Acknowledgement: I wish to pay respect and honour to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past, present and future. I acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their significant role within our education systems and wider communities.
As the leader of an international school in which the students originate from over 60 different countries I could be easily persuaded to think…“Our community does not need to discuss racism, we are very internationally minded and respect others for their diversity of traditions and beliefs”. Just because our cohort is international does not mean that we are internationally minded or racially sensitive. Currently this is something that gnaws within me. We are resting on our laurels and there is not enough being explicitly done to address the inequalities of race. For me, the question remains, what is the level of confidence that we as a school community are tackling racism and are we achieving equity in our schools?
This question has been in the spotlight in recent times and was sharply brought to my attention again by my youngest son, Jarrod. After four years of study he has been successfully working as a physiotherapist in Brisbane, Australia for the past 2.5 years. With more confidence than his father to explore new challenges, he has already had a change of heart in terms of his career and is now studying to become a teacher. A noble profession dare I say. Part of his teacher training curriculum is the topic of Culture Studies: Indigenous Education. When he shared his completed assignment with me I read it with intrigue as this was never considered a topic of study, or even discussion, when I was completing my teacher qualifications some 33 years ago.
In his research paper he included a personal teaching statement in which he said “when teaching young indigenous Australians, I need to be mindful of delivering culturally sensitive and relevant pedagogy“. Also included was an acknowledgement of the sociocultural position in which he has found himself and the advantages that this has brought him in his young life so far. The fact that this is being explicitly taught in the Queensland teacher education program as a first step towards tackling racism. As commendable as that is, it does make me wonder if what we have been doing in schools for years now, is actually having any success in addressing the divide. Pondering this question has reignited my journey to critically evaluate what is happening in my own school in Singapore at a time when we all know that we must be addressing racism and seeking solutions for the decentralised social movements such as Black Lives Matter.
Around the same time as I was reading my son’s research paper, my attention was drawn to an excellent article written by a good friend of mine, Kate Taverner, who works at the Council of International Schools. CIS has been hosting some wonderful initiatives on the issue of racism and equity. In Kate’s article she refers to “our own learning“ in which we should “explore our implicit biases”. I think this is the point that I have to go back to and restart my own personal learning journey.
This in turn, brings me back to our school communities. It is the responsibility of school leaders to not only set the direction in terms of the vision, mission and strategic plans but also define intercultural awareness and unpack the values that run through the school community. What is it that we believe to be true, are the guiding statements bedrock for the community and what is it that we want our students to be in the future? Of course it follows that what we then articulate in our curriculum is imperative and educators must analyse its impact and whether we are successfully addressing implicit bias and redressing the issue of racism. There is no doubt in my mind that there is much to be done in this area within the international school community but I am a glass half full type of person and I believe that positive steps have been taken. They may be only baby steps in some schools but we are moving forward. It is now the responsibility of individual school leaders to proactively continue the conversations with students, teachers and all community stakeholders and be the driving force for positive change.
Taverner, K., Tackling racism starts with our own learning at CIS, October 2020,