Reality or Diversity: Challenges of Developing Social Capital of Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) Groups within Education Environment

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In this assignment, I intend to focus on the challenges of developing social capital of black, minority and ethnic (BME) groups within the Further Education environment of Scotland’s Colleges. Despite the fact that our society is growing more and more diverse, it is surprising to note that between 2015 and 2016, only 6.7% of students in Scotland came from Black, Minority and Ethnic backgrounds (SFC, 2017). This figure is however a higher proportion than the percentage of people from BME backgrounds in Scotland which stood at 4% of the population in the 2011 Cencus. of Black Minority and Ethnic people in Scotland.

The reality or Diversity

Whatever the numbers in question, diversity within our society is a reality and will increase over time (Cantle,2001). Indeed, it is an interesting forecast for the ‘western world’ that white americans will become the minority by 2045 according to projections based on trends identified in recent cencuses (Frey 2015). Steps therefore need to be taken to respect and celebrate this diversity as Gregson et al (2015) recognised brought strength to the Further Education and indeed, throughout this assignment I will endeavor to bring the discussion back to the positive approaches of valuing diversity and the notion that as a society we are “greater than the sum of our parts”.

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Diversity is nothing new in this country and goes back millenia. African Romans who served with the roman army in britain, Normans, Jews fleeing religious persecution, refugees seeking asylum from two world wars as well as a great number of of people from all continents have come to shores seeking a better life, better life chances or to flee dangerous conflicts and persecution. People have often come to this country with notable skills and significant success from their countries of origin (Knox, 1997) a fact that flies in the face of the some of the more negative motivations behind the Brexit vote of 2016.

Questions over labelling

Before going any further, there is clearly some discomfort over the labels BME, BAME or Even POC (People of Colour) as has emerged in the US. They have been seen as clumsy and “unwieldy”. With the emphasis on “non white”, it does not easily recognise – for example – the experiences of traveller communities who experience cultural divergence and socio-economic challenges or any other ethnic group whose ethnicity is not defined by colour (Okolosie et al 2015). I am also uncomfortable with this label as the multi faceted nature of the label “black” does not differentiate African, Jamaican and / or third generation or Scottish. It does not recognise the equally diverse range and gulf between the Ethnic Minorities of the UK (Paris 2015). However, there remains a need to retain a sense of these labels in order to allow our laws to specifically challenge discrimination.

Clearly anti disciplinary practice is important in ensuring all groups are involved and research has found that we need to be consistent, prescriptive and direct in challenging discrimination. However, one of the themes of this assignment will be in exploring how we plan learning and if celebrating diversity is a better strategy to meeting the needs of students than challenging discrimination.

Social Capital

Social Capital and the collective resources, identity and values it represents (Edwards et al 2003) has increasingly become a recognised factor on the student journey, as well as the realisation of future potential on leaving college or university. It relates to every student regardless of race, socio-economic status or ethnicity. Lecturers therefore need to be mindful of their role in fostering social capital within the classroom and wider college life and I will go on to explore this concept and our obligations as teaching staff in the following paragraphs.

“Our graduates are certainly getting jobs, but they are not necessarily getting the right jobs to fulfil their potential or to meet their aspirations. Their achievements post-graduation may be limited by a deficit in social capital” (Gaskall and Lingwood, 2017).

As the Guardian article above shows, future career aspirations are clearly affected by social capital. However, in particular for BME groups, the student journey with its’ wide range of educational, social and cultural challenges is also affected in complex ways.

Wellbeing throughout the college years is important for the student experience itself as well as their success in completion of the course of study and future opportunities. Friendships, the forming of trusting relationships and strong networks have been recognised to improve both the health and mental health of students (Allan, 89) and so being labelled as being in a minority group, these protective factors can become more elusive and therefore the social cohesion of the classroom remains an issue the lecturer must be mindful of.

