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Fit for the future: Curriculum and content

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Schools across the country are slowly winding down for the last two weeks of what has been one of the most unusual and difficult academic years of every education professional’s career. Staff and children are tired, nerves are frayed, and the soggy summer so far has dampened spirits. Schools needed support more than ever before in 2020-21 and many have found it, but sadly, too few have found it from their government.

Since the first announcement of school closures in March 2020 – educational leaders have been forced to respond and react to the Department of Education’s every whim and late-night dictate. As we emerge from behind our masks and class bubbles 18 months later, education standards are now the new target, led from the front by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

A short while before the pandemic hit, Ofsted had instituted changes to their inspection regime. The emphasis shifted from a focus on results to a more significant consideration of curriculum. Schools in England scrambled to design skills and progression maps to show that children were “knowing more, remembering more” from their learning. Throughout the pandemic, a war of divergent opinions has raged on Twitter as to which pedagogical choices can achieve this goal. With this new focus on Curriculum design, there has been considerable debate about what material should be included in various schemes of work. This professional discussion has coincided with sweeping social change through climate justice, BLM, and anti-legislation marches. 

This curriculum redesign is a moment where schools can make conscious choices about what they teach. Curriculum choices must be made to bind our diverse nation together, rather than dividing us further. It is even more important as it may be one of the last choices schools have left to make independently. As in-person inspections have been paused during the pandemic, Ofsted have spent their time releasing increasingly more restrictive regulations on behaviour, reading, and maths to mixed reviews from the teaching community. Ofsted does set out some broad objectives for curriculum such as:

“If schools can show that they’ve thought about curriculum carefully – that they’ve built a curriculum with appropriate coverage, content, structure and sequencing, and implemented it effectively – then it’s likely inspectors will judge their curriculum favourably. We’ll also be looking at whether the curriculum is broad for each and every pupil.”

This specific guidance is deliberately vague and leaves a lot of room for interpretation and misinterpretation. What does ‘appropriate coverage’ mean exactly? Appropriate for whom? Classrooms across the country look and feel different according to their location and cohort. There has been a growing concern that, for many pupils, the current curriculum excludes large parts of our nation’s colonial past. We often speak of glory and gain and little of impact and harm caused. The curriculum is often framed around a single racial narrative and fails to address pivotal aspects of the historical experiences of other cultures in the UK.

There are organisations which have designed a more diverse curriculum, such as The Black Curriculum, yet the government has not highlighted this nor encouraged it. Those schools which have made use of such resources have done so from their initiative, which leaves much room for ignoring and sidelining sections of English society. Schools can still, in 2021, choose authors and historical figures drawn only from one racial background, which should no longer be the case. Ofsted, and the government, should take this moment of redefining education and ensure that all sections of England are seen and heard in classrooms across the country. If change is already in the making, it should be inclusive and meaningful and lead from the top.

Only a cursory glance at our feted football team will indicate that England is built on the greatness of its diversity. The history of immigration, inclusion, and injustice is part of the fabric of our lives. True appreciation of our nation is not shown in clapping hands or waving flags; it is built in the classroom on acknowledging experiences of all parts of our country. It is time for an inclusive curriculum. Children cannot know more and remember more if they are not taught more to begin with.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

A teacher, mother and radio presenter. Is interested in education, equality and community relations. Currently living in London.

Education

Virtual Learning: Perspectives of university students

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Do you feel remote learning has left you feeling stressed, depressed and lonely at times? Well, we spoke to several students studying for their finals for their undergraduate and master’s degrees and you may not be alone!  

Belonging to a generation practically married to their electronic devices, the initial concept of online lectures and seminars wasn’t something that fazed many of them. “Initially, the idea of virtual learning was something that I was very excited about. It seemed like the answer to every student’s prayers, being able to study from the comfort of your own home,” explained Marwa Houdef, studying an MA in Journalism at Roehampton University. 

However, a year later, the same students who seemed excited to give virtual learning a go are now reminiscing about pre-covid times when on-campus teaching was taken for granted. “I miss what used to be my dreaded hour and a half journey into university. I also miss being able to interact with others in group work and asking questions in person,” added Miss Houdef. 

