Justice and equality among students, teachers, and school administrators should not be questioned. In Quebec, our schools have been suffering from a teacher shortage “pénurie d’enseignants”, and the recent COVID pandemic only amplified the situation. Is this shortage an accurate representation of a true problem or are some members of our workforce excluded from obtaining teaching positions? It makes me wonder if we give immigrant teachers equal opportunity to access jobs in our schools. In Whom Must We Treat Equally for Educational Opportunity to Be Equal? Christopher Jencks states that we not only define equal opportunity in different ways, but we do not realize how profound these differences are. He presents five common conceptions of equal opportunity, labeling them as democratic equality, moralistic justice, weak humane justice, strong humane justice, and utilitarianism. To help us understand these conceptions, he gives the example of a grade three teacher (Ms. Higgins), who like most teachers believes in equal opportunity but struggles with a fair distribution of her time and attention. Jencks hints that only one conception should be selected, but I found myself selecting elements from more than one thus agreeing more with Lazenby (2016) that “the correct conception might be a compromise between more than one value” (p.70).
The recent COVID pandemic amplified the issue of “pénurie d’enseignants” in Quebec and this may play in favor of our immigrant teachers. Jencks rightly mentions that discussions around equal opportunity raise additional questions, but unlike him, I believe that these questions are necessary. Further questioning allows progress and education is a domain in which progress should always be encouraged. Immigrant teachers have long been set aside in our schools, and COVID may just open some doors to them that should have been opened quite some time ago. Just like Ms. Higgins, school administrators will certainly be struggling with the fair distribution of their resources (teacher training, monetary) and will find it hard to justify amounts allocated to facilitate the integration of immigrant teachers over their “regular” native teachers. Debatably, we can invoke that immigrant teachers may have different training than us and we need to ensure the quality of our educational services to somewhat make this “unequal access” acceptable. Just like we can fairly accept that administrators must carefully distribute school resources among ALL teachers to excuse the lack of support provided to immigrant teachers, but I argue that this uneven access to teaching positions and resources is in part nurtured by fear and should not be justified.
Democratic equality is easy to relate to, the application of this concept would ask Ms. Higgins to give equal time and attention to each of her students. As Jencks notes, school boards do not require that she does so, even considering that constitutionally we all have the right to equal treatment. In the context of an actual classroom or school context, it may become less obvious. School administrators should, in theory, distribute resources equally among their teachers, but would it be wrong if additional help were to be provided to teachers in need of more support? Among the reasons immigrant teachers fail in feeling accomplished is that they do not feel well integrated in their environment (Schmidt, 2010). Allocating help in terms of need reminds me of the difference between equality and equity. While the first offers each person identical support, the second offers only the support they need. In this perspective, the immigrant teacher would have access to greater resources than a “regular” native teacher. Of course, in my opinion, immigrant teachers should not have to integrate our system but rather be included. True inclusion demands that we not only acknowledge differences but welcome them. It would entail the removal of the systemic barrier, which for immigrant teachers are the rules and regulations surrounding the recognition of their credentials.
The moralistic theory of justice as mentioned by Jencks implies that we should reward virtue and punish vice. Virtue, he claims should be defined by effort and not achievement. This view is easily matched with equal opportunity because, as he notes, students all have an equal opportunity to provide effort and if they offer equal effort, they will get equal treatment. If we were to apply this concept to immigrant teachers, it would not only allow them to access teaching positions, but I dare say it would advantage them. It took only a few minutes and a visit to the Quebec site for immigrant-teachers to realize how difficult it is for immigrant teachers to access our school system. Our government only recognizes credentials that come from eleven countries in the world, representing less than 1% of the countries. Even with this recognition, the immigrant teacher must still complete 15 university credits and anywhere from 600 to 900 hours of internship. Teachers that are qualified in countries that are not recognized by our government must completely redo their studies. The effort provided by immigrant teachers is undoubtedly greater than that of a “regular” native teacher.
The humane theory of justice is also easy to relate to, its implication that we deserve equal rights because we are all equally humans is comforting. Jencks added variation to human justice following the spectrum of strong to weak. The strong variant demands equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity and implies that society must offer students an equal chance of meeting the requirements it sets out for them. If we follow this concept, our immigrant teachers with questioned credentials are not given equal opportunity to meet the requirements, therefore they are disadvantaged. The weak variant of humane justice demands that all students have equal lifetime claim on educational resources. With this variant, Ms. Higgins should have to offer extra help to students that have received prior poor schooling. If this were to be applied to immigrant teachers, administrators would have to provide them with more support than a “regular” native teacher, who would then be disadvantaged.
Finally, Jencks explains that the utilitarianism conception aims to level human well-being in the society rather than ensure equal treatment of individuals. I think this concept is one I would keep, especially the notion of “fair contest”. I think that many immigrant teachers are not allowed to participate in a fair contest. Jenks states that fair contest implies that the competition should be open to all, the prize distribution based on performance, and participants should have a reasonable chance of winning. Can we justly say that we offer a fair contest to immigrant teachers? Schmidt (2010) notes that “the process of immigrant integration remains fraught with complexity as exempliﬁed by numerous barriers to credential recognition, inadequate bridging support for workers trained in international contexts, and employment discrimination” (p. 235). How can we justify this intentional discrimination?
When considering equal opportunity, I would not only choose one conception among the five, but more likely a combination of values found in many of them. Jencks rightly states that most of us believe in equal opportunity and that we have different interpretations of it, but unlike him, I believe that discussions surrounding these interpretations are beneficial. Whichever conception one chooses, equal opportunity must be seen positively even if as noted by Riva (2015), “equality of opportunity does not require perfect homogeneity” (p.301). So, if most positively believe in equal opportunity how can we justify the unequal treatment of immigrant teachers? I think that fear feeds this inequality just as it does racism, sexism, homophobia, and many more. I believe it is almost an instinct to fear and reject the unknown. Are we afraid that immigrant teachers take all our jobs? Are school administrators afraid that the over-representation of immigrant teachers in their school diminishes their “value”? Are legislators afraid that immigrant teachers impose their views in our school systems? Fear cannot and should not justify that we do not give every single qualified teacher equal treatment.
 Enseignant à la formation générale des jeunes, à la formation professionnelle et à l'éducation aux adultes
Jencks, Christopher. “Whom Must We Treat Equally for Educational Opportunity to be Equal?” Ethics vol. 98, no. 3, April 1998, pp. 518-533.
Lazenby, H. (2016). What is equality of opportunity in education? Theory and Research in Education, 14(1), 65-76.
Riva, N. (2015). Equal Chances and Equal Options: Two Conceptions of Equality of Opportunity. Ratio Juris, 28(2), 293–306. https://doi.org/10.1111/raju.12083
Schmidt, C. (2010). Systemic discrimination as a barrier for immigrant teachers. Diaspora, indigenous, and minority education, 4(4), 235-252.