Equity in Learning

1. Now Climb The Tree

This cartoon shows a variety of animals of different sizes, weights, and capabilities in a row. The proctor at the front then states that, to be fair, they will all be asked to take the same exam. “Now climb that tree.” The reason it’s so funny is because many of us have felt that way at one point or another (or maybe not, maybe some of us are the monkey). How can so many students feel that way?

The education system may benefit from this model and find the strengths in their students by utilizing different assessments of intelligence and knowledge. Therefore, to relate it to our cartoon, beyond a climbing test, there may be a swimming test, an eating contest, a footrace, etc. Alex may not be good at standardized tests, but he’s an amazing artist and can think abstractly. Abu has low test scores, but is able to form cohesive and convincing arguments. Muthu is struggling to stay awake in class, but he has a strong work ethic and is great with hands-on, practical application. Each of these students has a different intelligence that may go overlooked, depending on who’s looking.

2. Equity and equality

Equality denotes how people are treated, such as providing students an equal amount of respect or an equal amount of instruction. But equity, on the other hand, is about giving each students the tools he or she specifically needs to thrive.

Some students need additional individual attention from educators in order to fully understand a concept, and even more broadly, many students have different learning styles. Some students prefer learning by voice (audio) while others are more visual learners. Others are tactile learners, preferring a hands-on approach.

For example, we can look at a case of two five-year old children. One student had access to books before kindergarten and another didn’t. Since the former student received a head start in his reading comprehension and vocabulary from his or her parents before entering traditional education, the latter student will likely be starting from behind when he or she enrolls.

3. The impact of Covid-19

Now, the coronavirus forces millions of students online, but not all may benefit.  The vast majority of households with children have broadband internet, but there are still big disparities by income, race and the education level of parents. Low-income families are more likely to rely on smartphones for internet access, and children in those households may not be able to use more sophisticated learning software that requires a tablet or computer.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey, 48 per cent of students in Malaysia do not have access to computers at home for educational purposes and 23 per cent or 1.3 million students do not have internet access.

Meanwhile, our nearest neighbouring country, Singapore, they have provided about 3,300 devices such as tablets and laptops and more than 200 dongles for internet access to students who require them for home-based learning.

As education systems cope with this crisis, they must also be thinking of how they can recover stronger, with a renewed sense of responsibility of all actors and with a better understanding and sense of urgency of the need to close the gap in opportunities and assuring that all children have the same chances for a quality education.

Wong Kin Tung
Chief Executive & Principal,
Imperial International School, Ipoh Campus