanks for reminding all of us the gross inequities facing many children, families and communities in Australia and in many other countries.

    Debbie says:

    Thanks Karen for your thoughts,
    As teacher with over thirty years experience I certainly understand your point.
    Within every kinder group we find such a wide diversity of children’s experiences, needs and socio economical backgrounds. Yet educators often use terms like; we need to share, be fair,etc. Life is not fair and we set our children up to fail.
    Often hear comments from other educators and parents around equality especially when dealing with children with high needs. ‘Is it fair on the behaving children that X takes so much of your time’ my answer is how fair is it that he has the family situation he has been dealt’.

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