Unsettling times

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
DESH PARDESH: THE SOUTH ASIAN PRESENCE IN BRITAIN Edited by Roger Ballard Hurst amp; Co #163;9.95. 1 85065 092 6. ASIAN TEACHERS IN BRITISH SCHOOLS: A STUDY OF TWO GENERATIONS By Paul A Singh Ghuman Multilingual Matters #163;12.95 1 85359 260 9

Gajendra Verma on Asians in British life and education.

Roger Ballard sets out to present a reasonably comprehensive picture of the worlds of South Asian settlers in Britain and their offspring, and of the changes and developments which are taking place within them.

Each of the 11 papers in the book, to which he contributes, deals with a particular sub-group in a particular part of the UK, using an anthropological approach. The pattern of immigration and settlement is examined tracing significant turning points, for example from an all-male presence to the arrival of families. Once the survival stage had been overcome, there emerged the establishment of wider cultural and religious support in the newly emerging communities. In some cases this produced schisms as the group split into religious or cultural sub-groups.

The papers also dispel the view that many of the settlers were from the poorest sections of the sub-continent's population. Rather they were pioneers with sufficient funds, often with community support back home, to enable them to make the journey to Britain.

The book offers a series of vignettes, each finely detailed and supported by scholarly background explaining important cultural differences between and within the sub-groups. Each is fascinating to read, even though the cumulative effect is somewhat heavy, rather like trying to plough straight through an encyclopedia. The book successfully conveys, as its editor intended, the diversity of the Asian experience and settlement in Britain.

The majority of the papers have their origins in a conference held in Manchester in 1989 but these have been revised and updated. However, no attempt is made to tie it all together at the end and point the way to future developments. Nonetheless, the book has a lot to commend it and is well worth reading.

Asian Teachers in British Schools is an interesting account of the experience of Asian teachers working here. Paul Ghuman presents an analysis of interview data principally from 50 teachers, half of whom were Asian born, the others born, educated and trained in Britain. Some additional interview data are used from British teachers, over 40 and under 40, and from a few Afro-Caribbean teachers.

The analysis covers a variety of issues ranging from entry to teaching, promotion, the importance of ethnic teachers as role models for the young, multicultural education to the teaching of community languages.

The book brings out vividly the perceptions of Asian teachers, especially those of the Asian-born ones. These relate to battles over recognition of overseas qualifications with the Department for Education, the development of English language skills suitable for performance in the classroom and the adjustment to British schools. It also brings out well the frustration felt by Asian teachers, both Asian and British born, at fruitless job applications and failed attempts to gain promotion.

While there can be no doubt of the existence of institutional and personal racism encountered by Asian teachers, the analysis is somewhat incomplete.

Asian teachers, especially the ones born and educated in the Indian subcontinent, may have faced a harder ordeal in the classroom than their British counterparts. The book takes little or no account of the nakedness with which any teacher goes into the classroom. Pupils are always probing, consciously or unconsciously, for weaknesses. The teacher who survives is the one who deflects pupils from those areas or turns them to advantage.

It is not enough to know about teaching or children, one has to be able to learn quickly to read signals from the children in front of one. These are particular to those children and to the local language and culture. The children's respect and confidence have to be won and retained by the individual teacher; they are not automatically awarded by virtue of the role of teacher. Support from colleagues, especially senior ones, is invaluable when settling in but Asian teachers find it harder to get professional support from senior colleagues.

The issue of promotion is a sensitive area, especially when opportunities are few and far between. Teachers who are unsuccessful in gaining promotion tend to blame the system which they are convinced is against them. There are always more teachers worthy of promotion than there are posts available. Good advice and support are always useful but, in the main, it is a matter of relentless applications and some concessions to the opinions of the moment that brings the reward.

It was disturbing, though not surprising, to read that many Asian youngsters are not even considering teaching as a career. The principal factors, it appears, were the perceived lack of status of teaching and the pay. There is much to be gained from having greater ethnic minority representation in teaching.

Paul Ghuman makes good use of his quotations and relates these well to the literature. The research is relevant, and the findings are presented in a way that is intelligible to a wide audience. Overall, the book provides some useful insights into the experience of Asian teachers in British schools.

Gajendra Verma is professor of education and dean of the Research and Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Manchester University.

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