From equality of opportunity to equality of treatment as a value-based concern in education

10 January 2008

The article argues that concepts, such as equality and values, are caught up in the quagmire of contestations about meanings and their use within educational contexts. The author argues that all concepts that describe an essential element of being human should therefore firstly be understood in terms of this relation to other concepts, and secondly, within the context of society where each collective part of society imparts its own unique meaning to the concept. In analysing values and equality the author indicates that values are first and foremost personal cognitive and affectively laden constructs that could be shared by the collective, but do not of necessity overlap completely with those of other members of the collective. This raises the questions: whose values should be included in education and how should they be taught? Equality cannot be taken to mean "identical", but at best a tertium comparationis, for equality is "shared humanity". Analysing the three possible outcomes of equality, the author concludes that important as equality of opportunities may be, it may not be sufficient to ensure meaningful social justice if equality of treatment is not planned into the process. Equality of treatment should promote the core human values of respect, compassion, just treatment, fairness, peace, truthfulness, and freedom.