Written by Jitse van Ameijde

Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Social Change Academy

Education is without a doubt the most transformative force in society. Education lifts people out of poverty, it opens up choices with regards to the livelihoods they can pursue, and it empowers them to challenge the status quo. But education has a diversity and inclusion problem. Like any social institution, it is rooted in its history and has evolved within a system predominantly designed by white men. This means that much of the curriculum is based on the thinking, insights and mindsets of white men who were taught by other white men who came before them. There has been some progress in addressing this and making education more inclusive.

Many educational institutions have developed policies to promote equality, diversity and widening access and success, yet statistics consistently show students from a minority ethnic background are underrepresented in many disciplines within Higher Education. There is also a significant gap in the success rates with students from ethnic minority backgrounds consistently lagging behind their white counterparts. When we look below the surface of the marketing materials provided by many educational institutions – which show diverse students smiling and having a good time – these images do not necessarily reflect the experience of learners from a diversity of backgrounds. 

As the recent surge in Black Lives Matter protests illustrates, we do not yet live in a society where everyone feels safe and included. Quite the opposite, this global movement has illustrated that large sections of our society face oppression and exclusion as part of their daily lived experience, including experiences within education. The fact that this experience has remained largely under the radar of white privilege does not make it any less real and urgent. 

Now what would it mean for education to be more diverse and inclusive, and what steps can we take to move in the right direction beyond articulating policies and providing diverse images in marketing materials?

First of all, it is essential that education explicitly addresses its own biases and blind-spots and actively works to incorporate a more diverse range of voices within the curriculum. This means including works from authors and theorists who represent under-represented groups within society because of their gender, race, sexual orientation or other relevant characteristics.

Secondly, it means making the contested nature of knowledge explicit and encouraging active debate among students about how many current perspectives and understandings are rooted in white privilege and promote insights which serve the interests of an establishment that promotes the interests of some over the interests of others.

Thirdly, it means transforming some of metaphors prevalent within educational institutions. Masculine metaphors around competition dominate within educational discourse and education is seen as a competitive battle among students for the best grades and a competitive battle for institutions to acquire the “best and brightest” students. We should instead be shifting these metaphors to something more grounded in collaboration and sustainable growth. Life doesn’t need to be seen as a competitive struggle for survival – and opportunity does not need to be presented as a cake with a limited number of slices.

Fourthly, it requires educational institutions change their recruitment, development and promotion practices so that these are effective at removing any barriers for minority applicants and staff to join and develop within an organisation. This includes using blind recruitment processes, balanced recruitment panels which include minority representation and whose members are trained in avoiding the adverse impact of unconscious bias, as well as a range of development programmes aimed at supporting minority staff to develop as part of their role.

These four steps form a starting point for addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in education, and responsibility for their implementing very much lies in the hands of the those in leadership positions in our educational institutions. However, the systemic issues cannot be addressed within our education institutions alone and require the active participation of the media, arts, literature, and other institutions in stopping the damaging stories and limiting expectations which give rise to access and success barriers in education and beyond.

Bio

Jitse van Ameijde is a social entrepreneur and founder of Social Change Academy – a social enterprise focused on the development of tomorrow’s change makers passionate to make a positive difference to the lives of others. Originally from the Netherlands, Jitse came to the UK to finish his Masters in Social and Organisational Psychology, and ended up working for the Open University where he worked on the design of distance learning experiences and taught systems thinking in practice as an Associate Lecturer. He is passionate about issues of inclusion, social justice, and equal opportunities for all regardless of their past.

Jitse van Ameijde is the founder of the Social Change Academy: https://www.socialchangeacademy.org/founder/

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