Multicultural Britain?

Today I learnt how to say house in Punjabi; ‘ka’ and corner is ‘kor-na’ (I’msure the linguists can tell me how I should have written those words, or any Punjabi speakers can tell me how I should have spelt them perhaps?

We were spoken at for twenty minutes in Punjabi. It was to give us an idea of what a non-english speaker feels like in a classroom. The second time round we were given visual instructions for the mock lesson on an OHP and the third we got the verbal, the OHT’s and a demonstration. On reflection on the difficulties I had in doing this task (making a paper aeroplane!) I am very glad that I am an art teacher and visual demonstrations are a natural part (or should be!) of my lessons. I can’t imagine being a History teacher and knowing how to cope with a speaker of English as an additional language.

We spent the day looking at statistics and reading OFSTED reports in which some teacher and examiner comments sound so unconciously racist as to make me feel slightly nauseus; as Sock-Man said today ‘you like to think that as art teachers we’re slightly open minded but then you read something like this…’ and I guess we’re reminded that we’re only human and humans really have to work at being nice sometimes. We both tried not to look around when we were having this conversation. Being with a group of such diverse people makes me realise how set in my ways my thought patterns are. I’m twenty one and my thought patterns are so conservative, I can be so very narrow-minded and so can the rest of my class. Is that what we’re going to pass on to the children of tommorrow? Our set and moulded thought patterns? What kind of minds will these children have?

We also read a lot of statistics looking at the abilities of different ethnic minorities as they passed through the British Education System. Pupils with Black and African heritage started off with the best base-line abilities with those of White Extraction a little way below and those of Indian heritage in the middle of the group which included the major ethnic minorities living in Britain today. It made for an interesting graph. Both Black and White upon going to school suffer a large dip in abilities, the Indian line starts to rise as soon as it hits the education system. The Black line continued to go down throughout Keystages 1, 2 and 3 until the end of the graph (GCSE) when the group starting out with the best baseline abilities finished with the lowest. Of course it was the Black line we concentrated on and also how the British Education system is failing (and I’m not going to use the word ‘apparently’ in this sentence) pupils of Black and African descent.

What interested me as well though was that the line on the graph representing White pupils. You see that goes down as well through the initial hit of school, right through Keystages one and two, well it kind of levels off around two. It only starts to go up when pupils reach secondary school, and only then by the shallowest of levels, it never reaches its original standpoint or in other words White pupils tend not to achieve their full potential. The only line that goes consistently up are those of Indian Heritage who ended up at GCSE being where the students of Black and African origin started.

So not only is the British education system failing Black and African pupils, which it can be argued (and almost certainly is after all I’ve read/heard today) is down to an innate racism/ cultural misunderstanding inherent within both the curriculum and the educational system as a whole. It is also failing white pupils who make up the majority of pupils within the average British classroom. The only pupils we’re not failing (academically) are those of Indian Heritage. We keep on hearing claims in the press that our exam results are the best we’ve had in years or that our exams (GCSE’s and A-Levels) and that pupils as young as five and seven are going to have to take exams and are getting stressed. Everyone in this country seems to be exam obsessed. Or thats what our media are obsessed with anyway.

When are we going to stop being overly concerned with the exams and look at what is going on in the classroom? What are we doing to these kids when they enter classrooms for the first time that they don’t blossom. That they don’t fulfill their potentials? Perhaps whatever it is is the reason that by the time they hit secondary schools so many adolescents are very disaffected by the whole education thing?

Listen to me. I’m doing exactly what the education ministers for years have been doing; I’m passing the buck down to the primary teachers. And I know how overworked they are. A literacy hour here, a numeracy hour there, science, history, geography, music, art, technology, ICT, PE, RE, English, Maths, citizenship, they’re even suggesting a foreign language now…perhaps we should simplify primary education and not overload the pupils. Maybe then they’d develope their innate abilities and not give up on them so much.

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