How educational policy and everyday schooling practices and discourses reproduce inequalities around race and ethnicity or Indigeneity
Australia is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial society. The population is generally classified into two major groups; the indigenous and the non-indigenous (Margot, 2013). Indigenous is made up of the aboriginal and the Torres strait Islander communities while non-indigenous is made up of the Europeans, the Indians, and any other community that moved into the country starting the exploration years and continue to even to date. These include refugee and asylum seekers. Unfortunately, there is racial, ethnical and cultural discrimination among these different groups. This essay will discuss various ways through which these vices are propagated through the education system.
First, what is race, ethnic and indigeneity? According to Gulson, (2006) these three concepts share the ideology of ancestry, but they are different. Race is defined as a division of humankind whereby physical appearances are used for categorization. The major physical feature in race is skin color, hair and eye color. Ethnicity on the other hand is defined by Ninetta, (2009) as a category of persons based on their culture. Indigeniety on the other hand is region. According to Gulson, (2006), aboriginal and Torres Strait communities are considered the indigenous communities of Australian because that is where there history refers to as home.
Australian educational system is built on a principal of promoting unitary environment where everyone feels safe, comfortable and is able to achieve their full potential. However, this is not always the case. Many schools have not been able to create this desired environment due to stifling racial disparities, segregating ethnic norms, and intimidating indegeneity attributes (Forrest & Dunn, 2006). Racism in the education system is against mainly indigenous students who are considered “minority and inferior” communities mostly dark-skinned students. For example, as stated by Margot, (2013) aboriginal, indigenous, and some Indian students are considered inferior and minor. They are therefore the majority of the victims of ethnicity, indegeneity, and racial discrimination.
There are several varieties of racism (where the word racism represents all the three forms of segregation discussed here; racism, ethnicity, and indegeneity). According to Margot, (2013) the most common form of segregation in Australian schools is the form known as overt racism. This is a form of racism where schools are developed according to the majority population of their students. For example, as urban schools in Australia are far much better in form of infrastructure compared to rural-Australia school. Note: the majority of the student population in rural school is indigenous while urban schools are mostly the non-indigenous students. In this case, overt racism is within the boundaries of indegeneity and ethnicity. Overt racism is in Australian educational system is the kind, which is determined by increase the segregation level between the groups in question.
The good news with regard to overt racism is that the Australian government, both state and national, is in the forefront to do away with this form of racism. The various state governments have different programs to upgrade rural schools and bring them to the level where students can achieve the best in their education. For example, the Rural Education Australian Program is a program that seeks to nature leadership skills, creativity, positive attribute, etc in Australian rural school (Aveling, 2007). Government initiatives are also involved with developing the infrastructure of rural school.
The second form of segregation in the education system is personal racism. This is the form of segregation propagated by the teacher to students. The victims of this segregation are mainly the “poor”, “slow-learner” or simply indigenous student in the Australian classroom (Forrest & Dunn, 2006b). The majority of teachers in the Australian education system are average whites with European origin. Considering the European originated non-indigenousness considers themselves superior, they end up discriminating upon the native students. The result of this form of segregation is that indigenous students end up not learning.
Actually, as indicated by Youdell, (2003) the reason why most segregated group of students fail is because the teachers are normally ignorant of their needs. Based on research, learning is highly affected by existing knowledge and considering indigenous and non-indigenous have differing setting of life, the western oriented education system does not favor the indigenous students. The majority British originated teachers in the Australian education system and the western oriented education both work towards segregating the indigenous student.
Even though the various stakeholders in the Australian education system have taken tremendous steps to ensure that the indigenous student is learning, it is still very easy to identify some elements of ethnic segregation in the system. For example, one of the very common ‘quotes’ used in the Australian education system is, is the indigenous students is learning, everyone is (Ladson-Billings, 2004). Even though this is said in good faith, a critical analysis of the same reveals it as a very limiting statement. The truth concealed in the statement is, the indigenous student is the qualifying standard in the classroom. What this means is, the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the classroom are the most dumb and if they are learning, then is foes without saying that the non-indigenous has already learnt. Even if indigenousness have low conceptualization ability, it is not right to hold them at ransom for the same.
The other aspect of personal racism in Australian schools is based on the beliefs and values of the western way of life (Gillborn, 2006). In a school, the teachers are normally the role models. Their beliefs and values are considered the best and any variation is considered a “transgression”. Because the majority of these teachers are Europeans, others beliefs and values are segregated upon in the classroom. Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, and Asians are segregated upon in what is considered as the best way. When other beliefs and values are introduced in the school system, it is considered unique and in most cases “uncool” while they are actually different.
The third racial inequality in the education system is institutional (Campbell, 2010). These forms of inequality are in the systems and they operate almost automatically with those in the system not knowing. Institutional ethnical and racial inequalities are in the system and they are considered a critical part in the process. One of these is the curriculum. The Australian curriculum, for the entire education system is originated from the colonial way of life (Achinstein & Athanases, 2005). Being the colonial curriculum, it was designed to favor the colonial system and segregate upon the colonized. Unfortunately, after independence the Australian curriculum has never been redesigned for the benefit of the indigenous systems.
One of the practices in the Australian education system that has served to propagate inequality based on ethnicity and indignity is ability grouping and IQ testing. It is a common thing for anyone wishing to join an institute of high learning in Australia to take an IQ test. Those who approve of IQ and ability to grouping tests argue that there are differences that can be measures through standard tests. It is presumed IQ test is a measure of intellectual difference that is presumed to exist between people. However, as stated by Allard & Santoro, (2006) research has highly doubted these assumptions. The truth is that, what these test do measure is simply environmental and cultural differences among students, two attributes that are associated with ethnicity and culture.
