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Cultural Diversity in the FE Sector + the Impact of Co-identification
Amritpaul Bhullar, a PGCE student from Kirklees College shares one of his critical reflections with us.
This structured reflection will focus on the theme of ‘Social Justice’ as outlined in the ETF Professional Standards relating to ‘Valuing and promoting social and cultural diversity, equality of opportunity and inclusion.’
2013/14 ETF data for England found that the teaching population within the sector doesn’t reflect the profile of the learners or the local population. ‘84% of staff are of “white British” ethnic background, 4.5% are Asian and 3.5% of African/Caribbean descent. This contrasts with 8.2% and 6.4% of learners nationally.’ (Russell, 2015). Further disparities are evident within senior management. This is certainly reflected in my setting.
Educational institutions are by-products and microcosms of society as a whole and therefore have the power to blight the learning experience of BAME students. There is extensive evidence that there are academic and other benefits of ‘co-identification’ where ‘students and teachers that share the same race/ethnicity, the teachers are able to serve as role models, mentors, advocates or cultural translators for students’ (Wei, 2017). Being of Indian descent, within an ethnically diverse FE college, this highlights the importance of carrying myself in a professional manner as I can play a key role in engaging with BAME students. I can draw on my own experiences to address certain issues and create a more inclusive environment, especially in a setting where only a handful of ethnic teachers exist.
‘Evidence suggests that, in comparison with White students, BAME students can often be more reluctant to ask for help from academics and less likely to feel supported in their studies’ (Stevenson, 2012).
This poor sense of belonging can be compounded by aforementioned factors as well as academic/student biases and microaggressions. This all contributes to attainment gaps that exist for BAME students. By building an inclusive atmosphere in my classrooms I can help alleviate this feeling of reluctance. Discussions around race and culture should be embraced within class, and not shut down, this allows students to learn from one another to create a better shared understanding. There are opportunities within the Business Studies curriculum to explore these issues particularly around topic areas such as recruitment and selection and employability laws. Segregation should be avoided; integration can be promoted through group work that encourages mixing of students from different backgrounds and this can further be enhanced through any seating plans that may be implemented. The resultant aim should be to nurture an inclusive environment whereby students of any background feel able to ask for support.
The presence of ethnic teachers also has the ability to influence organisational policies by improving student outcomes and the behaviour of other teachers. (Milner, 2006) describes how Black teachers ‘often advocate for Black students in spaces where others misunderstand their life experiences, worldviews, and realities’. I should use my position to support changes in organisational policies that disadvantage non-dominant groups of students in a way that improves their learning opportunities. Changes could include suggesting to senior leaders to adopt curative justice approaches to eliminate any discriminatory practice or by advocating for a more culturally sensitive curriculum. Being part of the ‘Equality and Diversity’ team at my organisation allows me a platform to be able to raise such issues if needed. The influence can also be passive in terms of altering the beliefs of White teachers’ beliefs about their students’ academic capabilities that may be based on pre-disposed biases.
High teacher efficacy allows teachers the tools to provide a more positive attitude towards sociocultural diversity in the classroom. ‘Moreover, teachers who feel highly efficacious even in instructing students from ethnic minority groups do not neglect cultural differences but notice and use them in their instruction’ (Civitillo, Juang, & Schachner, 2018). With increased experience I can learn to eliminate any unconscious bias’s I may have through increased racial awareness and multicultural beliefs to help reduce prejudices and engage in dialogues about ethnicity in the classroom.
There is no ‘quick fix’ to address and eliminate attainment differentials as every setting has its own challenges. However, as a professional in a position of authority, I should use my influence to be aware of, and incorporate, wider strategies and plans to support continued access to opportunities and success for BAME students. As teachers, we are helping shape the next generation of well-rounded professionals. For that reason, how satisfying would it be through being a role model and ‘co-identification to play a role in encouraging students of BAME heritage to enter the teaching profession?’ (McNamara, 2009)
Civitillo, S., Juang, L., & Schachner, M. (2018). Challenging beliefs about cultural diversity in education: A synthesis and critical review of trainings with pre-service teachers. Educational Research Review, 67-83.
McNamara, O. (2009). The Leadership Aspirations and Careers of Black and Minority Ethnic Teachers. NASUWT and National College for Leadership of Schools and Childrens Services, 32.
Milner, H. R. (2006). The promise of Black teachers’ success with Black students. Educational Foundations, 101.
Russell, D. (2015). Improving equality and diversity in the Further Education and Training system : Support from the Foundation. London: The Education & Training Foundation.
Stevenson, J. (2012). An Exploration of the Link between Minority Ethnic and White Students Degree Attainment and Views of Their Future “Possible Selves”e. Higher Education Studies, 4.
Wei, F. (2017). Cross-cultural teaching apprehension: A co-identity approach to minority teachers. New Directions for Teaching and Learning , 5.