'Taj who, miss?';Resarch update

19th March 1999 at 00:00
A primary teacher's small-scale study found that more junior children knew the identity of Pamela Anderson than Jesus and quite a few believed the Taj Mahal to be an Indian person.

Teacher Sarah Miles' research, at a predominantly white school in the London Borough of Greenwich found that - despite having a clear and well thought-out policy on multiculturalism - the school's history resources were largely white-oriented and Anglocentric, and reference to other cultures was considered a low priority.

In a questionnaire, the researcher asked the children to provide a list of historical figures from other countries as well as Britain. While Nelson Mandela came in second after Queen Victoria, his inclusion was as an African rather than as a political leader. Although five of the 26 children mentioned Florence Nightingale, nobody listed her contemporary, Mary Seacole, one of the best resourced figures for multicultural history.

The second part of Sarah Miles' research yielded similar results. In a role-play looking at how the conditions of Victorian slums might have been improved, one child playing a slum dweller suggested that people could be brought over from India and Africa to clean the streets, and be killed if they refused. Other children in the group agreed.

In another lesson, on prominent black people in history, the children were enthusiastic but tended, despite background information to the contrary, to identify black people solely in terms of slavery.

Pupils' awareness of multi-cultural issues in history, Forum Vol 40 No 3 1998, Triangle Journals Ltd, PO Box 65, Wallingford Oxfordshire OX10 0YG

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