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Explain the social issue of race and ethnicity in schools with examples and discuss racism in schools.

Ethnic Diversity and its Negative Association with Learning Outcomes

Schools encourage ethnic diversity in classrooms and encourage students from different backgrounds to come together for learning.  While ethnic diversity is expected to leave a positive effect on school environment, there is evidence of a negative association between ethnic diversity and learning outcomes among the students. The paper assesses the social issue of race and ethnicity in schools and takes the example of Greater Western Sydney schools to discuss racism in schools. Attitude towards racism and the outcomes of racism and ethnicity are discussed along with the future directions for schools.

The notion of race has altered across cultures and eras, and today, it is more concerned with superficial characteristics. In the past, the race was based on geographic regions and ethnicities.  The social processes over the years have racialized specific groups (Little, & McGivern, 2018). Ethnicity is more about the shared culture of a particular group, their values and beliefs. Conflict theory and symbolic interactionism theories can be used to observe race and ethnicity from theoretical and sociological perspectives. The growing ethnicity populations in a country add to the cultural diversity and are seen as an advantage. However, they can also lead to the issues of racial perceptions and disadvantage for ethnic minorities. Questions are raised about the schools becoming racially segregated when the countries are becoming more multicultural. A school with a diverse student body should offer a richer experience and better learning environment. Australia has changed dramatically over the centuries due to the steady influx of immigrants from different countries and diverse backgrounds. Intermarriage and cultural adaptation have further widened the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of Australia (Watkins, Lean. & Noble, 2016). Australia faces questions regarding its multicultural nature and how to implement multicultural education in its schools to meet the particular needs of the body of diverse students. Anti-racism initiatives, community relations, community harmony, cultural awareness and cultural maintenance are some aspects of the multicultural education as stated by Watkins, Lean and Noble (2016). The educational environment in Australia needs to develop further to deal with the culturally complex environment in schools.

The environment within a school is identified as an essential influence on the students. Their social development and academic achievement are based on the experiences they have had in the school. There is an adequate body of research that links a positive school environment to passive student behaviour (Konold, Cornell, Shukla, & Huang, 2017). The social climate in the school is a good indicator of the achievement and social-emotional development of the students. Australia is an immigrant society, and it is no surprise to see the student population in schools come from diverse backgrounds. For the school teachers and authorities, it is challenging to tackle racism in schools. Multicultural education and anti-racist strategies can help develop positive attitudes towards cultural diversity and combat racism and discrimination within schools (Forrest, Lean & Dunn, 2016).

The Changing Notion of Race and Ethnicity

Greater Western Sydney (GWS) is the western part of the Sydney and known for its cultural and environmental diversity. GWS is a developing region and offers economic opportunities (Western Sydney University, 2018). GWS has more Indigenous residents and immigrants from abroad and the residents here speak more than a hundred different languages. Census data shows that the school-aged Indigenous children population in Western Sydney is growing at much faster pace than the non-Indigenous (Calderwood, 2018). The statistics have motivated the culturally-diverse schools in Western Sydney to improve their Indigenous education. For the students who are at the stage of identity development are left fighting the conflicts arising due to race, social class, and gender. The diverse racial environment within Australian schools provides the students the chance to understand and interact with students from different cultures. However, at the same time, the multicultural environment also poses the challenges of fighting racial stereotyping and dealing with racial tensions within the school system (Mansouri & Jenkins, 2010). Data on non-English speaking backgrounds in Australian schools reveal that about fifty percent of non-English speaking students are involved in extracurricular activities and sports in school as compared to about seventy percent migrants from mainly English countries (Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, 2008).

Conflict sociological theory explains the inequalities of race, and ethnicity, gender and social class. Different layers of disadvantages and prejudices develop based on when one experiences people of other race (Little& McGivern, 2018). Symbolic interactionism theory explains the sources of identity. Demographic statistics demonstrate how polarization impacts the academics within the schools and campuses. Researchers warn about the ethnic segregation and how it can impact the disadvantaged students who are non-English-speaking as stated by Neil (2016b).

Australia’s education system boasts of providing a safe and comfortable learning environment for its students. However, the schools are not immune towards the society-wide intercultural tensions that often permeate the school boundary. (Mansouri & Jenkins, 2010). Interactions between different dominant groups may further develop or negate the stereotypes and casual racism expressions. In Australian schools, students suffer from visible forms of racism such as bullying, name calling and teasing along with discriminations by teachers (Racism. No way, 2018).

Australian history reveal how racial exclusion and immigration have influenced the schools. The white nationalist politics over the years have aimed to normalize the whiteness of institutions like schools (Proctor & Sriprakash, 2017).  Public anxieties about selective schools revolve around the selection process itself and the use of academic coaching to enter the culturally biased schools which have been marketed for their competitiveness. The trend seen in Western Sydney schools shows the white students leaving public schools, and away from the students of Aboriginal and Middle Eastern origin. The "white flight" shows that the whites undermine the public education system (Patty, 2008). The shift of white students threatens social cohesion and is seen as “de facto apartheid" by the teachers and principals here. Clearly, the Anglo-European students are avoiding schools where mainly Asian students study. There is an overpowering representation of Asian-Australian students in selective schools of Sydney.  The situation reflects that the “white flight” in culturally biased schools only tend to widen the racial divide.

