Racism disrupts students’ education

All Together Now is concerned with racist attitudes and behaviours that are present in Australian schools creating a culture that sees ‘casual’ racism as being normal.


Recognising racism in schools

Racism occurs in explicit forms such as name-calling, teasing, exclusion, verbal abuse and bullying. It is also commonly and indirectly presented through prejudiced attitudes, lack of recognition of cultural diversity and culturally biased practices.

It has been acknowledged racism can have a profound effect on students, teachers and generally affects the overall school atmosphere.

The following effects have been identified by the NSW Government’s project ‘Racism. No Way!’.

Students who experience racism might

  • be afraid of going to school
  • have trouble studying and concentrating in class
  • stay away from school
  • feel anxious and unhappy
  • have trouble making friends
  • fall behind in schoolwork
  • get lower results in their exams
  • not speak their first language for fear of being teased or picked on
  • reject their own culture and parental values
  • be confused about their own identity
  • be aggressive or disruptive.


Teachers who experience racism might

  • not want to go to work each day
  • lose confidence in their ability to teach
  • feel anxious and unhappy
  • stay away from school
  • lose enjoyment in teaching


Effects on the whole school

  • students making friends only with others
  • from the same background
  • fights in playground between students
  • from different cultural or linguistic groups
  • conflict between staff and students from different backgrounds
  • unfriendly school environment
  • parents not having confidence in the school and education system


Racism causing students to doubt themselves: the evidence

Successful learning experiences are dependent on the sustained engagement of students which racism has proven to limit and disrupt. New research by Dr. Bodkin-Andrews of Macquarie University has highlighted such experiences could also negatively impact students’ academic performance.

In a sample of more than 500 high school students more than half the Indigenous and Asian students reported experiencing racism. Results suggest that greater experiences of racism are significantly associated with increased levels of hopelessness across all groups and lower level math and English ratings. One in three students from Anglo backgrounds reported experiencing racism and lower university aspirations, however, endured less of the negative effects of racism due to a strong sense of identity and perceived cultural respect.

This further emphasises inequities faced by Indigenous Australians high school students who on average miss one day of school per week and remain 2.5 years behind their peer.


Challenging racism in schools

All Together Now’s recent infographic Racism in Australian Schools, based on a report Experiences of Racism, Racial/Ethnic Attitudes, Motivated Fairness and Mental Health Outcomes Among Primary and Secondary School Students’ by Naomi Priest et al, illustrates that challenging racism in schools requires a sustained combination of early intervention and anti-racism action.

Further, Dr Bodkin-Andrews addressed the Australian Council for Educational Research’s annual conference in Adelaide in early August on how students can be resilient and challenge racism, “It’s not just about feeling good about yourself or denying that racism exists or being motivated.”

He noted in his recommendations that racism is affecting students in different ways and the ways in which students become resilient against racism is also quite diverse. As greater evidence emerges of racism in schools it suggests the issue is often not acknowledged or addressed in an effective manner by teachers or others in authority.

All Together Now envisions a school system where students do not have to be confronted with the adverse affects of racism and can engage in a positive learning experience with equal opportunities. Assisting students to develop a better understanding and respect for cultural differences in the classroom – and ensuring teachers know how to challenge racism if it occurs – will prepare students to engage in the wider society and embrace multiculturalism.

4 thoughts on “Racism disrupts students’ education”

  1. It is so sad how young kids in schools have to experience racism from such a young age. It works like a cycle. I believe a lot of kids become racist due to the racism they face in school to begin with. Imagine a kid, who has not felt any racism before, going to school, and getting racist comments just because of his or her skin colour. That kid will start getting used to that “difference” and start to notice and get to the “difference” as well. And then start to be racist due to that “difference”. No one is born a racist. Racism is a learned behaviour. See, if we were born and raised in a way where everyone saw and treated each other equally, we probably wouldn’t even view our skin colour as a difference. Most kids play with almost anyone of every race, because their minds have not been tainted. But as we grow, we start to exclude certain people because we learn that we are “different”.

    This is a really good movement. I believe schools and teachers have to start teaching kids from a young age for them to develop a greater understanding and respect for each different race and culture. If they are not taught, they can only learn from their environment and surrounding, and no one is to tell them what is right or wrong if they pick up habits and mindsets in that way. If the schools and teachers teach them and guide them in the right way, it will be easier for them to understand the importance of multiculturalism, and this will eventually prevent them from becoming racists, as well as being victims of racism.

    • I agree with your comment. No one is born this way, its a learned behavior. Sometimes your child doesn’t know exactly what is going on or how they are feeling on the inside. We have some many things all around us, and not treating people as you want to be treated is so hard from us to do and there is no quick fix or remedy that we can use to fix it.

  2. The essence of transforming ourselves lies in learning compassion. Unfortunately our schools have always been the victim of politics. If the curriculum in our primary schools included subjects such as philosophy and world history then I believe our culture would be a more inclusive one. The strategic policy is to offer one sided education instead of an opening – oriented ONE. Our children are denied the diverse paths which can enrich their knowledge and give them better nourishment.

  3. The information on some of the behaviors that your child might exhibit was a eye opener for me. Sometimes your child doesn’t know exactly what is going on or how they are feeling on the inside. We have some many things all around us, and not treating people as you want to be treated is so hard from us to do and there is no quick fix or remedy that we can use to fix it. Racism is real and it affects our children in ways that are bigger than the behavior that we might witness.


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