This essay will discuss how and to what extent a student’s race and ethnicity consequently shape their educational experience. Race and ethnicity continue to be a major factor in shaping a student’s educational experience at all levels. These include academic achievement, social interactions, and curriculum development. Various research has been conducted and has examined how minority ethnic groups continue to experience disadvantages in the education system due to racism, consequently shaping their educational experience negatively. However, it is also important to recognise that despite that many minority ethnic groups experience a negative educational experience, it is not always the case that individuals will respond negatively. Therefore, this essay will examine how a student’s race and ethnicity undeniably shape their educational experience.
A great deal of research has been conducted in examining the educational experience amongst minority ethnic groups. The majority of the research suggests that ethnic minority groups experience disadvantages in the educational system, raising a concern about the educational experience of ethnic minorities such as African Caribbean children. The Government has also sponsored their own investigations expressing their concerns about the difference in educational attainment between ethnic groups. For example, the Swann Report published in 1985.
The report provided a sophisticated conclusion and recommendations on changing the behaviour and attitudes towards Caribbean students. The report examined that multicultural education enabled all ethnic groups to be able to participate fully in the educational system. The Swann Report goes on to argue that a new approach known as ‘Education for All’ (Swann 1985: 317) is needed as it demanded those in the educational profession held a responsibility in ensuring that every child is receiving the correct and same learning. Therefore, the Swann Report suggests that the Government was concerned in preparing all pupils for life in a society which is multiracial and culturally diverse.
Although, The Swann Report highlighted important differences in the attainment of ethnic minority groups. For example, less than 25% of African Caribbean students acquire five GCSEs at Grade A*- C. They are also more likely to have GCSEs at grades lower than C or no GCSEs at all (Pathak 2000: 5). Such statistics highlight that African Caribbean children are at greater risk of underachievement. Despite, The Swann Report identifying the importance of ensuring that every ethnic group achieved well, it also withheld some criticism. It saw multiculturalism education as a way of enabling all ethnic groups to participate, but this form of multiculturalism has its limits. Linguistic diversity was acknowledged as a positive asset, whereas forms of bilingual education were rejected. For example, ‘minority languages should be restricted to the home and strictly to the ethnic minority community’ (Modood 2001: 307). In theory, The Swann Report aimed to provide ‘Education for all’, but dismissed the whole idea of incorporating different race into the educational system. As a result, ignoring differences such as language and cultural identity created barriers between ethnic minority students and teachers making students experience a poor educational experience.
Also, treating all students the same such as African Caribbean can be extremely hard, as suggested by Fanon (1952: 17), ‘lumping all Black people deprives them of all individuality of expression, puts them under obligation of matching the idea that people have of them’. This suggests that ethnic minorities are all grouped into one category, rather than schools not accepting their cultural differences. As a result, cultural barriers arise causing a negative impact on ethnic minorities educational experiences as they feel culturally excluded and unable to fully integrate.
There are clear patterns in relation to those who are likely to achieve in education. Studies show in the UK; Chinese and Indian children achieve results significantly above the national average whilst African Caribbean children underachieve. There are a number of reasons for these patterns, some of which are based on factors that occur within schools. One of these factors is institutional racism, the intentional and unintentional discrimination that takes place within schools. Ethnocentric is an example of institutional racism, as it refers to an attitude or policy that priorities that culture of one particular ethnic group while disregarding or downgrading another. An example of ethnocentric is the curriculum which is taught in British schools.
Troyna and Williams (1986), argues that the curriculum in British schools is ethnocentric because it ‘gives priority to the white culture and the English language’ (Troyna and Williams 1986: 53). This can be supported by the reforms made to the 2014 GCSE English syllabus that ‘axed foreign authors from their courses’ (Independent 2014). Key texts such as the autobiography of Maya Aneglou a civil rights campaigner is no longer apart of the GCSE English literature course and has fundamentally been replaced by books from British authors. This decision was criticised greatly as it reflected a culture which at worst, discriminates against different cultures and, at best, does not value the contribution of key figures of ethnic minority decent. As supported, Kerr et al. (2002) found that British students have less positive attitudes towards immigrants, resulting in poor peer-group interaction between ethnic students and other groups, having an impact on their educational experience.
Therefore, an ethnocentric curriculum affects the experience of education for ethnic minority groups. This is because the cultural norms, histories and general culture are not celebrated in the national curriculum, as evident with the reforms made in Government education policy. Also, McCarthy summarises a neo-Marxist position by arguing how racism is an ideology as it ‘fulfils capitalism’s economic requirements for superexploitation and the creation of a vast reserve army of labour (1988: 271). This suggests that schools legitimise racial differences in society and continues to reproduce subordinate subjects who are forced into the secondary labour market. As a result, ethnic minorities underachieve and experience a negative experience as they are unable to escape the institutional racism enforced in education. Undeniably, ethnic minorities develop an ‘inferiority complex and a low self-image’ (Coard 1971) thus shaping a poor and negative educational experience. However, Sharp and Green (1975) offer a different interpretation, and explain how teachers are ‘under immense pressure to comply with things like the national curriculum and cannot be blamed for the underachievement of ethnic minorities’.
Furthermore, there has long been a concern that curriculum in British schools only reflects the cultural norms of the country concerned. Concerns have been identified by the Government through their investigations and creation of The Rampton Report 1981. The Rampton Report was developed in response to investigating the conditions of African Caribbean Children. The report provided significant research in examining how racism is a key factor in the low levels of academic achievement amongst African Caribbean students. A key finding of the report was the teacher’s low expectations of ethnic minorities undeniably created a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst ethnic minority students. Teachers often directed African Caribbean students into the direction of ‘sport and dance, and encouraged pupils to pursue these subjects at the expense of their academic studies’ (Rampton 1985: 12).