Kafi Zafar, a BSc social science graduate from UCL, reflecting on a similar journey, tells us, “I was the type of student who enjoyed [sitting] in the library with my peers and spent the day studying together. [Taking] regular breaks outside of home was something I struggled with as I felt like I lost a lot of focus at home.”

From school staff and pupils to university professors and students, we’ve all had a tough time navigating our way through remote learning, implemented to avoid further academic disruptions. Anxious students pressurised universities to make sure hands-on support was provided to students at all times. However, things did not go as smoothly as expected. “I was in the last few months of my undergraduate degree, and it felt very abrupt, […], and there was a sense of no one really knowing how to handle the situation. We weren’t prepared to move learning online, and some older staff definitely had trouble adapting,” Miss Zafar adds.  

With the global pandemic forcing authorities to shut almost everything down, including educational activities, many universities chose to continue to teach specific courses online to ensure the safety of staff and students. However, while this decision meant students would be at less risk of developing the virus, it also meant working from home and compromising on equipment and resources required for assignments. Often, students felt they’d been left alone to figure out issues regarding access to class readings and equipment to complete major assignments. Ebony Ximines Parke recounts several challenges she faced as a full-time student and mother of two. She explains: “Being [unable] to go to the library to use the equipment wasn’t great for any of us. Especially as we [weren’t] even compensated for all the things we missed out on. We still had to pay for our course and basically received a quarter of the benefits of doing a masters.” Miss Houdef also added in this regard, “Lack of communication really impacted my understanding of the assignments and overall learning. A simple miscommunication or unanswered question had such a huge impact on the quality of my work.” 

Virtual learning a negative impact on mental health?

A staggering proportion of students have felt their mental and physical health deteriorate due to virtual learning. For the most part, to stay indoors locked in one room for hours on end without a real conversation or break left students lacking the will to get work done. In one sense, knowing there isn’t anywhere to go made procrastination all the more enticing, leaving students stressing more and getting less done. “I think being at home really demotivated me, and I pretty much left a lot of my work last minute. I think that everyone’s mental health was tested due to Covid, and that also has a big part to play in how we did our assignments and the amount of energy we had to do our best,” adds Miss Parke.  

Other students said: 

“I miss the environment of being in class and being able to see people. Being a literature student, a lot of our classes used to be based on bouncing ideas off one another, and that was something I noticed we were lacking virtually.” (Munahil Nasir—BA English Literature & Creative writing student.)

“I think staying motivated was very hard, as I had university to study and focus on [in] my room at home, [a place where I would] relax and unwind.” (Kaafia Ahmad—BA Journalism student) 

“It was a struggle to separate study life from personal life because the assigned classwork had been mixed with assignments and readings. Due to the amount of work [that needed to be done], there was [hardly] any time to go out for walks for weeks. Staying indoors all the time affected my mental and physical health.” (Sarosh Ahmed—BA German Literature student, QML) 

Feeling isolated and disconnected.

Students who started their degrees during the pandemic highlighted some of the lesser mentioned problems like not being able to meet and bond with fellow students. “My class is extremely diverse, and I would have loved the opportunity to meet them all in person,” said Miss Houdef. Unfortunately, with lectures mainly conducted in online environments, most students felt shy and uncomfortable speaking up in class or switching on cameras – another issue depending on living arrangements and other personal factors. “The space to study in a suitable environment is what was more important to me. There are six of us […], so I had to sacrifice precious space to squeeze in a desk dedicated to university work,” Miss Zafar explained. 

However, by far the worst aspect of virtual learning was that students had to miss out on the social aspect that makes for a memorable university experience. The fun in meeting new people and taking part in college and society events is what every graduate lives for. Therefore, this academic year has been quite different in many ways – with social events cancelled and graduation ceremonies postponed, we have seen students silently made to sacrifice it all. 

Speaking to us about her experience, Miss Nasir commented: “I managed to experience 1.5 years of university before the pandemic. Being on campus, meeting friends for a coffee before class. All the things that I loved about university were suddenly no longer there.”

