Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 415–424 | Cite as

What is Equity in Education? Reflections from the Capability Approach

  • Elaine Unterhalter


While there is a substantial conceptual literature on equality in education, there has been little clarificatory discussion on the term equity, despite its frequent use in policy and planning documents. The article draws out some different ways in which equity can be understood in education. It distinguishes three forms of equity, looking at the social context when major shifts in the meaning of the term took place in English—the fourteenth century, the sixteenth century and the eighteenth century. Terming these equity from below, equity from above, and equity from the middle, the analysis highlights how each helps clarify aspects of the concern with diversity within the capability approach. The conclusion drawn is that all three forms of equity need to be placed in articulation to expand capabilities in education.


Equality Capability approach Equity Institutions South Africa Kenya 



This article develops an argument first presented in a keynote address to the conference Systemic Interventions in School Transformation: Comparative experiences, best practices, future perspectives, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Conference Centre, Port Elizabeth, June 2007. I am grateful to the conference organisers who invited me to think about these issues and to all who made comments on the lecture and the subsequent seminar paper delivered to the Philosophy of Education seminar series at the Institute of Education, University of London in May 2008. The analysis has benefited considerably from suggestions from the journal referees and Geoff Hinchliffe in preparing the work for publication. Thanks to Joe Crawford, Sophia Crawford and Helen Poulsen for research assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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