According to Gillborn, (2006) student environment plays a big role in their achievement. The environment from which a child is brought up or a student at any level will have different understanding for issues. A student from rural Australia is very different from urban Australia. By subjecting these two students to the same IQ test will only show how the student understands his or her environment. More specifically, IQ test and ability to grouping test nothing else but the student’s socioeconomic exposure. Therefore, such test are platforms on which inequality based on ethnicity, culture, indegeneity and other social disadvantages is propagated in the education system.
According to Margot, (2013) those students who are categorized as “low achievers” in early grades of the education system end up in lower-ability groups in year 7. In the early years, such student’s maybe a few points below the pass mark, but by the time they are in grade 7, the margin below the pass has grown too wide. What this means is, there is an inequality element in the education system, which promotes children already perceived status. According to statics, the number of those students who manage to move out of the “low achievers” category by the seventh grade is very few. Therefore, the education system or the teachers play a role in bettering good students while at the same time, worsening the “poor” students.
This form of inequality is not specific to any race, ethnic group, and it cannot be pinned down to indegeneity. However, as Nado (2006) reckons, low performance in the many Australian schools is attributed to the indegensous students. These are the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are considered to the slow learners in the system. Therefore, it would not be misleading to make a general statement that; the education system segregates low performance of the indigenous communities to continue performing poorly against the non-indigenous better performers to continue performing well. This is an example of the results of the segregating curriculum that favors the British originating students.
According to Hiferty, (2008) teachers are probably ignorantly, promoting inequality based on race, ethnicity and culture in the classroom. As earlier stated, the teacher is the role model in the school environment, especially dir the primary and secondary education levels. In addition, they are supposed to guide their students towards achieving their potentials and dreams. However, it is no knows that teachers seriously discourage the majority of indigenous students against pursuing science subjects and mathematics in class (Achinstein & Athanases, 2005). Even though research shows that aborigines and Torres strait Islander students are good in mathematics, teachers will a vice these students to drop the subjects and pick arts and humanities. This is however never the case, teachers are simply scared of having to go the extra mile in teaching indigenous students these subjects based on the presumption that, indigenous students are dumb and “slow-learners”.
According to statistics, over 25% of the population living in Sydney and Melbourne along speaks another language other than English at home (Ninetta, 2009). The majority of students in the education system learns and speaks English as a second or third language. However, school still teach and use language as the language of command. Every student in the school environment during school hours is supposed to converse in English. To make the matters whose, there are not more than three native language are taught in the education system. This contrary to the fact that, language forms a very critical part of any culture. Based on this, it is true that in the next 20-30 years, the number of people or can converse fluently in local languages will be very low. In this case, education is contributing to cultural degradation of the native culture in place of the western “good” culture.
In conclusion, the Australian education system is wanting. Because it was set during the colonial times, it still bears the elements that were used by the colonial masters to intimidate local ethnic attributes while reinforcing the British way of life. The primary inequality of the education system is the curriculum. The various forms of ethnical and racial discrimination in the education system include overt discrimination, personal racism, and institutional. Unfortunately, the majority of these are propagated unknowingly or simply based on ignorance.
Achinstein, B., and Athanases, S. Z. (2005). Focusing new teachers on diversity and equity: Towards a knowledge base for entors. Teaching and Teacher Education 21, no. 7: 843–62.
Allard, A. and Santoro, N. (2006). Troubling identities: Teacher education students’ constructions of class and ethnicity. Cambridge Journal of Education 36, no. 1: 115–29.
Aveling, N. (2007). Anti-racism in schools: A question of leadership? Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education. 28 (1), 69-85.
Campbell, C. (2010). Class and Competition in R. Connell, C. Campbell, M. Campbell, M. Vickers, A. Welch, D. Foley, N. Bagnall & D. Hayes (Eds.).Education, Change and Society (2nd ed.) Melbourne: Oxford University Press
Forrest, J. and Dunn, K. (2006b) ‘Core’ culture hegemony and multiculturalism: perceptions of the privileged position of Australians with British backgrounds, Ethnicities, 6, pp. 237–264.
Gillborn, D. (2006). Citizenship education as placebo: ‘standards’, institutional racism and education policy. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 1: 83
Gulson, K. (2006). A white veneer: Education policy, space and ‘race’ in the inner city. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 27(2), 259-274.
Hiferty, F. (2008). Teacher professionalism and cultural diversity: skills, knowledge and values for a changing Australia. The Australian Educational Researcher, 35(3), 53-70.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2004) New directions in multicultural education: Complexities, boundaries, and critical race theory. In J. A. Banks & C. A. M. Banks (eds) Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, 2nd edn, pp. 50–65. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Margot, F (2013): Achievement gaps in Australia: what NAPLAN reveals about education inequality in Australia, Race Ethnicity and Education, 16:1, 80-102
Nado Aveling (2006): ‘Hacking at our very roots’: rearticulating White racial identity within the context of teacher education, Race Ethnicity and Education, 9:3, 261-274
Ninetta, S. (2009): Teaching in culturally diverse contexts: what knowledge about ‘self’ and ‘others’ do teachers need? Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, 35:1, 33-45
Sue, S. & Deborah, Y. (2004): ‘Special sport’ for misfits and losers: educational triage and the constitution of schooled subjectivities, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 8:4, 353-371
Youdell, D. (2003) Identity traps or how black students fail: The interactions between biographical, sub-cultural, and learner identities. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(1), 3–20.