Revealing the Meaning of Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights

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Social justice and equity are connected and installed within educational policies, legislations and explored in various articles and literature. It is impossible to address justice without including social equity. In similar way, it is not possible to talk about social equity without the mention of justice of human rights. In society every citizen regardless of their status is entitled of equal treatment and equal right to use resources. Social justice and human rights is the main topic for the essay. Current situation in Scotland is an example through which this topic is analysed. 

To start with, what can we called 'human rights?' Human rights are called universal rights, each person is entitled regardless of their gender, religion, and race. These are the categories that describe some of the standards of human behavior and are preserved by law. Human rights have been divided into two big categories. These are civil and political rights. Among them are social rights which include economic and cultural rights. Detailed information on the basic human rights given to each person is given below:

  • Right to life

Every person on Earth has the right to live. Every person has the right to be killed by no one and this right is protected by law. However, there are no issues like death penalty, self-defense, abortion, euthanasia, and war. Every person has the right to speak freely and raise the voice of his opinion in the public, although this right has some limitations such as obscenity, disturbances, and rioting.

  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Every country gives its citizens the right to think independently and to build honest beliefs. Every person has the right to obey any religion of his choice and, at any time from time to time, is free to change it according to their free will. Under this right, every person has the right to the fair court's fair hearing, listening within reasonable time, the rights of the lawyer, the right to public hearing and interpretation.

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  • Violation of human rights

Where every person is entitled to human rights, these rights are still often violated. Violation of these rights occurs when the rights of the state are neglected, rejected or misused in the actions taken by the state. United Nations Committee has been set up to investigate human rights abuse. Many national institutes, non-governmental organizations and governments also keep an eye on them to ensure that no person's basic rights are being violated.

The next question is what can we called an 'equity'? Equity is not a new concept to development work. This approach means addressing the specific deprivation of the most marginalized in society. The concept of social equity refers to a state in which all people share the same status in certain aspects. While equity intrinsically perceived as ensuring the human rights of the most deprived, the instrumental view presents equity as an instrument for growth and social cohesion. Equity can have various definitions, but at the core, the concept involves giving everyone in situation the specific tools that they need to be successful. Equity is concerned with fairness and social justice and aims to focus on a concern for people’s needs, instead of providing services that reach the greatest number of people. The equity paradigm promotes investing in the transition of services to people who need them the most. Four contemporary frameworks relating to equity and influencing views are John Rawls’ concept of justice as fairness, Amartya Sen’s capability approach, Charles Tilly’s concept of durable inequalities and the human rights approach to poverty by The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Equity in education means that society should provide everyone the basic work skills of reading, writing and simple arithmetic. Social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background, are not the obstacles to achieving educational potential and all individuals should reach at least basic minimum level of skills (OECD). In education is based on statement that all children are entitled to learn regardless of their skill, abilities or needs and should not be discriminated against. It is emphasised in article 2 and 28 of the UNCRC. Equity in education has two dimensions, the first is fairness. It means making sure that personal and social circumstances are not hindrances to achieving educational potential. The second is inclusion – it ensures a basic minimum standard of education for all. These two dimensions are closely intertwined. Scotland mirrors other developed countries in that children’s educational experiences and outcomes are strongly associated with their social background, and to mitigate these effects, a range of redistributive measures have been adopted. Social equity can be influenced by the changing attitudes existing towards fairness and governmental programs that are aimed at bringing equity.

As with equity, there are different understandings of the nature of social justice. Justice presents a social virtue when referred to the justice of persons. According to Slote a just person is an individual who obtains guidance from a vision of good and reasoning through which he or she becomes ambitious and passionate about hisher vision. In addition to that the way an individual acts either brings justice or injustice. Justice should equally apply to the weak and the poor in the same way it applies to those people of power. John Rawls in Theory of Justice underlines the principal approach to alleviating inequity by targeting the most disadvantaged. The goals of social justice in education include more empathy, more justice, and more equity. At its core social justice is about fair distributions of opportunities and privileges as they apply to individuals within society. While at first social justice centred mostly on wealth and prosperity, now encompasses more areas such as environment, race, gender and education. This links heavily with inclusion, embracing each child and respecting diversity. Scotland as a country has a strong belief in education and creating equal opportunities based on equity, inclusion and social justice. Barriers faced by children and young people in Scotland today include poverty, disability, race, culture, sex, gender and religion. Social justice in education takes two forms. The first is social justice in action and the level of equality within the actual educational system. The second form of social justice in education is how social justice is taught within school system. In social justice framework, curriculum is specifically chosen to broaden student’s worldviews through incorporating different ideas and challenging opinions. Social justice and equity are listed as one of SPR values. Also National Framework for inclusion was designed in conjunction with GTCS and its heavily supportive of social justice and equity.

