31 Jan 2018

Study reveals complaints of racism in schools

8:47 am on 31 January 2018

Disturbing complaints about racism in schools have emerged from a study involving nearly 1700 children, the Office of the Children's Commissioner and the School Trustees Association say.

A young man in a classroom, writing, in a file photo to illustrate foreign students.

Many of the comments were from face-to-face interviews and some from an online survey of 1534 students. Photo: 123RF

The organisations said many students described "feelings of being treated unequally because of their culture".

"This is a significant and disturbing insight," they said in their report, 'Education matters to me'.

The report, aimed at informing the government's development of national education priorities, said some students said they experienced racism from teachers, while others referred to abuse from other students.

"I'm real good at maths but my teacher just thinks I'm stupid so never gave me any time 'cept to get me in trouble. But if you're Pākehā it's all good," said a Māori student from an alternative education unit.

"Some teachers are racist. They tell you that you are not going to achieve ... this makes me feel angry because it hurts ... then we do stupid things and we get blamed," said a student from a Pasifika background in alternative education.

A primary school student complained of students "that call us brown kids 'pieces of poo' and 'baa baa blacksheeps'", and a secondary student of African descent said schools needed to provide "basic ethnic/race knowledge and tolerance ... like teaching kids that the word N***** is bad and racist".

The report said many of the comments were from face-to-face interviews with 144 mostly Māori students who were not well served by the education system, though some also came from an online survey of 1534 students.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the comments were a surprise to interviewers.

"The racism comments were the children's own words, unsolicited.

"We never even raised the issue - they brought it to us.

"It's surprising to us, it's disturbing - I'm sure most teachers would be horrified."

Mr Becroft said it was an insight into the lived experience of children and showed the importance of hearing their voices.

In other survey and interview findings the children said the key thing for education was having a great teacher, a supportive family and good friends who are engaged in education.

It said 26 percent of the respondents "really like going to school", 67 percent thought school was "okay", and seven percent would rather be anywhere else.

The report said students wanted their teachers to understand them and have good relationships with them. They wanted education to fit their needs and interests, and they needed to be happy and comfortable at school.

It said the government should consider the students' comments when developing its Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities and the Education Ministry should consult directly with students.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs