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  • Writer's pictureRon Budd

'Means Equality' Verses 'Means Inequality' and Their 21st Century Literacy Implications

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

As I prepared this blog, I found myself unintentionally delving into the deeper issues surrounding access and availability in the context of 21st-century literacy. These reflections can be distilled into two fundamental concepts: "means equality" and "means inequality." Let me elaborate on the first term.


Means equality is essentially a state in which a resource or object is universally accessible, and all individuals desiring to use it have equal access, reaping the same rewards and benefits based on their individual contributions toward its intended use. This state can manifest in two forms, as exemplified by the following scenarios. In the first form, there can be a single object used by all, such as a multifunctional gym station used by members of a private health club. In the second form, there can be multiple objects of the same kind and function, as seen with a group of smartphones in the pockets of lower secondary students.

Now, who bears the responsibility for ensuring means equality? A more pertinent question may be whether it's the responsibility of society at large. In response to the first question, I contend that parents hold this responsibility. If a child lacks parents, then it falls upon the state or any private institution responsible for the child's care. Regarding the second question, on an individual level, the answer is no. However, if a government, acting in accordance with the will of its citizens, chooses to allocate resources to achieve means equality, that is within its rights. Furthermore, if a private institution or concerned individuals wish to pursue means equality through allocated donations, this is also an acceptable approach.

Another concept that arises when considering the previous statements is the antithesis of means equality, which is means inequality. Means inequality is the state in which a resource or object is scarce, leading to disparities in individuals' access to it, subsequently affecting their opportunities for input and, ultimately, their ability to utilize the object as intended. This inequality exists to varying degrees. For instance, consider a scenario where one person owns a private jet, granting them the means to travel to the next city much faster than someone without such a resource. This exemplifies means inequality, as the individual without the private jet lacks the means to reach their destination as swiftly as the one with the airplane. Means inequality cannot be entirely eliminated, and it even exists to some extent in nature. We observe means inequality in human abilities, such as the reach of a shorter person compared to a taller individual. This natural difference in abilities cannot be entirely eliminated.

Understanding these principles is crucial, especially when crafting and implementing public policies, particularly government policies. I argue that the government can offer opportunities but cannot entirely provide means equality. Attempting to do so would prove ineffective.

All of these considerations lead us to acknowledge that some students will have greater access to the essential tools for 21st-century literacy than others. There will always be some form of means inequality in the classroom because achieving a perfect state of means equality is exceedingly challenging, if not impossible. However, what teachers should strive to establish in their classrooms is an ongoing pursuit of means equality, driven by their instruction and dependent on students' personal drive, ambition, and effort. Moreover, if a student exhibits these traits, achieving means equality concerning access to 21st-century tools can be made possible through the enthusiastic efforts of a dedicated and resourceful teacher who is committed to providing the necessary resources (even from their own pocket) to enhance students' opportunities for success.

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