Earlier this week I participated in a workshop in which the focus was the social inequalities within education. This, however, was not revealed until the end of the session, after the activity had finished. It highlighted the importance of creating equity across the classroom, not necessarily equality.
As we were split into 5 groups and handed an envelope per group and told to use the materials to make something that would make a new student’s life easier. The contents of the envelope quickly filled my group with disappointment. Inside we had one pencil, one sticky note, a small bit of blue tack, an elastic band, and three paper clips. Looking around the room, we instantly noticed that every other group had progressively more supplies than us. So much so, that the first table had too many supplies, that they lay untouched for the task.
Overcoming our initial anger at what we had to work with, we began to come up with some ideas of what would help a new student. Maps of the inside of each building on campus? Detailed lists of shops and leisure centres near the university? A guide to life at university? When we eventually settled on a booklet showing a list and map of the nearest shops, activities, travel and food places in Dundee, we began to make our product.
Having no paper to base the booklet, the envelope became our best and only option. As we began to work on the task, our lecturer came over to question what we were making. As she went to the first few groups, they received praise for all their ideas and felt appreciated for their work. After explaining our idea, we were met by looks of disdain and disgust, with questions like “Is that really all you are doing?” and “That doesn’t look anything like a map or a booklet”. Immediately, the group seemed to sombre, but having no other ideas, or any more supplies, we decided to continue.
When it came time to present our work, the first group showed off their work, receiving a loud applause from the class, and lecturer. Slowly the applause began to die down, until, at group 5, we were left with no applause and the lecturer saying, “that doesn’t even deserve a clap”. Then, as she marked each group out of 10, it was obvious what our result would be. 1/10. Not only did everyone in the group feel humiliated, but extremely hurt and angry at the fact that those with more materials received higher marks, even when some of their ideas were not particularly better!
Eventually, we were told that, in fact, there was a point to the entire workshop. We were asked how we felt, compared to how group one (who had the most materials) felt. If we noticed the difference of supplies from one group to another? And did we feel like it was a fair task? The groups with the most did not notice the last groups struggle due to lack of materials to work with, too consumed by what they had. However, those with less noticed almost straight away the vast amount off materials that they were not given. From the beginning, it felt like we were fighting a loosing battle, already at a disadvantage.
The workshop highlighted how children coming from poorer backgrounds had to work harder, with less materials, than those more fortunate, but were still expected to meet the same standards. When those standards were not met, we were made to feel inferior and useless compared to the ‘higher’ groups in the room. Equality, in this workshop, would have given a fair starting point for every group, allowing each the same opportunities as the other. However, once understanding this, we also realised that, in many cases, equity was a lot more important than equality.
This workshop, and everything we learned from it, correlates directly to the General Teaching Council’s (GTCS) Social Justice page about equality and equity. This has allowed us to not only understand the reasons why equality and equity are important, but also allowed us to feel how the lack of equality effected our work. This stands us in great stead for our further learning, and also moving on into our career.