Equality and Diversity in Learning

By Zafar Iqbal

 Teachers in contemporary classrooms are expected to educate students from varying backgrounds such as culture, language, abilities and other characteristics (Gollnick and Chinn, 2002). Addressing diversified needs of learners is a key element of modern education theory (LESIS, 2009, Warmington and Macintosh, 2003, Gravels and Simpson, 2012); however, there is an ongoing debate over concepts of equality and diversity.

Equality

Generally, educators link equality with equal opportunities, equity or equitable assessment.  Mandler and Curvin (1988) introduced an equality philosophy which emphasises that treating everyone in a classroom in a same manner is unfair as students have different learning goals and choices, diverse needs, different causes for challenging behaviour and different motivations for the causes. Consequently, in a differentiated learning environment, the educators should meet diverse needs of the learners to deliver equality (Wormeli, 2006).

Gravels and Simpson (2012) have a concept which looks ‘everyone being different but having same opportunity’. For instance, without an access to textbooks in large print, learners with visual disabilities would not have a full and equal opportunity to learning activity.  It is essential to make reasonable adjustment for such learners on an equal footing with their peers in both learning and assessment (QAA, 2009). An equal opportunity to all learners ensures equity in the assessment which means all learners are treated fairly, instead of inevitably treating them the same (ibid). There is a possibility of difference in learners’ prior knowledge, cognitive styles and cultural experiences due to a difference in race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, belief, age, experience and so on. Such differences might discriminate few of the learners if equality is not considered and promoted in the assessment. Consequently, the equitable assessment methods and procedures ensure that everybody’s needs are NOT met the same (Suskie, 2009).

 Diversity

 Diversity means ‘difference’. It is natural and fundamental phenomena of the world as individuals are different from each other in many characteristics which make them unique from others (Colarusso et al, 2014). The definitions of diversity are diverse as the term itself. For Butcher (2014) diversity is about all of the ways in which people are different. The differences among people include appearance, disability, ability, health, background, gender, family, friends, sexual orientation, relation, beliefs, and marital status and so on. Diversity gives value and respect to these differences as well as learners’ abilities, circumstances or any other individual characteristics (Guild, 2015).

Enhancing Equality and Diversity in Learning and Assessment

 In educational context,  when the term’ diversity’ is added with equality, it is about a variety of characteristics among the learners  which may advantage or disadvantage  some of  them   (Lumby and  Coleman , 2007 ) if  those diverse individualities are not addressed with distinct response from the educators or teachers.  It is the process of identifying learning differences for in-depth knowledge and understanding of the students. Improving diversity in learning means valuing learners’ differences and addressing their individual needs and situations. Diversity removes those barriers of learners that are related with their uniqueness. It offers equal opportunities where learners can perform their abilities without any disadvantage or discrimination. One of those barriers is learning difficulties or disabilities of the students.

In order to make the assessment accessible for all learners with visual or auditory impairment, the educators can provide the assignment submission guidelines in a recorded podcast. It is difficult to provide tailored made assessments for each learner; however, it is vital that learning assessment tools are accessible and so flexible that they offer equal opportunity to each learner.  Some reasonable adjustments could be made, for instance, providing the information in different formats to meet the needs of diverse learners. Learners with intermediate comprehension and reading skills could be provided with additional time and those with visual impairment could avail the benefit of a magnifier. To cater for needs of a diverse audience, learners could be provided with an additional terminology index about the key words of the assessments. Cultural and language sensitivities should be considered by using inclusive language, by using wide-ranging references, texts, examples, case studies and other learning resources which reflect diverse cultural background of the learners.

 References

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