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Blog post Part of series: Education, #BlackLivesMatter and racial justice in the UK and beyond

Anti-racist mathematics teacher education

Manjinder Jagdev

On 28 August 2020 thousands marched through Washington DC to mark the 57th anniversary of the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr. My research interests include anti-racism education, and every year I teach my PGCE mathematics students a session on the historical and cross-cultural roots of mathematics. This year, my students read papers by Smith and Lander (2012), McIntosh (1989) and Brownsword (2019) in advance of working in groups to create a lesson plan and resources with their written reflections on celebrating diversity.

The students’ lesson activities included: ‘The Game AYO’, ‘Yoruba Number System’, ‘Towers of Hanoi’, ‘Crop Circles’ and ‘Tangrams, Sudoku and Kenken’. The purpose of engaging such activities includes teaching pupils that mathematics is a universal language with contributions from all over the world, over many centuries.

In an online session, the PGCE maths students discussed the issues of White privilege, unconscious bias and decolonising the curriculum. One student reflected:

‘I began thinking about what racism is, and where it comes from. It’s a primal instinct to want to fit in and integrate into what we deem to be the ‘normal’ culture that surrounds us, that we know. If that culture isn’t very diverse then it’s easy to see how racism can arise when people/norms/traits from other cultures are introduced, and don’t fit the ‘normal’ model that has been built up in people’s minds. This made me realise how important diversity is in growing up, so children grow into adults with a healthy idea of what normal is, and have an appreciation of all nations, cultures and races.

‘I was really surprised to see how high the percentage of White British teachers (who) are entering the profession is (Smith & Lander, 2012), and I wondered why this may be. I feel teaching is a profession which many people are inspired to explore as a result of their time spent in school as students. One of the key ingredients here are the role models students are exposed to. I wonder, if ethnic minorities in Britain were more fairly represented in the teaching profession, whether students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds would see the profession as one they could more closely relate to, or see themselves taking part in. A subconscious barrier may be being created among students that dissuades them from considering a career in teaching, as they do not fit the teacher stereotype that this unfortunate imbalance of ethnic representation has created. This is a vicious cycle, and one that will take years to alter.’

In light of the recent killing of George Floyd, subsequent global protests and Black Lives Matter, PGCE maths students reflected on the implications on their classroom teaching with pupils, in relation to:

  • White privilege across society and, in education (primary, secondary, and tertiary) – we need to encourage more people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds into education, as teachers across these sectors.
  • Unconscious bias in society – it is as damaging as overt racism and we need to discuss how it can be addressed and challenged.
  • Decolonisation of the national curriculum from primary, secondary to tertiary education – children, from the beginning of their formal education, should learn about contributions from all people, including those from BAME backgrounds, to society and the world. Reading lists across all higher education faculties should reflect such contributions.

The university teacher and the student have a role to play in decolonising the space of the classroom. We need to create spaces where students can speak openly in order to develop critical perspectives.

We need to consider our teaching pedagogy in the classroom in terms of incorporating diverse perspectives. As both a lecturer and facilitator, we need to bring our students’ voices into the classroom, to make teaching a mutual learning process. We can all take simple steps by including pictures of authors in our material presented to students, using quotes and citations from those with Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

We need to pay attention to colonial domination and the western Global North. What are the non-Anglophone views? Linked to these themes of equality and equity, we need to re-balance women in discussion. We can include narratives from indigenous and disadvantaged groups for inclusive and diverse education.

We need to challenge Euro-centricity, tackle microaggressions and consider the degree awarding gap for students from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds (Amos, 2019). Black History month should not be reserved only for October – we can celebrate contributions from people all over the world, with students and staff learning from each other, throughout the year.

References

Amos, V. (2019). Black, Asian and minority ethnic student attainment at UK universities: #closingthegap. London: Universities UK. Retrieved from https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2019/bame-student-attainment-uk-universities-closing-the-gap.pdf

Brownsword, S. (2019). Preparing primary trainee teachers to teach children from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds of groups: Participation, experiences and perceptions of trainee teachers. Teacher Education Advancement Network Journal, 11(2), 39–44.

McIntosh, P. (1989, July/August). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace and Freedom Magazine, 10–12.

Smith, H., & Lander, V. (2012). Collision or collusion: Effects of teacher ethnicity in the teaching of whiteness. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 15(3), 331–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2011.585340