SECTIONS

Tolerance and liberal spaces key to instructional success in schools

A teacher at St Mary's Girls Primary School in Nakuru takes Grade 1 pupils through a fast reading lesson. [File, Standard]

To truly allow students to be free thinkers, creators, inventors and leaders, schools should harness tolerance and liberalism. Latitude to truly be self, without fear of subjugation. Without fear of labelling and/or victimisation. It is awfully imperative that everyone in a learning community feels that they truly belong, regardless of where they come from, how they look like, how they talk, what gender they identify with, who they love et cetera. Dogma – of whatever nature and inclination – must never have a place within a learning community. Discrimination and/or bias of any kind must never be tolerated.

I personally see the role of School first as a forte of safety and belonging. A bastion of collaboration and inclusivity. Where esteem is built and/or upheld, not destroyed. Where identities are accepted and upheld, not challenged or mocked. Where open-mindedness and free thinking are fostered, not stifled. Where learners are moulded to live happy, fulfilling, and purposeful lives, and adults lead by example. To me, education goes beyond training professionals. Churning out graduates. That is so parochial. So 20th Century.

Uncomfortable conversations

I have been nominated by my school to take part in a DEIJ training. That is Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice, offered by Near East Asia Council of Overseas Schools {NESA}. We are not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations on diversity and all the ‘chaff’ that comes with it. We don’t skate around, and gloss over issues. We call a spade just that, a spade. We call things for what they are. We do not call white privilege, and white supremacist by any other names. We don’t use monikers. We do not shy away from looking at racism straight in the eye. We agree to disagree. We don’t seek to prove that we are right, or we know better. We seek to understand. To empathise. We seek to learn. We seek to be and do better.

For starters, here in diaspora, in a heavily multi-cultural setting, I proudly identify myself as a black man from Africa, speaking English as a second language, and teaching the same {plus literature in English}. I do this on purpose. To align myself with schools that have, or are in the process of establishing deliberate inclusion policies and frame works for both staff and learners.

Diversity is a full spectrum in race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, age, ability, religion, and political philosophy.

In this course, we gather a data-based perspective on where our learning community is in relation to antiracism, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice. Facilitators evoke, float and name specific concerns for the region while exploring tools and resources to engage with the complexities of this work without ever losing sight of dignity and humanity for all as the ultimate goal. Because that what education is, should, and must really be about; Dignity. Dignity for all! Regardless.

Throughout the series, participants explore how antiracism, inclusion, belonging, and justice are required lenses for all students to experience social-emotional well-being. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice should be woven through our various curricula, supporting students to be fully and intentionally themselves and make sustainable, community-based change.

The aim here to support school counselors in promoting equity in their school communities. It is an interactive course which is designed to increase participants’ awareness of bias {overt or implicit}, discrimination, and privilege in their own lives, in the lives of their students, and in their school communities. Upon completion of the three-module series entailed in the course, participants will, hopefully; have a deeper understanding of the perspectives and experiences of both dominant and marginalized groups, develop awareness about the role they play in equity work; and be better equipped to provide tools for advocacy and leadership in doing anti-oppression work.

I look at diversity as a double-edged sword. If well utilised, it can bring with it a litany of educational benefits, including improved racial, ethnic and cultural awareness, enhanced critical thinking, higher levels of service to community, and a more educated and better-informed citizenry, you name it. However, other components—namely, equity, inclusion and justice—are essential to delivering on diversity’s promise to education more broadly.

Courses such as DEIJ when approached as a foundational principle will allow for effective teaching and learning, a healthy and conducive school environment for kids to thrive. Learning communities with a keen eye on Diversity, Equity, inclusion and justice will ensure that members of the core leadership teams, midlevel coordinators, faculty, para-educators and ancillary staff broadly understand, apply and live this concept.

Stereotyping

I know you might be thinking… “but this sounds too mzungu stuff. How does it even apply to our local context?” Well, you and I know that we are more tribal than we’d like to admit. And this permeated our social fabric. It is deep seated. It most likely influences our hiring and posting. Perhaps it is nuanced and tacitly implied in our learning communities. Perhaps it’s subtle among adults in schools and permeates to the kids. Perhaps it nature or nature or both. But it has to be addressed. This and other issues facing members of any given learning community. Issues around gender bias and stereotyping, religion, issues around socio-economic background et cetera. 

Seeing as teaching and learning are emotional processed just as much as they are cognitive processes, learning communities must be sure to address issues brought about by our diverse walks of life, that might threaten to curtail and impede effective teaching and learning.

School boards and heads must take a lead in this. The government through the Ministry of Education should provide a frame work to facilitate this. Schools should make this a deliberate and conscious endeavour with an aim of making our learning communities more inclusive.