Systemic racism has a negative impact on the education of many students across the world. UNESCO has shown that school disciplinary policies disproportionately impact black students. This starts as early as pre-school, with black students four times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than white children.
Studies have also shown a correlation between teacher expectation and student achievement. Worryingly, these expectations can be negatively affected by racial prejudice. What’s more, children experience racism at school from their peers, too, with 1 in 3 children in an Australian study being a victim of racial discrimination.
Education should be a powerful force for social change
The killing of George Floyd by police in the U.S. sparked a global uprising against systemic racism and discrimination. These protests are ongoing and have touched every part of society, from arts to sports to politics to education. A key demand is for real, structural change to society so that the lives of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) are valued as they should be.
Mutuma Ruteere, former UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, said that “education has a central role in creating new values and attitudes and providing us with important tools for addressing deep-rooted discrimination and the legacy of historical injustices.”
So how does Pearson have a part to play in creating this positive change? And what can an educational publisher do to make a difference?
Promoting diversity and inclusion
As a global leader in educational publishing, Pearson distributes materials which are taught in more than 70 countries. We have long been committed to ensuring authenticity in the way we portray characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social class, religious belief and disability in our materials.
Moreover, we have been careful considering how we put this into practice, both in the makeup of our company and in the educational materials we produce.
As we look to the future, and imagine a world we want to live in, we believe it’s important to examine how we create these materials and courses. Our aim is to ensure that what we produce are bias-free, inclusive and actively anti-racist.
“Education will always remain a key instrument for disarming ignorance and bigotry”
We set up an Employee Resource Group (ERG) which has created a set of principles for Pearson authors and editors. The group’s aim is to lay the groundwork for courses that reflect all parts of a diverse society.
The guidelines were developed by our BAME and African American ERGs. The project was led by Ade Gachegua alongside internal and external consultants, including the author of the Black Curriculum Report, Dr. Jason Arday.
Ebrahim Matthews, Senior Vice President of English and Global Schools, who sponsored the guidelines, said:
These guidelines are an important step in ensuring that Pearson publishes content that is inclusive and bias-free, especially as it pertains to race & ethnicity. Pearson has led the charge with our Global Editorial Policy and is proud to include these guidelines as a necessary addition.
Challenges to overcome together
The guidelines identified five main challenges and suggested the following ways to overcome them:
Are people from a BIPOC background equally represented in educational products? The guidelines recommend that people of different ethnicities should be included in all course material and portrayed as equal to one another. Choosing texts and pictures which promote racial equality is also important.
2. Exaggerated Negative Associations
Negative associations are exaggerated when unfavorable characteristics or traits are linked to people of minority ethnicities again and again. This is how stereotypes are built and reinforced in the minds of learners. We can take steps to prevent this by choosing our language carefully, avoiding racist texts and refuting any suggestion that behavior is linked to one ethnicity more than another.
3. Limited Positive Associations
Stereotypes of all kinds can be harmful – even positive ones. The guidelines recommend including people from minority ethnicities as positive role models in all contexts, not just the ones they might be traditionally associated with. This way, we broaden our learners’ horizons and show them that they have the potential to succeed in any different fields, regardless of their background.
4. Missing Stories
When it comes to contributing to public life, individuals from minority ethnicities are often overlooked. For example, when it comes to history, educators tend to disregard contributions from ethnic minorities. It’s not because their contributions are less significant, but because the long history of racism has led to their contributions to public life being more limited and deliberately overlooked.
It’s important that educational materials include these ‘missing stories.’ This helps learners to develop a richer and more diverse view of society and its participants.
5. The ‘problem’ frame
Educational texts often speak about people from BIPOC backgrounds as helpless victims of their ‘own’ disadvantage. Instead, we need to view racism as a systemic, social and institutionalised problem, external to the individuals that it affects.
From now on, authors and editors will be actively seeking to identify these issues in educational materials. They will be able to use the guidelines and an accompanying checklist to ensure that our courses reflect all parts of a diverse society. This means that you can be confident that the classroom materials you’re using to teach your students will empower each and every one of them to reach their full potential.
If you’d like some practical tips on making your classroom more inclusive, have a look at our article on the importance of teaching values to young learners. You can learn about bringing cultural diversity into your classroom on our blog, as well.