Skip main navigation

Equality, equity and social justice

Using the right language is important to talk openly about social justice in informal STEM learning.

In this step, we explain two key concepts for thinking about inclusive practice: equity and equality. Both relate to the wider literature on social justice and to considerations of what fairness looks like.

Social justice looks at inclusion and exclusion, and comes from theories of political philosophy. Essentially, thinking about social justice is thinking about different ideas of fairness. Social justice work is often underpinned by a commitment to improving the situations for those who are excluded, minoritised and disadvantaged.

Understanding what terms like equality, equity and social justice mean isn’t always easy or straightforward. It can feel like the ‘right words to use’ change every week and, of course, concepts and terms related to social justice are always political, which means they do change. Sometimes it can feel confusing or quite risky to talk about these kinds of ideas.

In this video, Emily introduces two key concepts.

  • Equality is about treating people in the same way, making sure people get the same opportunities.
  • Equity is about factoring in people’s different needs and assets, understanding that people might need different opportunities and support.

The two images below, drawn by one of the young people we worked with, give a simplified illustration of equality and equity, showing three young people of different heights trying to look over a fence. While this way of representing the ideas of equity and equality is simplistic and, as a result, necessarily limited, we think it is a helpful starting point for understanding the ideas.

In the first image, which represents equality, young people stand on boxes of the same height – they get the same help for looking over the fence, which helps the tall boy on the right see over the fence but does not help the short girl on the left.

Three young people standing on boxes of the same height, trying to look over the fence. Next to them are two adults.

In the second image, which represents equity, young people stand on boxes of different heights. They get different help for looking over the fence, according to their needs. This helps all of them see over the fence.

Three young people standing on boxes of different heights, trying to look over the fence. Next to them are two adults.

We think it’s really important to have the language and understanding of key ideas in order to be able to talk about concerns related to social justice. Being able to talk about social justice is crucial for tackling issues of inequalities in informal STEM learning.

The Equity Compass is also based on the ideas of equality, equity, and social justice.

This article is from the free online

Equity in Informal STEM Learning: Using the Equity Compass

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now