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Integration: How Australia’s public schools are failing – report

Racism in school
In Australia, one in three students report suffering from racial discrimination. Source: Shutterstock

Earlier this week, the Chief Executive of the International Education Association of Australia called for more international students to be recruited to attend its high schools and promote its school curriculum abroad more aggressively. The point, he says, is to integrate them earlier and reduce their social isolation at university later on.

“By having even a small number of international students, not only does it provide individual government schools with additional revenue but it also encourages inter-cultural understanding of Australian kids with students from other cultures,” Honeywood said at The Australian Financial Review education summit.

“If we are genuine about better integrating international students with Australian domestic students, then a lot more needs to be done with high school enrolments from overseas.”

The educator highlighted marketing and recruitment as areas needing improvement, but before parents start to enrol their children, there is one facet of Australian education they should be wary about: integration.

New research has found that one in three students at government schools in New South Wales and Victoria suffer from racial discrimination by their peers. Sixty percent reported having seen another student being racially discriminated by their peers.

Speaking to The Guardian Australia, lead author Naomi Priest said the survey offered a first-of-its-kind data point for the prevalence of racism in Australian schools.

“What this survey gives us is some data on how common that is, and the burden it places on children and young people. We know racism and race discrimination are major issues and of course they effect children,” she said.

racism in school

Whatever their race, being in a racially discriminatory environment can be detrimental to students. Source: Shutterstock

Previous research has found children and young people to be particularly vulnerable to the detrimental impact of racism. Being victims could impede their development and adjustment, with negative implications to their health and well-being, as well as education and social outcomes when young and later in life. On the flip side, experiencing a culturally diverse environment led to improved productivity, creativity and student well-being in schools.

Racism in school: disproportionately felt by non-Anglo students

The Speak Out Against Racism survey of 4,600 primary and secondary students at schools with higher indigenous and migrant populations were led by researchers from the Australian National University and Western Sydney University. In the survey, 55 percent of students identified as of an Anglo-Celtic or European background; 22 percent as south, east or southeast Asian; five percent as Aboriginal or as Torres Strait Islanders; 5 percent as Middle Eastern; 4 percent as Pacific Islanders and 3 percent as African.

It found that 40 percent of students in years five to nine from non-Anglo or European backgrounds have experienced racist bullying at the hands of their peers. This is twice the rate reported among those from Anglo backgrounds. Among this same group, one in three reported racial discrimination in wider society.

Teachers could be perpetrators too, it found. Forty-three percent claimed they had seen teachers direct racially-motivated discrimination at other students.

Such discrimination can take many forms. Among African students, one in five has received threats from other students. Almost half (44 percent) of East Asian students have been insulted or called names. Nearly one in three (30 percent) Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island students surveyed have experience being spat at, pushed or hit because of their race.

“Racism and racial discrimination profoundly limit opportunities and have potential for serious lifelong consequences. The findings from SOAR show the extent of this burden for many Australian children and present an important call to action,” Priest said in a statement.

There are a few upsides drawn from the findings, including a large majority of students surveyed saying they are able to make friends from a different race. Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) also said they would mostly intervene if they saw a peer being victimised.

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