Similarly, Miss S Ahmad sharing her experience, said: “I missed the interaction with people and the casual conversations you would have with professors and classmates. Virtual learning has negatively impacted my university experience in the sense that it was very mentally straining. There was too much workload as one had to put in double the effort to understand the module content.” 

So why opt for a postgraduate degree amidst a global pandemic?

While speaking to postgraduate students, we were intrigued to know why students may have opted to go for higher studies amidst the ongoing Covid crisis. Here is what some of them said: 

“I personally chose further studies as we were unsure of how long covid would last, the job market was a mess, my BSc was very broad, and I didn’t want to feel like I wasted a year doing nothing. When I applied, I was still home on furlough, so I wasn’t even sure if or when my store would reopen and if I would have a retail job on the other side of it at all.” (Kafi Zafar)

“I wanted to master something I enjoyed, and it also would’ve been better for me to get a job with a masters backing me up. It’s getting harder and harder to get a good-paying job these days, and I wanted to really do everything I can.” (Ebony Ximines Parke)

“If it were not for the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have considered doing a masters. I knew that the job market was not likely to be hiring since most of the world was going into lockdown. I knew that postgraduate studies would keep me busy and would also benefit me in the long run. Without having continued with a postgraduate degree, I’m sure the impact of the pandemic would have been much worse on my mental health.” (Marwa Houdef) 

So as we’ve all experienced, the pandemic has affected individuals in many different ways. But it is especially saddening to see how arduous the journey of hundreds of university students has been over the past year. Figuring out how to get work done with limited support at times has made understanding simple tasks harder than ever. Though teachers have tried to support their students throughout this period of uncertainty, the fact remains that virtual learning can never make up for the experience of in-person teaching. As we gear up for covid restrictions to lift later this month, we’re hopeful that next year’s academic year may be back to normal, with students benefitting from safe face-to-face teaching and learning the way they had always imagined.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Education

Is it time for a more human approach in education?

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Educationists all around the world have always been trying to find new theories and strategies to make teaching and learning an ideal experience for both teachers and students. There appears to be countless hurdles in the delivery of perfect and flawless teaching. Various theories in the past have led to revolutionary changes in our education system, turning many Mrs Trunchbulls into Miss Honeys and many Horrid Henries into Matildas. Theory of Humanism and Humanistic approach in education, seemingly, brought an end to the strict, teacher-centred approach of behaviourists. Compared with behaviourists’ dependence on positive and negative reinforcement, where ‘students can be guided acting in the way the teacher wishes them to’, the humanistic approach sounded democratic, empathetic and more student-centred with a belief in the inherent goodness of every individual. Abraham Maslow’s famous ‘hierarchy of needs’, theorised in 1943, showed to the world a bright, optimistic and advanced perspective education could offer to the modern world with great focus on psychological, social and personal aspects of a human being. A student was seen not as a ‘bank’ but as an individual with feelings, emotions and a unique persona. 

It can be argued that with too much emphasis on a learner, a humanistic approach in education stirs some questions: how valid is this approach in education? Is it practical or just a vision of an idealist? Can it really influence and mould teaching, learning and assessment towards a more humane and liberating enterprise? With too much pressure from examination boards, can humanism still survive and fulfil the needs of learners for better outcomes?

All these queries seem to have emerged because of the potential barriers in the way of the humanistic approach – behavioural issues; interference of examination boards; criteria of institutional and personal excellence presented by quality assurance agencies. The positive learning and teaching environment envisaged by humanism seems not to work in the presence of quality assurance and examination boards’ specifications where teachers are bound by predesigned objectives and outcomes with too much emphasis on quantity rather than quality. 

Students learn well when given “a broader curriculum which celebrates their various talents”. A narrow curriculum, designed by examination boards, seems to aim for quantity rather than quality. This clash of internal needs and external ambitions seems to have rendered the humanistic approach to exist in an indistinct fraction in our education system. Students, on the one hand, are supposed to be given autonomy, but on the other hand, the education system ruled by process-product metaphor, imposes pre-selected aims and learning outcomes on the teachers and the students. In this scenario, assessment of learning takes place by external interference as well, leaving no room for self-assessment, self-evaluation and the amount of personal growth achieved. 

The importance of humanism in education was not realised when the theory was proposed by Abraham Maslow, compared to today. But the pressure from examination boards was lightened when in 2019, the global pandemic of Covid-19 shook the economic, social, political and domestic framework, urging all the policymakers around the world to redesign their educational system – exams being scrapped; flipped classrooms; home-schooling; online learning; electronic student-teacher interaction. Safeguarding came to the forefront with the safety needs of the students and teachers being given priority. Effects of the global pandemic on students’ mental well-being urged the policymakers to prioritise students’ psychological needs being met first.

These unseen circumstances proved that teachers can still teach without the interference of inspectors’ surveillance; students can still learn without all the learning outcomes being met and objectives being reduced; students can undertake self-evaluation and self-assessment without external meddling; student autonomy can yield good results; quality matters more than quantity.This global pandemic brings us back to Plato’s idea of ideal learning where teachers and students aim to achieve the same understanding through open debates, discourses and discussions. We need humanism more than ever to rebuild the software of our classrooms – free of external pressure, free of external imposition of aims and objectives, free of external expectations and criteria and above all free of all sorts of bondage. Students need to be given priority with the delivery of education made to suit their individual needs and learning styles, and teachers need to be given a bit more freedom to mould their strategies and resources to suit every individual without being worried about forsaking external aims and objectives.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Education

Bursting the school bubble system

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The jubilant tone of the announcement on 5th July 2021, said it all. 

“I am so pleased to say that the UK Government have issued guidance for September today, meaning we can all get ourselves organised for the Autumn Term before we break up on the 16th.

A detailed Newsletter will be circulated next week with updated start and finish times, etc, etc,….”1

It was none other than my 10-year-old son’s Headteacher who alerted me to the new government guidelines, obviously long awaited by not just parents but school staff and children alike. 

A major lifting of Covid related restrictions on the 19th of July was announced on 5th July 2021 by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. An announcement of the end of school bubbles was a subsequently made by the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. From 16th of August 2021 children will only have to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19 and contract tracing will be transferred to the NHS Track and Trace system.

The system of bubbles had been introduced with the aim of stopping the spread of Covid 19 in September 2020. This was at a time when children first returned to school after a long period at home during the first lockdown. It was welcomed by many in the interests of pupil and staff health and safety. Not to mention the safety of society in general. 

Initially the bubble closure system seemed an appropriate safeguard, alongside so many other measures that schools had to introduce. Different bubbles had different school day start and finish times, playtimes, and even different entrance and exits where possible.. All schools re-opened with additional hand and classroom hygiene measures.

However, the system has meant in some cases (such as that of my son’s bubble) that 90 or more children had to self- isolate if even one child in their bubble tested positive for the virus. The repercussions on parental child well-being were far reaching to say the least. A record breaking number of 641,000 children had to self- isolate just last week. Just 28,000 of them had Covid

UNESCO (the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has been monitoring the impact of school closures globally since the beginning of the pandemic. It lists confusion and stress for teachers, interrupted learning, poor nutrition for children dependent on free or subsidised school meals, high economic costs, a rise in dropout rates and an increased risk to children of violence and exploitation, amongst the many adverse effects of school closures on society. 

In the UK it has undoubtedly been more and more noticeable that children were having to make huge sacrifices for the sake of the pandemic. In the autumn term 2020, 33 million days of school were missed by pupils due to Covid isolation rules. These sacrifices to their education and well-being were beginning to look seriously disproportionate. Whilst adults travelled abroad to watch and support the England football team in Italy, and many attended live tennis at Wimbledon, 641 000 children remained at home unable to travel any further than their own back gardens. Regular disruption to their education is taking its toll. Not least from the perspective of my own son who, as one of the 641,000, rolled his tear- filled eyes, as soon as the prospect of remote learning reared its unwelcome head. 

As I juggled home schooling for my son with my work as an NTP (National Tutoring Programme-part of the government’s schools catch up package ) Tutor, I realised that one of my remote pupil groups was isolating at the same time last week. Pupils who had regularly attended every tutoring session remotely in school, were only intermittently attending from home. #There is no doubt that the time had come for a review of how to manage safety in schools whilst causing the least harm to the future life chances of our children. However, the question arises whether the government has found the most appropriate compromise. Many question whether the government’s wide-ranging lifting of restrictions will result in a safe return to relative normality over the next few months. Time will tell whether this path to normality could end up a disastrous and sadly for some, grief ridden gamble.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Shakoor Ahmed has worked in a number of roles in Education and is a qualified Teacher, Coach and Mentor..

