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The following pages will explain what the term ‘equal opportunities’ means and put forward some ideas as to how a good teacher can ensure he/she is practicing equality around the classroom by taking into consideration the sex, race, gender and special educational needs of their children. The National Union of Teachers believes that equal opportunities ‘describes policies and practices which provide equal access and rights and seek to remove discrimination against people on the basis of sex, race, class, sexual orientation or disability.'(NUT) In short, equal opportunities are to treat all children equally based on their individual needs. No child should be subject to disadvantage and the Equal Rights legislation tries to ensure this.
However, children are born with stereotypes and from an early age they are influenced by examples of sexist, racist and disablist attitudes, behaviour, images and language that they witness in everyday life. When a child is old enough to begin the socialisation process, they begin to observe the values and expectations of the society in which they live. Children are smart and can quickly determine the type of language, gender behaviour, culture and religion that is being practised around them.
Subsequently, when a child is introduced to a learning environment, he or she will have already experienced the primary socialisation process from their family and home surroundings and will be ready to move onto the secondary socialisation stage. It is at this crucial stage of a Childs life where the influence of their surroundings, peers and most importantly teaching staff will play an important role in eliminating differences believed to be in race, gender, disability and special educational needs.
Racism, unfortunately, manifests itself in children from a very early age. Research shows that children as young as three attach value to skin colour. They see white as better than black, which means they are already making stereotypical assumptions that focus on black children negatively. To combat this teachers can plan a story with the class that will educate them on the theme of different but equal. Using children who are a different skin colour to role-play or act out a scene from the story may help the children understand the message more clearly.
Introducing the class to different things used around the world, such as food eaten and clothes worn in different countries, may also help them to understand different cultures, and when possible, organised visits to places such as the local mosque will open their eyes to the cultural diversity that represents their community. It is also important for the teacher to use appropriate language around the class, as children tend to imitate what they hear. As the term ‘coloured’ is no longer politically correct, the term black or the child’s preferred term should be acknowledged. Doing this will help the child gain positive experiences because he/she is being accepted for who they are.
In addition, Equipment and books should constantly be evaluated for racism. Young children learn about language from the books their teacher makes available to them. Therefore, the books should present a world in which all cultures are portrayed equally. One example of this is books that portray black children in positive roles such as taking the lead of a task or game instead of standing in the background. Books with bi and multi-lingual texts will help children understand that there is more than one written language in the world. These will also help children who speak several languages feel more valued as their home tongue is being acknowledged within the classroom.
Finally, on race, teaching staff must be fully aware of using indirect racial discrimination around the school. This, according to the race relation’s act 1976, is [When a] ‘requirement or condition is applied equally to all, but a considerably smaller proportion of a particular racial group can comply with it compared to persons who are not of that racial group’. Race Relations Act (1976) section 1(1)(B). An example of this is offering only pork sausage for everyone at lunchtime when clearly any Jewish children may not want to eat them and have no alternative.
Another major concern around the classroom is gender typing. The term Gender typing means to categorise according to perceived male and female characteristics. For example, research carried out throughout schools in England suggested that boys in an early years environment preferred to play with cars and lorries, whereas girls of the same age preferred soft toys and dolls. A survey in 1992 also showed that 95% of five-year-old boys believed that repairing cars should only be done by men, while 86% of the girls surveyed thought that only women should sow clothes. The researchers believed that the reason for this was because parents were unconsciously communicating a wealth of information regarding gender-appropriate behaviour to their infants in their efforts to socialise them.