Concept of social equity and justice has faced challenges in the past years through an increased income inequity. Young people are also aware that poverty should not deter educational ambitions, but they also acknowledge that there are challenges linked with poverty which can hinder ability to focus on education and make learning difficult. Scottish Government is strongly focusing on closing poverty related attainment gap and set a fund – Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) via Scottish Attainment Fund which is designed to reduce child poverty, as stated in Child Poverty Act 2017. People’s position on the social ladder is mostly fixed as a result of inter – generational cycles of poverty. The position an individual is born into hinges primarily on unequal control over value – producing resources. Students from low – economic background are twice likely to be low performers, implying that personal and social circumstances are obstacles to achieving educational potential (OECD). Also schools with higher proportions of disadvantaged students are in greater risk of challenges that can result in low performance (OECD). Disadvantaged parents tend to be less involved in their children schooling for multiple economic and social reasons. Julie Landsman points out in the video White TeacherDiverse Classroom, that teachers too often rush over the significance of community in the lives of students, and in doing so fail to build necessary relationships with students and parents. Human Rights approach to poverty takes a multidimensional view, capturing not just income deprivations but also horizontal inequalities that lead to exclusion of particular groups (OCHCHR). It puts pressure on society to strive to provide services for people that are excluded, to equalize or level the playing field. This requires some targeted actions: investing in early, primary and secondary education for all, addressing learning gaps during school year, ensure balance incentives to make disadvantaged students attracted to learning, access to information and support, establishing funding strategies that should guarantee access to quality education and care (OECD). The Scottish Schools Act 2006 recognises the important part that parents play in their children’s education, where involvement of parents extends beyond Parent Council and Parent forum activities. In Moray schools they are committed to support all children and they are providing various strategies to address barriers to learning that children and young people may have. The Moray Education Staged Intervention Framework offers practitioners a process model through which they can identify and meet the learning needs of children and young people who need additional support of any kind. They successfully incorporated Scottish Government programme Getting It Right for Every Child, promoting partnership between professionals and families to provide the right help at the right time. Local authorities including all statutory and voluntary services are required to work this way. It emphasizes that teacher should know their students, students exercise agency, build relationships, engage in their learning and ultimately co – construct curriculum and educational programmes – all of which are essential to creating educational and school environment for equity, social justice and inclusivity. Theorist Jerome Bruner believed that social and cultural influences during learning are crucial. He advocated that any child could learn at any stage of development provided there are scaffolds and support in place. All children may require additional support at some point throughout school life, and it is educator’s responsibility to provide support and be responsive to children’s needs. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act 2004 was introduced to help bring equity, inclusion and deal with discrimination. Educational staff need to be mindful and work towards implementation of equity and social justice policies. Distinction should be drawn between impairment and disability. Impairment reflects the underlying condition or characteristics impeding on individual’s functioning. Disability on the other hand is a reflection of the way in which a given impairment is experienced in a particular economic, social and cultural environment. If environment was adjusted and barriers removed, essentially through redistributive measures, then people with impairments would not longer be disabled. Disability is only one facet of an individual identity, interacting, with other aspects such as their social class position, gender and age. How are disability and impairment viewed in Scottish schools? Deciding on what type of education to provide disabled children and in what location has been a difficult task. It is evident that voices of disabled children and their parents, and discourse of disability rights have tended to be marginalised. Disabled children conform rather than develop other aspects of their abilities and adapting to the environment to accommodate their needs. Amartyna Sen maintains that each individual is born with unique capabilities based on many factors and is also faced with multi- faced barriers. Sen holds that inborn capabilities or an individual’s capability to reach their full potential are not necessarily met with opportunity which would allow an individual to realise that capability (SEN). The Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act 2004 not only broaden the definition of additional support needs to include a wider range of children, but also placed a duty on local authorities to identify and meet the needs of all children requiring additional support. Have schools become more inclusive of children with impairments? In Scottish schools you can notice a steady increase of children with additional needs spending all their time in the mainstream class, greater emphasis is placed on adjustments to the physical environment. Negative aspects visible at schools are: struggling to modify approaches to teaching and school policies, teachers tolerance for children with behavioural difficulties appears to have decreased. Children might be placed in special provision if their presence in a mainstream class would be detrimental. Parents relation with professionals is based on hostility and there are not sufficient resources for ALS children. Also, it appears to be a danger of being singled out as different and meriting special treatment, since the benefits of any additional resourcing may be outweighed by the weight of stigmatisation. Children with ASL are often treated as unwelcome customers, with professionals having power to categorise them and setting their own rules. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was extended to education in 2001. Scottish legislation placed an obligation on local authorities to produce accessibility strategies to record progress over time in relation to creating more inclusive environment. It is evident though that better articulation between policy discourses and practice is needed. Policy documents seem to be more closely geared towards equal opportunities that equal outcomes.