The latent functions of education as equally important in a student’s life experience. The opportunity meet new people, romantic partners, enjoy social experiences and create memories are all potential important factors in many student journey through college (Merton 1967)

For those of us who hold liberal values dear, multiculturalism is something we should celebrate and this is reflected in……. Liberal principles promote fairness, justice and the rights of the individual (Singh ,98) and do not seek any particular cultures ends. An underlying optimism is ever present that the respect and freedom afforded to all cultures will benefit us all. Despite this, it is surprising and disappointing to note that in society, we have not become significantly integrated and as the Commission for Racial Equality (2004) found, nine out of ten of white people from the UK have very few or no friends from BME groups.

For people of BME groups this can be of little help in establishing Social Capital. As Reynolds (2007) found, many young people from African – Caribbean backgrounds reported a rich and diverse friendship group in primary school. By secondary school however, friendship groups had become more polarised and by further and higher education, friendship groups were predominantly African – Caribbean.

The study went on to note that higher education further consolidated young adults networks in terms of race and ethnicity. Many students chose to attend a college or university that was recognised as having a high level of BME students over establishments that could have offered more resources and better opportunities (Reynolds 2006) In the communities studied, the young people who chose to venture to largely ‘white’ colleges found the BME young people often experienced a feeling of isolation. As a result, many chose to seek out other young students from BME backgrounds.

Care needs to be taken in preparing learning sessions in a way which allows inclusive education which not only improves learning outcomes but also allows BME students to build on their social capital through a positive, inclusive mullieu. Lecturers need to have a high level of self awareness on their own views, beliefs and values but may benefit from escalating this to the development of the Sociological Imagination (Mills,1959). We need to reflect that all of us are largely products of our environment and often revert to viewing the world from this paradigm. We need to be able to locate ourselves in our culture with it’s distinct elements of race, geographical location and postmodernist values (Brayton, 2008). This awareness should give light to the limitations we have in how far we can go to understand the world from other people’s perspective. Consequently lecturers should also consider their own gender, socio-economic class and ethnicity and reflect on how they will teach groups of students from a variety of backgrounds and personal circumstances (Huddleston and Ulnwin, 2013)

In locating ourselves from a sociological perspective we can perhaps become more aware of the unconscious biases that arise within our culture. Moule (2009) highlights the potential for unconscious bias to lead to “unintentional racism” (Moule 2009 p1), even in what could be seen to be in it’s most benign and unintentional forms. Teachers and Lecturers need to carefully reflect on lesson planning to consider any cultural references, anecdotes or any point of discussion which could emerge – however unintended as as unintentional racism. This however needs to be balanced with the positive aspects of Inclusive education (Wright et al 2010) where the diversity of the group can become a great strength. Care therefore needs to be taken to allow us to address diversity in the positive light of multiculturalism.

Wright et al (2010), highlights the need for practical steps and practical skills in supporting with students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. They suggest finding another lecturer as a “sounding board” in carefully constructing lessons and reflecting on practice. This process can act as the ‘gatekeeper’ for sensitive issues but also empower the lecturer in taking a positive stance in promoting inclusive education. This is a crucial area relating to reflective practice (Gregson and Hillier 2015) and can support our development in supporting BME students in class, creating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment that can promote the conditions that lead to increased social capital.

Active Listening skills (Rogers and Farson,1987) should also be promoted to allow greater sensitivity to students view while make greater connections and benefiting from the experience of the student. Active listening requires genuineness and unconditional positive regard (Bozarth, 2001) and while this will have the benefits of better informing the educator, active learning encourages a positive response from the person being listened to promoting a more positive frame of mind and a sense of acceptance prompting a greater foundation to promote increased social capital. Is there anything on active listening skills and minority groups that i can further lead on and link to social capital