The Challenges of Culturally Complex Schools

Majority of these students are from Chinese and with weaker English language skills (Neil, 2016a).  They make extra efforts and undertake intensive tutoring to success in exams and entry tests. The students are from varied backgrounds such as Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Korean. These students feel that the culture in the Sydney schools is entirely different and unhealthy. They study within an unbalanced and hyper-racialized environment in the white-dominated private schools (Neil, 2016a). As asserted by Neil (2016a), even sports has become racialized on several campuses, and one can see “Asians v whites’’ soccer teams at lunchtime. Students who play for the white teams are referred to as ‘‘honorary whites’’. The students from the dwindling minority feel alienated and often stick together. About 36% of ethnic groups feel that they do not fit in the society and feel a level of discomfort with people who differ from their race and ethnicity (Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, 2008). The student community looks at everyday racism behaviours in schools as usual and normal, as stated by Forrest, Lean, & Dunn (2017).

Racism experienced by students at school can lead to school dropouts and poor academic outcomes for the student. Later, he may father face discrimination in employment and lose out on better opportunities. Those experiences can damage minority groups and restrict their access to better services, employment, and participation (Racism. No way, 2018).Repeated racist talks and behaviours become common and normalized. It gets tougher to challenge and question racist behaviours which often go unreported or unnoticed or ignored (Dunn, Forrest, Pe-Pua, Hynes, & Maeder-Han, 2009). School psychologists and authorities place critical importance on addressing educational inequities based along racial and ethnic lines. It is of paramount importance to help schools address diversity and equity issues in order to improve the learning environment for students, their families, and schools (Noltemeyer, Proctor & Dempsey, 2013).

There is evidence that racist incidents have grown in Australia over the last few years. A survey on Crime Victimization shows that the relative risk varies across racial and ethnic populations. Scholars believe that the spatial and social contexts of an individual, the neighbourhoods and schools structure criminal opportunities (Tillyer & Tillyer, 2016). Racial divide demotivates the students to skip school or drop out. Delinquent behaviours such as skipping school have been associated with violent victimization. Race and ethnicity is a driving force behind the violent victimization within schools. It has been found that involvement in academic, extracurricular activities raises the risk for ethnic and racial minorities but not for the Whites (Tillyer & Tillyer, 2016).

Greater Western Sydney and Indigenous Education

The key finding by Cyber Racism and Community Resilience (CRaCR) Research group states that Australians are well aware of the of various types of racism and feel that those social issues need to be removed. The lowest racism incidence is seen among European Australians and Australians of many generations (Jakubowicz, 2016).While multiculturalism is good for a society, it can also work as an issue. A negative attitude towards ethnic minorities and students from other culture can create stereotypes and tensions within the school community. It is not only essential to be aware of racism within the schools but also remove any socials problems arising because of the negative attitudes. Australians perceive that multiculturalism has been good for Australia and it is surprising to see that only a very minor percentage think that racism is a problem for the country. Statistics show that 70% of Australian students have experienced some type of racism while in school (Halse, 2015). Thus, while racism due to ethnicity is looked down by the Australian community, the issues remain within the society and the classrooms.

The problem lies in taking racism to be normal and not taking responsibility for it. As stated by Halse (2015), attributing responsibility can motivate the possibility of human intervention. Social practices and structures can shift the responsibility from others to self and act when one sees an incident of racism. Australian schools systems can create a sincerely anti-racist environment at school and develop as a multicultural nation Racism can be combated with an in-depth multicultural education and raising awareness by fostering cultural inclusiveness. Diverse learning styles can help implement anti-racism grounds. The role of educational backgrounds of teachers and their motivation plus the policy directives and initiatives can work in this direction (Forrest, Lean & Dunn, 2017). Greater clarity and clear advice for teachers are essential strategy components of multicultural education.

While Australian schools do have issues with racist attitudes, the good news is that they carry the potential to change student behaviours and attitudes towards culture and race gradually. Positive preventative measures can help diverse student populations to change their racist behaviour (Mansouri & Jenkins, 2010). A broader curriculum on multiculturalism and intercultural relations can develop a conducive environment for the students and necessitate the need to embrace diversity. Teachers’ attitudes and motivation can determine how effectively they can influence the students’ attitudes towards race, and ethnicity. According to Konold, Cornell, Shukla, and Huang (2017), the School authorities make deliberate efforts to improve school climate and ensure that the students do not face any adverse climates related to the gender, ethnicity or sexuality. The aim is to improve school conditions for learning and facilitate student achievement. It is because of those adverse conditions in schools that students face the issues of bullying and become victims of social inequalities and injustice. The schools and its teachers shoulder the responsibility of developing safe learning environments for the students free of any social issues of racism. They need to tailor teaching strategies to accommodate the specific needs of their students for better learning outcomes (Naidoo & D'warte, 2017). They should be aware of the bias and prejudices based on ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status and remove those social inequalities.

The Impact of White Nationalist Politics on Schools


Ethnic diversity within classrooms and schools can be seen as a great opportunity to intermingle with students from diverse backgrounds.  However, the above discussion on the social issue of ethnic diversity in classrooms reflects that there can be problems when students from different backgrounds come together for learning. Racism and ethnicity issues in schools are not just the social issues of Australian schools but are a universal problem all across the world. As children spend a considerable part of their growing years in schools, the experience, they garner there play a significant role in the development of their attitude and behaviour. It is the responsibility of the schools, parents, and the teachers to make concerted efforts in this direction. Racism should be seen as a mutual responsibility when managing racism behaviours and attitudes. Racist attitudes and experiences in schools can lead to poor academic outcomes for the victim. Multicultural education and policy changes can help develop a favourable environment for all students. Greening’s statement that a child’s life chances get shaped by what the school environment indeed holds truth. Educational outcomes for those students who have been a victim of racism tend to be poor. The adverse experiences in schools because of their different ethnicity or race leaves a detrimental effect on academic outcomes for students.


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