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Summer school may not close the academic gap, but it can be used to teach even more valuable lessons

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During high school, I took an English course over the summer. I don’t remember much about what I learned, but I do remember the time I spent in school getting to know other students from my area. It was nice meeting new people from different high schools that I wouldn’t have normally talked to about their life experiences. This is the type of learning summer schools should be focusing on this year – rather than focusing on loading down every student with facts they are supposed to know and assuming they will be able to start the next school year as if Covid didn’t happen, we should focus on the benefits that can be achieved from fostering the social interaction we have all been lacking. Over the past school year, the majority of American students have been online for either most or all of school time. Summer school is a chance for students to meet new classmates, for teachers to develop a closer bond with their students, and for everyone to become comfortable in classrooms once again.

Throughout the US, students are signing up in record numbers for summer school. Many of these schools are depending on federal funding, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to expand their programs to meet the demand. But experts are warning that summer school cannot possibly close the gap that has been widened during Covid. So, rather than just pursuing what is likely a futile near-term objective of playing catch up via summer school, we should use the opportunity to create long-term value in students’ lives by also emphasising a focus on much needed emotional and social support.

We all know from experience that often when we have personal issues or family emergencies, it becomes difficult to do our best work or even focus on simple tasks. Covid has put us all in a low-grade state of uncertainty. We need to acknowledge that this underlying feeling is going to continue to impact children’s ability to learn, especially if it goes unaddressed. The need is especially acute in school districts where students already had high levels of anxiety and depression pre-Covid. Programs such as Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students (TRAILS) are trying to tackle student mental health issues, but it’s time schools really start making mental health part of the education package that they are delivering to students.

It is sad to read that out of all the students who decided not continue past high school education: almost 40% decided not to pursue higher education due to stress or anxiety. The lack of appropriate resources only compounds the issue; in the US, for every school social worker or psychologists, there is an average of 1,200 students each with some schools not having any resources at all. Some are recognising the gap such as the state of Oklahoma, where $35 million of federal funding will be used to support School Counsellor Corps, who will be in-school counsellors and mental health professionals. 

School is about so much more than the classes you take and the grades you achieve. If you look back on your time in high school and earlier, or even if you are at that stage currently, I am quite certain most of the memories you have are to do with events that happened rather than the things you learned. While it is clearly important for students to gain academic knowledge, there are so many other benefits such as the experience of working with others, communicating ideas, presenting work, and contributing to society overall. While online schooling can give students some experience in these areas, in-person interactions are completely different. It’s important that students are also given opportunities at summer school to do more beyond sitting quietly in seats and taking tests.

If students are used to zoning out on zoom while relaxing on their beds, we can’t expect everyone to immediately adapt come September and give their full focus to academic material. Summer school is an opportunity to make this transition by changing the focus from solely academics to include a combination of emotional and social well-being. In one American school district, younger students will be combining academic mornings with hands-on afternoon activities. The broader goal of student adjustment to school rather than memorization of math equations and historical facts will benefit students in the long term when they return next semester.

Schools that focus on social and emotion interventions have already been shown to provide a long-term benefit to students. Students in the US, UK, and Europe who participated in social and emotional programs had higher graduation rates and lower diagnoses of mental health disorders, among other benefits. High school graduation rates are higher in many countries compared to the US, such as in Finland, where there are very few standardised tests. Instead, Finnish schools focus on what they consider to be basic tools for life, including physiological counselling. Students need social and emotional support now more than ever and investing the time and money into emotional and social support this summer will pay dividends over time. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Education

The struggle for control: Language lessons and race

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Power and control. So many aspects of our lives are defined by the power and control within them. Much of life is a struggle between the power of our own choices verses the control others would try to exert over us. This can be on an individual or collective level and part of being within society is understanding your own unique role within it; how you came to be here, where you stand in the structure and how you can fulfil your own potential. 

