At the WCIA, we want to see all young people thrive as informed, skilled and empowered citizens. Part of Global Learning or Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) is empowering young people to understand, discuss, debate and act on global issues that affect their lives, and teachers need the knowledge, understanding and confidence to engage with these, often complicated issues.
Many young people across Wales will have experienced or witnessed the structural racism that underpins the #blacklivesmatter protests. During lockdown, young people will have participated in the protests or seen them on the news. For some young people, the return to school this week may be the first opportunity to discuss this in school with friends and teachers, and to process their experiences. We’ve invited Naila Missous, a primary school teacher who leads on Religious Education and History, to share some thoughts and tips for teachers as they return to school.
By Naila Missous
Schools will be developing their approaches to the new curriculum in Wales which gives ample opportunities to include current events/world events across the curriculum.
With four main purposes steering the direction of this new framework, the Welsh curriculum allows for a holistic and real-life approach to its learning, for its learners. Of these four strands, one, in particular, stands out, especially as we join the fight for black lives matter: ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world. I think it is important to note the mention of ‘and the world’ in this instance, as Wales becomes an ever more diverse nation, welcoming families and their children in school, and young people prepare to interact with global issues throughout their lives. Yet, world experiences are usually married with general life experiences. That is to say, you cannot feign a global experience if your surroundings, your interactions and that which you consume does not cater for a global diet.
Heightened more so by the black lives matter re-movement this year, the voice of black and brown authors, figures and history have been pushed to the top of many an educator’s agenda: but is this mirrored in the curriculums and embedded as a standard?
Fired up by this, I will admit, as a teacher, it amplified what I had always been feeling and thinking: if pupils can’t see themselves in the content they’re being taught, then how can we expect them to aspire for the same heights as that of the mainstream? And why is it important?
This infographic provides a visual suggestion as to how any pupil accesses their learning, unconsciously to the begin with, then eventually the realisation of what they’re learning becomes more obvious as they progress in their learning journey. As the Welsh curriculum is a continuous journey from age 3 all the way up to 16, the understanding of the curriculum must be shared between both teacher and pupil. Children should be able to understand the reasoning behind what they’re learning, not just the facts. And how does one keep the pupil immersed in what they’re learning? Engagement. Too often physical behaviours and oral attitudes of pupils are blamed on the individual themselves; but rather, there is a whole plethora of reasons why a pupil may be disengaging thus leading to these behaviours. If the learning doesn’t involve them, include them or say their name, then why expect any engagement. In this instance, the pupil has a right to feel betrayed by what they’re learning.
It is often simple steps that make the biggest impact. For example in my teaching of the reign of Queen Elizabth the I, I married this with the ties she had with the Islamic Empire, thus by default having to mention Islam, and many a country on the Silk Route. It includes children not only in the learning, but quite literally in the history, too. It becomes less removed, and more personal.
It is a time for tough questions and even tougher implementations. An inclusive curriculum means not placing groups in opposition to one another, but also respecting the richness in the diversity. No cloaking over the fact people are different, no forcing of linked commonalities. Celebrate the difference in uniting through a shared humanity. If we use yoga for mindfulness in school, let them know that is in fact a Hindu spiritual practice that holds great importance for so many Hindus around the world. The classroom is a space that allows for a free-flowing movement of knowledge and language, if you let it be that way. Discussing the ‘White Lives Matter’ banner at a recent Burnley football match with my bubble of children in school allowed for a lot of insight, from a child’s perspective. They knew this incident was offensive, and the open dialogue within the classroom allowed us to frame why and what we could do next as citizens. Pedantic enforcement of ideas that do not involve every ethnic background is indeed a nose-dive.
The areas of learning and experience in the Welsh curriculum do not dictate prescriptively what one can and cannot teach; and so, this is a great time to bring to the forefront the experiences of teachers from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds, as well as giving them credit when credit is due. This should not be a tokenistic professional learning event where a teacher is used for the benefit of others on a platform; rather, make well informed decisions, collaborations and real changes. It is okay to admit to not knowing, that is a fresh starting point to encourage your own teaching journey.
Unknowingly to teachers who are fired up with the passion to tackle structural racism- and I fully am on this side – there will be teachers who feel overcome with worry about being presented with difficult situations. How can they teach what they do not experience? What if a parent approaches you with a robust conversation topic that you are unsure in handling? Firstly, this is how many a pupil may feel when their learning doesn’t marry up with their own experiences: a little lost, a little “What is the point?”, and a whole lot of “I can’t relate to this”.
As teachers, we should be able to seek out positive, informed and solid discussions not only with our pupils, but also with their carers. As such, below I present some ideas and hopefully starting points for these situations:
- A parent disagrees or is wavered by the content of what their child is accessing. An unconscious bias may lead to them wanting their child removed from a specific religion lesson, or figure being covered in history. Allow the parent or carer to explain their concerns and reason; it’s all about being listened to and acknowledged. This will be particularly important as the right to withdraw pupils from religious education and RSE changes.
- A difficult conversation arises between a teacher and their student. Many times, the students will have views that are adopted through home life or those they associate with, and this is not always obvious until a debate in the classroom. Instead of punishing or sanctioning (and it may be something that initially shocks you), instead, explore the view, and allow them the space to say it. Sometimes saying it out loud is a starting point for realising the negativity in what they’re sharing.
- Giving them space in class when they may hear, or say things that are racist (intentionally or otherwise). It’s important to mention that racism as a fundamental behaviour isn’t okay. We know that, but it is not enough to just not be racist: you must be anti-racist. However, unlearning is something that a teacher and student can both do. Shaming vs diverting the factual attention of the speaker are different approaches: one shames and cancels, whilst the other allows for a stop, think and rethink. It can be hard, but nothing worth learning (or unlearning) comes with pure ease.
The Welsh curriculum suggests that a pupil’s learning journey is different from the next pupil; a unique roadmap that allows for complexity, depth and eventually a personal responsibility of their own learning. This is progressive, though we must take into account that the starting point at age 3 needs the teacher to nurture and ensure a safe space so pupils feel comfortable in their black or brown identity. And for those white pupils, to learn a worldview that is not othered, but by others.