In reflecting on the role of the lecturer in the process of celebrating diversity and giving learners the opportunity to learn from each other and share experiences, I now feel challenged to use the key opportunities to create opportunities for multiculturalism in setting up group tasks and activities. There are perhaps many missed opportunities to pre select the participants of groups in a way that could bring an element of multi culturalism as well as diveristy in terms of age, gender and sexual orientation. It is often a tendency to allow self selection of groups or to create completely random groups. From this course of study, I now intend to take my lesson planning forward in a way that promotes diversity, especially through the selection of groups. The lecturers ability to set the agenda as well as to pre plan group selection can promote multicultural values within individual students and take steps towards developing community cohesion outwith the college in a way that perhaps only Further Education can (Gregson 2015)

Links to local and national community organisations is another positive action suggested by Wright et al (2010). While this seems a time consuming project (which could be achieved in a macro way through a whole college approach) the benefits to this are clear. Organisations such as Cemvo, a government funded organisation promoting social inclusion of Ethnic Minorities and local council community centres allowing links to refugees and programmes to promote their inclusion can prove to be useful resources for lecturers to better understand diverse student groups within the college.

All of Scotland’s colleges are accountable in ensuring equality for students and freedom from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The Act superseded previous legislation and provided more robust protection to students who were recognised under the protected characteristics of “age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation” (College Development Network 2010). It is clearly stated that BME Students should not face any manner of discrimination in accessing Further Education nor should the delivery of this have any discriminatory effect. This is a crucial step in fighting discrimination however, fighting discrimination needn’t be the only show in town. The OECD report “In it Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits us all (2015) looks at inequality in a variety of settings and covers a number of issues. It makes the case that less division, more equality and the synergy of people’s talents and creativity will improve humanity and should make a positive impact on us all. I would hope that as legislation and policies develop over time, there will be a greater balance and more optimistic view on inclusion. The OECD publication talks of empowerment, reaching one’s full potential regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity. These more positive aspects could add even more weight in the fight against discrimination of all protected characteristics listed in the act.

In challenging discrimination at a national level, The ‘One Scotland’ guide on Racism (2008) reminds colleges to be mindful of any intentional or unintentional drift towards ‘institutional racism’ where the colleges’ policies or procedures disadvantage any students from minority backgrounds. As the guide points out, institutional racism can result from unconscious bias, lack of understanding, a lack of taking ‘care’ to think through implications and stereotyping. There is therefore a duty on college management and staff to remain vigilant in reflecting on our capacity for unconscious bias and taking positive action to promote anti-discriminatory practice (Thompson 2016)

The Equality act applies to staff and other members of the public as well as students. So it was interesting to note that The survey on Equality in colleges in Scotland: results from the 2017 staff survey and focus groups (2017) found that only one in four BME staff had been encouraged to apply for senior positions and that their “race or ethnicity affected fair treatment in areas such as recruitment and selection, allocation of desirable or sought after tasks or roles” (Equality Challenge Unit 2018 p1). As is apparently typical of unconscious bias and unintentional racism these elements appear to permeate aspects of college life if we are not vigilant in addressing the challenges being aware of ‘blind spots’ .

One of the expectations placed on Colleges that they develop a robust Access and Inclusion Strategy. My own college has produced this for years 2018 to 2023. In it the college make bold commitments to ensure there are “no barriers to entitlement or success” (NCL, 2018) and that positive actions and attitudes are embedded in order to meet the Scottish Government’s’ vision. The strategy goes on to lay out strategic objectives which specifically include facilitating ways to “break down barriers to engagement” (NCL, 2018 p4) which is clearly a crucial commitment in creating an equal and equitable environment which should promote BME students ability to develop Social Capital in their college journey.

Interestingly however, the measurement of the strategies success is heavily reliant on positive endorsement by external agencies such as Education Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council. Perhaps there is a clearer measure of success that could have been woven into this framework with more accessible goals and commitments that include and empower students and staff. The action plan however goes on to be more prescriptive in implementing the access and inclusion strategy by rolling out bespoke training this year to raise awareness and during the course of this year a steering group will be established (NCL 2018). There is no clear indication if students will be on the steering group but I feel this would be a positive step.


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