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Fair vs Equal- How Can Children Learn The Difference Between The 2 Words?

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Fairness and equality are important concepts in the modern world and mark an important shift from the past, where social status and rank were firmly established in society. It must be said that these determinants of the quality of life led by an individual in society are still very well present in the modern world.

However, more and more people are coming to realize that such inequalities and differences should not exist in the first place. Education and awareness play a big role in identifying injustices and inequalities in our world.

What Is Fair vs Equal?

We often learn about equality as a concept in our childhood, and it continues to shape our worldview and attitudes as we grow older and become socially independent. Equality and fairness are concepts that carry weight beyond their literal meanings.

These words have important meanings in shaping individual behaviours in different people towards their fellow humans. They have a great value attached to them, and as we use these words, we understand the subtle differences between what fair vs equal means.

Photo by Malu Laker, Unsplash.

However, as children, when we first encounter these ideas in the classroom or outside of it, we do not necessarily understand their full implications. Learning in all children develops as they observe the world around them, and indeed the perceptions of fairness and equality are shaped in this manner. But to tackle the question of fair vs equal, it is important that we first define what they mean.

What Does ‘Fairness’ and ‘Equality’ mean?

1. Fairness

Fairness is a concept related to just treatment towards people, things, and so much more. To treat someone fairly means to treat someone in the right manner. Fairness is said to be lacking when one is treated in a way that discriminates against them differently between two or more individuals.

As a small child, it is not always easy to recognize the difference between fair and not. The ability to discern between the two comes with greater experience and age. However, as children enter school and see more social interactions in general, this helps us develop our sense of what we deem as ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’.

As an adult, these ideas become quite ingrained in our way of thinking, and we can judge situations and our potential actions and decide on the course of action to take. To an adult, fair means just treatment based on individual context since they already have a strong sense of empathy in most cases.

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2. Equality

Equality in its bare essence means uniformity in value. It is simpler to grasp than fairness for small children since it does not involve empathizing or contextualizing. Equality means everyone is the same, no one is different, and everyone has to be treated in the same regard as the equal sign tells us in school.

As adults, we soon realise that equality often means a quantitative measure rather than a qualitative one. We are aware that uniform and equal treatment being meted out to everyone is not right. Each individual is unique in their contexts and cannot be measured quantitatively by the same yardstick. We realize that absolute equality is not always the right thing, and the contexts in which different people experience inequality are important to address the latter.

Thus, even as adults know the importance of discussing what fair vs equal means to them, How can one then teach students the meaning of fair vs equal?

How to Teach Students The Difference between Fair vs Equal?

It is immensely important for children to learn the subtle difference between the meanings and implications of’ fair’ and ‘equal’. Young children learn a lot at school and in their classroom, particularly from observing their teacher. They know about ideas like justice, about what can be considered positive and negative. They learn from experiences with their peers, form friendships all within the classroom.

As discussed above, fair and equal mean different things to children than adults, and childhood is a fundamental phase of life and greatly impacts our thinking and behaviour.

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How can one then help students learn about what the word equal means or what fair means? How can one help them recognise the differences between fair vs equal?

SEL or social-emotional learning involves teaching students about fair vs equal and others in their education. SEL integration in lesson plans offers students the chance to learn about values and behaviours, which is important in developing students’ characters. Several different teaching methods can be used, but children must be in a classroom to compare themselves to others. Such comparisons between young students will also help them realize the need to empathize.

Students should be told by their teachers to each think of a different illness or injury. Then the teacher should select a few different students and ask them to read out their ailments to the whole classroom. When this is done, the teacher should proceed to ‘treat’ each student equally by giving them all a band-aid and asking the other students in the classroom if this can be called fair treatment.

Students will realize that fairness is not always equal, that equal treatment is not always right, and that fair vs equal are distinct both in meaning and application.

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Another interesting thing that teachers can do to emphasize the importance of recognizing the difference between fair and equal involves asking for two students to volunteer, each of different heights; the more variation, the better.

The teacher should then ask each student to reach an item at a significant size; naturally, the taller student will do better than the other. Students in the classroom should be made to think of a method so that both can reach the object. They will most likely suggest a chair or another piece of furniture and can be prompted to consider whether this unequal treatment is fair.

In so far as awareness goes, these exercises will help teach the student group about equity. Equity as an ideal is more about being fair than equal since it discusses the specific context within which something can be said as fair. Thus teachers can also explain the differences between fair vs equal much more easily to the class.

Understanding Fair vs Equal In How We Treat Others

What Is Equal But Not Fair?

As understood by a young student, being equal is quite akin to the mathematical idea signified by the equal sign. In daily life, this is often understood as an absolute similarity. The distinction between fair vs equal is not easily discernible to a child. But fairness is more than this- it is about equal opportunities.

+It is not hard to see that one student is different from the other, but this also prompts a wider discussion about how one student can be treated the same as another in the name of being equal. Such a discussion nicely leads to the importance of equal opportunities and the necessary context, both within and outside the realm of education.

In the example of the two students with different heights, the taller and shorter child is not at a fair starting point. To be fair to the shorter child, it is important that the playing field be levelled. Levelling the playing field is vital to create equal opportunity by understanding fairness and what being ‘fair’ implies to different individuals. A classroom is an important place for exploring such ideas, which impacts education in the long run.

In this case, to treat students fairly, absolute equality is to be set aside. True equality of opportunity is established when both the taller and shorter students are on the same level. Now, both have an equal opportunity to reach the object that the teacher asked for. This is an important lesson for students, and they will use it as they grow older and start to use these ideas beyond the classrooms. The ability to discern between fair vs equal is thus an important life skill to possess.

What Is Fair But Not Equal Treatment?

Fairness requires recognizing individual needs and the circumstances which create basic and visible gaps in opportunity. Equity overall is important in the pursuit of fairness. Students, as they grow older, will naturally realize that fairness is not always equal. Being unique individuals, no two people can be treated the same way unless they are on a level plane. Fair treatment, therefore, is not necessarily always equal.

Fairness is not always equal, and it does not have to be. It is more about contextualizing needs before meeting them, and this is not always equal but is based more on equitability. It is about treating needs first and establishing equity through taking care of the difference in needs, which vary from person to person.

Fairness ensues when more support is given to an individual who needs it rather than providing the same amount of support regardless of needs. This, when one takes a moment to think about it, is true equality. Equality comes after fair treatment, not before it, and is also qualitative rather than always being quantitative.

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But what is more important in the bigger picture outside the classrooms is that students will learn to apply these ideas and use them and value fairness throughout their lives. It will work towards inculcating a strong sense of empathy in students as they go through school to college, and so on. They will learn the meaning of fairness and be able to explain it to others.

Treating human beings fairly and equally is important, and societal and systemic inequalities persist in modern societies and nations worldwide. This inequality has to be properly addressed, contextualized, and then diminished. Equity comes into play at an earlier level, where the needs of different groups and individuals have to be properly identified. Though legal measures exist to ensure equality, they are more quantitative than qualitative and often overlook the individual needs of different people and social groups.

Historically, not everyone begins at an equal point. Be it in terms of their class, education, healthcare, financial stability or disabilities, inequalities persist. Such inequalities, which work against a child even before they begin their life in the world due to the specific condition within which they are born, are decidedly understood as not being fair. Equity, therefore, is very important to work towards establishing the ideal of being equal in a more holistic sense. For understanding equity, one has first to make an effort to understand the issue of fair vs equal.

What are your thoughts about the issues and ideas discussed in this article? Feel free to comment down below. Here is a link to another article looking at similar ideas.

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