November 14, 2020

What Is the Difference Between Equity and Equality?

GoGuardian Team
An illustration of a scale holding two small balls and one large ball

Digital equity, digital equality, digital inclusion, the digital divide: these terms are all of vital importance in today’s schools and classrooms. But not everyone understands the difference between equity and equality. Many use these terms interchangeably, but there are actually significant differences that are worth noting. Read on to learn more.

What Is Digital Equality?

Digital equality is probably the more common of these terms. In essence, it means everyone gets the same. So if you hand out the same model of tech device to each student in your class, that’s digital equality.

What Is Digital Equity?

Digital equity means everyone gets what they need to bring them to the same end result. So if you only give devices to those students who don’t already have them, you’re aiming for digital equity.

Why Does It Matter?

Johnny’s parents work in tech. They always seem to have the latest gadgets around the house. The family mobile plan includes unlimited data, and their home internet is the highest speed available with WiFi access all over the house and yard. When Johnny has trouble understanding how to use a device, his parents can show him how it works and give him some advanced pointers too.

Meanwhile, Bobby comes from a single-parent household where it’s difficult to put food on the table, much less afford the latest devices. His parent doesn’t use computers or mobile devices and doesn’t really understand them. When he needs to use a computer, Bobby goes to the local library. His phone doesn’t have a data plan, and he only accesses the internet when he can log on to WiFii. If he has trouble understanding how to use a device, there is nobody to explain it to him. He has to figure it out himself.

In digital equality, both Johnny and Bobby are given a Chromebook on the first day of class. While they’re in the classroom, they are equal, but at home, Johnny uses his more advanced devices instead, while Bobby can’t access the internet at all.

In digital equity, on the other hand, Johnny is not given a device at all, but rather brings one from home to use in the classroom. He’s happier with this arrangement because he likes his own devices better than the ones available at school. Bobby is given a Chromebook that has unlimited access to data through the school’s mobile data account. He gets support when he runs into trouble by contacting school-sponsored tech support for help.

The truth is, most schools can’t afford to provide every student with equal access to technology. And they don’t really need to because the Johnnys of the community are doing just fine on their own. Far more effective use of school technology budgets would only provide devices to those students who actually need them, along with the internet service needed to make use of these devices from home. It would also provide tech support for students whose parents aren’t available or digitally aware enough to help them make use of these resources.

How Schools Can Promote Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion refers to steps taken to promote digital equity or digital equality. In order to ensure that all students have the tools they need for an effective education in today’s increasingly digital world, digital inclusion is vital. But most schools don’t effectively address the access problems that their students face.

There are three areas that must be addressed for proper digital inclusion:

  1. Devices
  2. Internet Access
  3. Tech Support

Most schools are at least attempting to deal with the first item on that list: devices. They hand out technology to each student at the beginning of the school year, and that’s as far as it goes. But as in the example students above, handing a device to a child does nothing to solve the greater problems of access and support. Schools may also forget that not all teachers are digital natives, and they may need further training in order to be able to support their students in the classroom.

There are a number of ways schools can help. Some are offering students free WiFi hotspots to allow internet access at home. Others partner with broadband companies to provide free or low-cost mobile data plans. Free technology classes for parents and the general public also go far, along with public access computers or low-cost options for computer purchases.

It’s rare to find a community where digital inclusion is being practiced perfectly. In some cases, we’re still a long way off. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working toward equity in our communities.

At GoGuardian, we’re passionate about digital learning and digital inclusion. Learn more about the ways we’re promoting safer technology use and better learning opportunities in schools.