One class, many peoples

Ethnic Relations and Schooling: - Asian Teachers in British Schools

April 28, 1995

Demographic changes in Britain as a result of Asian immigration from the 1960s and the more recent arrival of refugees from wars such as that in Somalia are gradually turning the country into an ethnically diverse nation. The two books under review focus on the implications of this for the education system. Both are written by academics at British universities, the first being an edited collection, the second the distillation of a series of interviews.

Ethnic Relations and Schooling covers a range of issues. Some contributors focus on the accessibility of the national curriculum in an ethnically diverse classroom. Others concentrate on the structures of school management and their perception of ethnic minorities. Still others delve into the approaches of the Training and Enterprise Councils and the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education.

Chapter seven deserves a special mention for its attention to the funding and grants appropriate to the ethnic minorities since the 1988 Education Act. Unfortunately this information is now out of date, since the Government has decided that such grants will come under a new Single Regeneration Budget, which is certain to mean reduced spending in this area.

Despite its jargon, the book manages to convey the seriousness of the issues to those who are not professionally involved. Its message is well reinforced by research, though the editors recommend the collection of more data and its proper dissemination. But while this is sensible, something more than politically correct charts, graphs and tables is required to change official thinking.

This is provided by Asian Teachers in British Schools, a study of two generations of Asian teachers, which appears to be the first book of its kind. Here teachers, either still teaching or in retirement, reflect upon the system, their own expectations and predicaments. The academic qualifications of most older teachers who came in the 1960s were accepted: they were then left to teach without training or supervision. Despite their good intentions, in most cases they did not quite make the grade and suffered considerable frustration as well as racial prejudice.

One teacher confesses painfully: "There were times when I disliked myself for being so inadequate in English. Despite my best efforts I couldn't change my accent. I stopped talking in Punjabi. I started disliking everything Indian. Our dress, food, marriage system, politics and religion appeared flawed to me. I shunned the company of Indian people. I tried to make friends with the whites."

The book is vibrant with such agonised statements. It also contains some useful data on the teachers' promotional patterns. Overall it is a tiny new fragment added to the social history of post-war Britain.

Krishna Dutta is a multicultural adviser, London Borough of Haringey.

Ethnic Relations and Schooling:: Policy and Practice in the 1990s

Editor - Sally Tomlinson and Maurice Craft
ISBN - 0 485 11456 9 and 12108 5
Publisher - Athlone
Price - £28.00 and £12.95
Pages - 221pp

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