Nowhere is this seen more than in the lives of children – some of the most vulnerable members of every nation and group. Children come into the world, and it is the job of society to educate and train them to become the best version of themselves, thus perpetuating or improving the existing system. Most countries in the world acknowledge the significance of raising the next generation and invest in education to support their growth. However, education can also be a battlefield where the conflict between power and control is enacted in the battle for the hearts and minds of the nation. We have seen this in Afghanistan where women are denied access to education in order to prevent them challenging the status quo. We are also seeing this in modern Britain, albeit in a subtler form where schools are becoming an ideological, conflict zone. Everyday reveals another way in which the Department for Education seeks to control the material, information and thought process of Britain’s children.

Over the past year, perhaps while unable to visit schools in person due to the pandemic, OFSTED (The Office for Standards in Education) has begun dictating in narrower and narrower terms how the nation’s children should be learning, what they should be taught and when. Instead of supporting teacher’s professional knowledge and choice, they have been defining in restricted terms how the job should be done. Schools in the UK are becoming a political playground where the party of power can enforce and train a nation’s youth into the mindset of their choosing. A simple dictat from the Department for Education could enforce daily flag waving or banish an entire field of thought. 

Britain took new steps towards shaping the minds of the nation’s youth this week with the publication of a report by MPs into the underachievement of white working-class children. The report, entitled ‘The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it’, looked at data from free school meal figures which all schools collect. 

The title itself is value laden and provocative. Who has forgotten them? Not the schools who are held accountable for their progress and grant funding, certainly not the teachers who strive to support them with targeted interventions and support. Exam results are recorded and monitored as this group travels through the education system so perhaps it is the Conservative government who has forgotten them: refusing to fund their meals during a pandemic until shamed into action by a young footballer; closing Sure Start Centres created by the Labour government to support exactly these disadvantaged children from birth to five years old. The people most guilty, , of forgetting these children are the policy makers who have slashed educational funding and failed to provide coherent policies to tackle this group’s needs.

The report does briefly acknowledge that all disadvantaged groups share some common barriers to educational progress such as career guidance and mental health support. However, it lists two key factors which are unique to the white working-class.

  1. Place-based disparities,
  2. Cultural factors, including family structure, experience of education, and access to community assets (including places of worship, youth groups and other social organisations), may also disproportionately impact attainment for disadvantaged white pupils.

The last point reveals the class biased nature of white society whereby, despite being replete with cultural resources, they are not shared or accessed equally by all members. The report has five recommendations. Four of these recommendations are economic based and are a rehash of Labour policies (such as Family Hubs), which the Conservatives have dismantled whilst in power.. Nothing new or ground-breaking is on offer. However, the final recommendation has ignited opinion, and reveals not the concern for the disadvantaged, but the manner in which the government is prepared to wage a culture war against any opposition or dissatisfaction. It states that:

“Finally, we need new and constructive ways to talk about racial disparities. We agree with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that current discourse around White Privilege can be divisive, and we hope that by highlighting the hardships faced by many White people from disadvantaged backgrounds, our inquiry may help advance a new way to discuss disadvantage without pitting different groups against each other.”

It a clear instruction for non-white people and allies to be quiet and settle down. The way of expressing lived experience of racial disadvantage – through the concept of white privilege – is deemed ‘divisive’ and not ‘constructive’. Shorthand: stop complaining. It’s a lot of whataboutism. An attempt to silence dissatisfaction and discussion by saying that white people can be disadvantaged too. How can your pain be spoken of when others suffer? It is an argument and a mentality which seeks to diminish the experience of others and to belittle their disadvantage. It’s a deeply flawed stance and it has no place to be taught in our schools.

Society is not built upon the notion of the dominant group silencing the opinions of the oppressed. Healthy relationships are built when feelings are validated and acknowledged – not by holding a competition to see whose pain is worthy of attention and discussion. The recommendation of this report fails to adhere to this principle. 