Scotland has seen a big increase in migration over the last decade – it is multicultural and multi-linguistic society. In Scottish schools’ diversity is embraced but children with English as additional language are often seen as inconvenience, due to lack of bilingual teachers, resources and training. It is not uncommon practice to sent them out, separate those kids from society due to lack of tools and awareness. Practitioners in Moray in order to achieve their Education and Social Care vision, continue to ensure a relentless focus on improving outcomes for all children and young people in Moray. They are committed to getting it right for every child – regardless of background and language. They established and incorporated Moray English as an additional language service to facilitate access to the mainstream curriculum for bilingual pupils and to ensure equality of opportunity within Moray schools. Local schools are working closely with The Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES). They are highly successful in providing educational practitioners and researches with knowledge and tools on matters of racial, cultural and linguistic diversity (CERES). In Moray schools’ children with EAL are supported and included, parents are provided with relevant information and support in their native language.

Another problem of human rights faced by Scottish schools is gender stereotypes. Gender s stereotypes were linked to socialisation process and this subsequently impacted opportunities, subjects’ choices and progression routes for both boys and girls. Implementation of CfE and its four capacities were developed to promote equity and fairness by creating more opportunities for children to build confidence, resilience and values. Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education plan was developed to target areas for improvement and constantly monitor progress in tackling gender inequity. Another resource was also developed – gender equality toolkit for staff – which gives range of equality indicators to ensure Scottish schools promote gender equality. Despite the fact that justice and social equity has improved over the years, and new policies and tools have been developed and incorporated, there still exists certain threats that act as a stumbling block as discussed above.

In conlusion, to achieve equity and to followm basic human rights we must address the ways in which those identities are part of how we learn and who we are as we learn and build on those perspectives as a way to understand each other and making learning relevant. Embracing rather than shy away from unique backgrounds, identities and experiences that individual students bring to the table. We need to be able not to pretend to be colour blind, class blind or gender blind – we need to develop ability to talk about issues of equity and power, treat them as an essential part of learning. In incorporating and addressing social justice and equity we need to model and demonstrate professional values, create learning opportunities for all by removing and addressing barriers. As teachers we should fully embrace differences and develop tone of equity in the classroom. It is our responsibility to be listening for and identify moments of bias, oppression and other subconscious identity-based assumptions and ideas that students bring up in the classroom. Teaching and classroom standards should be early communicated, and classroom environment should be based on openness, fairness and approachability (GTCS). It is beneficial to set the tone for learning and bridge difficult topics from the start. Explain to children view that diversity which is represented in school community can be an opportunity to learn and grow. The literature shows that any organisation that takes issue of equity and social justice successfully, can do so because the leadership is on board. It is vital that school leaders set a supportive school climate and environment for learning. The development for positive teacher – student relationships is a priority. School should promote use of data information systems for school diagnosis to identify struggling students and factors of learning disruptions (OCED). It is beneficial to raise teacher’s quality to help address issues of equity and social justice (GTCS). As teachers we should advocate to provide all students with hope and open opportunities despite challenges they face.

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