Colour blind to our differences

4th November 2005 at 00:00
A new anti-racism course is helping Glasgow primary children to accept everyone as equal and dispel prejudice, writes Douglas Blane

A Glendale Primary pupil tells of her earliest experience of racism in Glasgow. "I had a best friend at playgroup who was a Muslim.

People thought it was wrong that we played together and they made fun of us.

"That was a few years ago. And we were going to meet up again but I just heard she died yesterday in the earthquake.

"The people who said those things are being nice to me now because I'm sad.

But they weren't then."

Many of the pupils at Glendale Primary - where 65 per cent are from ethnic minorities - have stories of racist incidents that happened to them. But not in their school, they say, where an anti-racism programme, now being taken into every Glasgow primary, is securely embedded in the curriculum.

"It's good in the playground," says Aymen, who is in P6. "I haven't heard anything racist - well, maybe just once - since I came here in Primary 1."

Habeeb (P7) agrees that the school is free from racism.

"Out in the streets it's different though," he says quietly. "People say things to me about my skin colour."

Across the river, in the City Chambers, the anti-racist resources developed for these pupils were being launched to an audience of 300. Glasgow's director, depute director and convenor of education, as well as HM Inspectorate of Education, testified to the importance of tackling racism.

It has "absolutely no place in Scottish society or in our city", says Ronnie O'Connor, Glasgow's executive director (education, training and young people).

Scotland prides itself on being fair and just, says Glendale Primary's headteacher, Jean Campbell. "But for too many Scots that is not their experience."

In response to this reality, the school had been teaching an ethos of equality, says Ms Campbell. "Our children have developed a confidence in recognising racist incidents and knowing that racism is unacceptable in our school." There was, however, a need to broaden education resources to help children deal with subtle, as well as obvious, forms of racism and produce a progressive sequence of anti-racism lessons from P1 to P7.

With the help of Glasgow's educational improvement service, this has now been done. The lessons, designed to fit into personal and social development programmes, are enhanced by a CD-Rom with video clips.

Watched on a large screen by representatives from every Glasgow primary school and over half of Scotland's education authorities, Maureen Fagan's Primary 1 pupils at Glendale Primary peer, one by one, into a little box containing a picture of someone "who is very special". Their eyes light up as they see their own face in a mirror.

"What does special mean?" Ms Fagan asks. "Magic"; "Shining"; "Like twinkling stars," the children suggest.

"I feel special when my mum gives me a hug."

"I feel special when my dad and mum and my little sister take me to Asda."

Ms Fagan asks the wee ones to form pairs. "I want you to find some things in your faces that are the same, then some things that are different."

Two boys offer their findings. "We both have short hair. We both have one nose. We both have two ears. We both have the same jumper and shoes."

"Did you find anything different?"

"Our skin ... Oh, our eyes are the same colour too."

Pupils of all ages at the school have grown very capable of talking about racism and offering their views, says Ms Campbell. "Children have a clear understanding of unfairness and injustice. We are building on that, helping them look at every aspect of it."

Diversity is commonplace at the school and children become best friends irrespective of skin colour, says Ms Campbell. "But the lessons will be useful, too, in schools with fewer kids from ethnic minorities."

"Sometimes we act it out," says Samantha, who is in P6. "That lets us know what it feels like when people are racist to you.

"When the lessons are not upsetting, they can be quite fun. You're doing drama and making stuff up, and that's fun."

Zynab (P7) says: "You are showing people what racism feels like for you.

It's a good thing to teach people that."

The lessons bring racism into the open, says Aymen. "You don't feel silly talking about it.

"If every school has these anti-racism lessons it won't stop racism completely but it will make a lot of people stop."

An Anti-Racist Curriculum for Glasgow: A PSD Approach for Primary Schools, a CD-Rom with PDF files giving lesson plans and notes (pound;325) For more information, contact Les McLean, tel 0141 287 4724, or Samir Shama, tel 0141 287 4787

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