It is also weaponizing schools in the racial landscape and dictating what language students can use to describe their experiences. It’s a dangerous path to tread. Progress is always built on the sharing of ideas, not on the suppression of thought. Paulo Friere has expressed this in his seminal work on education, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ when he writes that “leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

This is exactly where we currently find the Department of Education in England and the direction of education in general under the UK government. It is not liberating minds; it is oppressing them. It’s hard to know when this slow decline into thought control will end, but such control never ends in more power in the long term. The battle for power and control should have no place in schools as in the end the children, and the nation as a whole, will suffer.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

A teacher, mother and radio presenter. Is interested in education, equality and community relations. Currently living in London.

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Protecting our children: When schools are harming more than helping

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As a grade one teacher, I have the pleasure of spending lots of time with young children and seeing the world from their point of view. Every day is a reminder of how curious, loving, and truly innocent they are. From the questions they ask – “Should we pick up litter if it’s in quicksand?” – to the way they virtually play ‘hide and seek’ by covering their webcams, every day is filled with wonder and opportunities.

Recently, many stories have surfaces highlighting injustices against children from their supposed ‘caregivers’ in school. These alleged role models exploited the vulnerability of these children for their own pleasure. There are two very recent examples of this – the 751 bodies uncovered at the grounds of a former Residential School in Saskatchewan, Canada, and the horrific sexual assault of a student by a 70-year-old Muslim cleric in Pakistan.

The 751 children’s’ bodies were discovered at the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan less than a month after 215 children’s bodies were uncovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada. These schools were created as “government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.” The children at these residential schools were beaten, tortured, raped, starved, and in extreme cases, murdered, by Catholic priests and nuns with the goal of forcing them to shun their Indigenous heritage. According to Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation Chief Rosanne Casimir, “Some [of the deceased] were as young as three years old.” These were mere toddlers taken away from their parents and murdered by those entrusted to their care. At that time, Indigenous leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that more bodies would probably be uncovered at other sites too. This has proven true at multiple former residential school sites recently, in addition to the 751 bodies now discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School. There is no telling how many more will be found as sites continue to be searched.

When I was in college, studying Early Childhood Education, one professor assigned us a documentary called, “We Were Children” – which highlights the cruel conditions these young children were forced to live in at residential schools. Watching this movie was incredibly heartbreaking. The curriculum that I was learning at the time was so focused on meeting the needs of children and finding ways to support their holistic development; yet, here we were watching educators who crossed every boundary and caused lifelong trauma to those who survived. They exploited their vulnerability and used their power to harm these children—physically and emotionally.

Recently, I also came across the news story about a 70-year-old Mufti (Muslim cleric) in Pakistan, who was arrested on 20th June for the repeated sexual assault of one of his students. The student was older, preparing for exams, when the assault started. When he tried to file a complaint with the administration, they did not believe him, stating that the Mufti was an “elder and pious man.” This child was old enough to express himself but, due to a lack of autonomy given to him, he suffered. It wasn’t until he recorded a video of the abuse that action was taken. This, in itself, is a horrifying situation. What makes it worse is that this is not uncommon in Pakistan. When I first started researching this story, I came across so many incidences of sexual assault towards children by clerics. One incident involved a four-year-old girl, a child full of innocence, who was sexually assaulted on her first day in a seminary by the chief cleric.

A common theme that regularly came up while I was studying Early Childhood Education was vulnerability – that children need support and care to grow. They are incredibly sensitive and often lack the experience needed to express their thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, they often lack autonomy, which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of power. It’s the responsibility of their caregivers to give them autonomy by listening to their needs and feelings and providing them with opportunities for self-expression. They need love and support to grow, and they look towards their caregivers for guidance.

These situations are harrowing, and they truly show the impact of the wrong people being given roles of power. These children, like so many others, were innocent victims of circumstance. But, we as a people must do better. These children are our future and, all across the world, there are people trying to cause harm. But even more, we need to be vigilant of who we are allowing access to our children. We need to do better to educate our children on boundaries. We need to provide them a safe space to confide in us. And when they do, we need to ensure that we are ready to listen and address their concerns with dignity and respect. Children are vulnerable, but if we give them a voice, we can use our autonomy to grant them theirs. And we need to work together to make sure that places like schools, where children go to learn and grow, are not harming them more than they are helping them.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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