As supported by Laura L. Summers (2012), there was a tendency for teachers to believe black pupils are more likely to succeed in sports or social activities rather than academic work. This belief stemmed from ‘media coverage of other black men succeeding in sports’, (Summers 2012:67) creating a general assumption that every African Caribbean child could only succeed in social activities rather than academically. As a result, of such prejudices facing African Caribbean students making it extremely hard for these students to achieve academically, due to the fact students are unable to progress through academically.
There have been dominant discourses around race and educational achievement and a suggestion that ethnic minorities such as African Caribbean and Bangladeshis continue to underachieve. However, this is not always the case and despite the negative experiences faced by ethnic minorities some do go on to achieve greatness. As supported by Demie and Mclean (2007) in their case study of raising the attainment of African heritage students, the study showed that ‘79% of Black Caribbean children achieved above the national average’ (Demie and Mclean 2007: 419). This was because teachers shared high expectations of all students which had a positive effect on the student’s educationally achievement. This is due to a student responding to a teacher’s high expectations by becoming more interested in schoolwork and working harder, all of which contributes to a better academic performance. With more support from teachers, it allows for a variety of learning opportunities and constructive feedback for students.
Also, studies viewed how higher expectancy has a positive effect on the academic achievement of students, accounting for ‘roughly 5% to 10% of student’s performance’ (Brophy 1983:75). This is due to student’s feeling more comfortable with the classroom environment and having a better relationship with the teacher, as student’s start to feel more comfortable with interacting with teachers, allowing progression for both the student and teacher.
Therefore, teacher’s positive expectations for students allows for a change in the way in which the student views their academic abilities allowing for an improvement in performance. Such case studies highlight that a student’s ethnicity does not always shape their educational experience as teachers view their student’s as individual and place higher expectations. Good interaction between teacher and student reinforces communication between school and home, fundamentally allowing for ethnic minorities to achieve greatly.
A student’s ethnicity does fundamentally shape their educational experience as they face barriers within the educational system such as racism which consequently leads to a negative experience. However, some researchers have been more interested in studying the behaviour and attitudes of students rather than of their teachers. Such research sees students as active rather than the passive recipients of teachers’ behaviours, and start to resist the culture of the school to achieve greatly.
Studies such as Mac an Ghaill (1988), conducted an ethnographic study of 25 African and Asian students, a key finding of the study was that the students often disagreed the extent of racism in education, but that the beliefs did not determine their educational experience. Mac an Ghaill emphasised resistance to the culture of the school through the development of a distinct sub-culture. The sub-culture did not stand to represent ideas of anti-education but represented leads of anti-institution. All ethnic minorities wanted to succeed academically and did not accept the culture enforced in the educational system. As a result, the subculture became a way of dealing with educational demands whilst maintaining links with other ethnic minority students who are also a part of the anti-school subculture. Therefore, the subcultures show how ethnic minorities respond to the labels and racism faced within a school by resisting the culture of school. Instead of accepting negative stereotypes they channelled their anger into the pursuit of educational success and no longer seek teacher approval. As a result, ethnic minorities use the subculture as a way of dealing with educational demands whilst maintaining links with other ethnic minority students facing similar problems. With the help of the subculture, the students are able to achieve greatly even when negatively labelled.
Many of the reports and case studies have examined how a student’s ethnicity plays an undeniable impact on how the student’s experience is shaped and how plays a role in their underachievement. Although the majority of the Government reports have often examined why ethnic minority students underachieve, this has changed in later Government reports. In 2014, the Government expressed concerns about the underachievement in Education by White working class children. The report ‘Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children’, highlights how White children ‘are consistently the lowest performing group in the country’ (Education Select Committee 2014: 3). As supported by the attainment figures in 2013/14 shows how 23.8% of white British boys achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs grades including English and mathematics. The White British groups remain 32.7% points below the national average, whereas in contrast, 76.4% of Asian children achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs including English and Mathematics, which is 19.8% points above the national average (Department for Education 2015: 11). Such statistics indicate that it is no longer ethnic minorities underachieving but the White working class.
The focus on the persistence’s of race inequalities of achievement is ‘a locked in phenomenon’ as explained by Gillborn (2008: 68). Gillborn discusses how the media tended to portray ‘white boys as being left behind by the education system’ (Gillborn 2008:56). It cannot be ignored that media plays a key factor creating perceptions of certain groups, and media exerts an overwhelmingly negative effect on audiences. For example, media offer a distorted representation of the lives of black males. As a result, media consumption negatively affects the public’s attitudes that relate to black males. Much of the stories portraying of Black people were ‘four times more likely to include mug shots than stories about Whites accused of crimes’ (Entman & Rojecki 2010: 82).
Thus, media coverage of ethnic minorities plays a key factor in often creating negative perceptions of such groups. Although the media focuses on mostly the underachievement of African Caribbean children this is no longer the case, as media coverage now focuses on the underachievement of White children. Government concerns no longer try to tackle ethnic minorities but more focus on the educational experience of White children and support that could be beneficial to them. Therefore, suggesting that it is becoming a phenomenon amongst White children to underachieve and experience a more negative experience similar to ethnic minorities.
To conclude, this essay has examined how a student’s ethnicity fundamentally plays a key factor in shaping their educational experience. With factors such as racism and ethnocentric curriculum, it makes it extremely hard for ethnic minorities to feel culturally accepted. As a result, the negative experience is experienced by all ethnic minorities having serve consequences on their academic achievement. However, it is important to acknowledge that negative experiences are not always constant in contemporary society, as figures now highlight that ethnic minority have overcome their negative experiences and gone on to achieve greatly. It cannot be ignored that a student’s ethnicity plays a key role in shaping their educational experience but the outcome is not always negative.