ERG SES G 06, Primary Education
This presentation considers the early stages of a small-scale qualitative research project on children’s understandings of their ethnic identity in schools in England and South Africa, from the point of view of a (very) early career researcher exploring the use of creative visual methods for the first time.
The main research question of this project is:
How do pupils in primary schools in England and South Africa understand their ethnic identity?
In order to address this question, there are another of sub-questions that feed into the objectives of the research:
- What does the academic literature suggest about ethnic identity and children?
- What policies do schools have on ethnicity in England and South Africa?
- How do the literature and policy documents compare to what children themselves share?
- What are the potential advantages and drawbacks of using visual methods to access children’s views on their identity?
- What are the implications of the findings for practice in terms of inclusion of diverse ethnic groups in the educational setting?
It is the main research question and the first, second and fourth subsidiary questions that are addressed in this proposal.
The questions above emerge from the consideration of a research problem that has at its heart concerns that children have their voice heard, their ethnic identity recognised and valued, and that they might feel included in their school settings. Looking first at the broader context, it has been suggested that increased social fragmentation and polarisation has led to the failure of multiculturalism, in some parts of the world partly characterised by communities segregated along ethnic and class lines (Keddie, 2014). In the UK, and especially England, such movements have sparked renewed discussion around identity, not least regarding conceptions of ‘Britishness’, and schools have been targeted by government as sites of transition for children into certain national identities (Holehouse, 2014). In South Africa, despite the initial post-apartheid desire to develop into a fundamentally multicultural ‘rainbow nation’, since 1994 many communities remain divided along ethnic and racial lines, with such patterns reflected in school composition (Soudien, Carrim & Sayed, 2004; Startz, 2010). Although these are two distinct jurisdictions with different histories of immigration and inter-group relations, it is significant that both in England and in South Africa, emphasis within state governance has been placed since the 1990s on creating national unity and identity (Alexander, 2003; Osler, 2009), with much of this focus filtering down into educational policy and curricular initiatives for ethnic inclusion and multicultural educational practice. However, questions arise as to whether and in what ways such approaches have been effective, how pupils understand such initiatives enacted in the classroom, and how they may therefore understand the ethnic identities that are highlighted by these policies.
This presentation is pitched against such approaches to identity in schools by reviewing literature on how children understand their ethnic identity in schools and to what extent education may aid the transition of children from certain ethnic groups into ‘mainstream’ society. It also considers relevant school policies in England and South Africa, in addition to exploring the potential for using visual methods in such research. The presentation will draw on research that has been conducted on identity and belonging (Yuval-Davis, 2006) and ethnic identity in education (Killen & Stangor, 2001; Baumann, 2004), in addition to a number of comparative studies on England and South Africa (for example, Harber & Serf, 2006). Although children’s ethnic identities may be variously understood and prioritised in an education system, it is the contention of this project that identity ‘matters’, and therefore also does understanding it in all its complexity (Connolly, 2003; Gewirtz and Cribb, 2008).
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