Alberta teachers lack resources, support to address racism in the classroom: study

Suspect any study, in any Canadian province, would show similar results. Any one know of any comparative provincial studies?

Many Alberta teachers say racism is present in their classrooms — but don’t feel they have the support to teach multiculturalism or anti-racism.

A study by the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation (CCMF) surveyed 150 teachers of kindergarten to Grade 12 students from rural and urban schools about a variety of topics, including whether they thought racism was happening in their school.

Fifty-two per cent of respondents said students engage in racism at their school, and respondents from urban schools were more likely to say racism is an issue at their school.

This can mean anything from students demonstrating preconceived notions about other cultures or ethnicities to discrimination on the playground.

Iman Bukhari, CEO of the foundation and an author on the study, said the findings confirmed what she and others already knew anecdotally.

“We’ve done so many presentations and programs within schools across Alberta, whether it’s rural or urban schools, and we had heard a lot from the teachers as well as the students,” she said. “This was really just a way to validate our concerns that we had already been hearing.”

Many respondents said they weren’t sure whether racism was happening at their school. Bukhari said this shows many teachers don’t have the time or experience to notice incidents of racism, especially if they aren’t racialized themselves.

“If you don’t experience racism yourself, it’s harder for you to recognize it,” she said, adding, “It’s so incredibly important to have teachers from diverse backgrounds, whether it’s ethnic, religious, cultural.”

The majority of respondents listed limited time and resources as barriers to teaching about multiculturalism. Twenty-two per cent said they felt they had limited knowledge to teach the subject, while 21 per cent selected their identity as a major limitation to teaching multiculturalism. Some said they felt the community they work in doesn’t value education about multiculturalism.

Many teachers identified systemic challenges, notably a Eurocentric curriculum, as well as a lack of policy or funding for teaching multiculturalism.

Bukhari said the curriculum is a “big issue,” and that teachers need not just an updated curriculum, but more training to help them tackle multiculturalism and racism in a classroom setting.

The report recommends two anti-racism campaigns, one held for teachers with opportunities for progress reporting and evaluation, and another for students, ideally led by youth. It also recommends that schools have strict no-tolerance policies when it comes to racism.

Bukhari said the CCMF is also planning to create a resource hub for teachers to equip them with the tools to talk to their students about multiculturalism and racism.

Adam Quraishi, an elementary teacher in Calgary, says he has often seen children get asked where they are from and he finds there are two reasons why they get asked this question.

“There is a curious question and then there is the, ‘Once I know that you are from somewhere else, I can treat you a certain way,’” he said. “I find that the racism that students go through is more about henpecking people.”

Get more of today’s top stories in your inbox
Start your morning with everything that matters in Calgary with our Morning Headlines newsletter.

Quraishi, whose mother is Irish and father East Indian, said his own daughter has gone through similar experiences in her junior high school despite the school’s reputation for its multiculturalism.

“She said that she wasn’t white enough for the white kids and she wasn’t brown enough for the brown kids,” he said.

Quraishi believes at the elementary level, schools are doing a good job teaching about racism, but in his experience, “teachers are not necessarily of the same mindset of what they teach.”

“It’s one thing to say to the kids that we embrace everybody, but it’s another thing to have those subtle little messages that are from a time long past,” he said.

Barb Silva, communications director for advocacy group Support Our Students, said the results of the study weren’t surprising to her either. In fact, she said she suspects incidences of racism in schools may be higher than reported in the study, but that many teachers aren’t aware of them.

“We fail to recognize the systemic and institutional barriers for people living on the margins,” she said, adding that in many schools, especially rural ones, teachers don’t necessarily represent their diverse student populations.

She said the outdated curriculum only serves to further alienate students who may be experiencing racism.

Silva said the fact that 21 per cent of respondents said they felt their own identity was a barrier to teaching about multiculturalism shows a lack of resources and support. While many teachers may be aware of their own lack of understanding, Silva said more resources are needed to help them feel comfortable addressing multiculturalism and racism in the classroom.

Silva said it’s important that school policies don’t shy away from calling racism what it is. She said terms like “diversity” and “inclusion” often don’t do enough to point out the reality of what some children face.

“Call it what it is. It’s racism,” she said.

Source: Alberta teachers lack resources, support to address racism in the classroom: study

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: