Each year more than 850,000 people are granted Australian visas as residents, to work, holiday, study or on humanitarian grounds. That’s more than 8 times the capacity Australia’s largest sporting venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Yet in the streets of the same city, Indian students are protesting the spate of assaults, stabbings and murder that appear to be racially motivated.
Over 450,000 students study in Australia each year making education one of our strongest export industries after the resources sector. Many of these students hope to achieve PR status and remain as residents after completing their education. In the meantime they build sophisticated support and solidarity systems to get by. This was obvious to me in my years at the Adelaide University where with my classmates I would visit the city cinema for a screening of the latest Cantonese blockbuster. More recently I witnessed my fiancée who prior to even arriving to study in Australia, made contact with other Swedish students bestowing her an instant support group. At first it may seem that these social networks are a unnecessary pleasure. Consider however that the classroom is also the site of bullying behaviour and worse yet harassment and assault, we quickly learn why its ‘safer’ for students to stick with their own.
Following a spate of Indian student assaults across Melbourne, the 2010 murder of Nitin Garg saw the Indian government issue a travel warning for Australia. Whilst the then acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought to assure us that the crime was not racially motivated, the cluster of assaults against Indian students suggests otherwise.
Racism is a big topic and demands more than the time we have to discuss here, suffice to say that Australian’s in recent years have been regularly condemned of it. The poison of racism is rooted in ignorance and fear. There is an antidote however, it’s what Anthropologists call ‘participant observation’ or put more simply, education and participation.
A football coach also employs this same technique to bring a team to victory. First in the locker room armed with chalk and a board the coach illustrates the plan of play. Having learned the plan of play, the players then enter the field and rehearse the learned strategy. It’s both education and participation that makes the team successful. Success on the field cannot come from merely participation, for how would the players now where to stand or pass the ball. Neither can success spring merely from a plan of play, as the players have not rehearsed how fast to run or how hard to kick the ball to achieve the outcome. In addressing racism, the fundamental step is both education and participation.
In the school environment, there is the opportunity to excersize both education and participation. Education firstly and somewhat obviously by the environment, secondly participation in what is already a diverse ethnic student cohort.
More importantly, we needn't add reams of curriculum to an already full teacher load, the key outcomes fit cross-curricular in what is already taught. The accompanying and important consideration however is that educators model positive behaviours. Students are savvy and will ‘get it’ if a teacher is merely saying one thing but behaving in another manner. Be the change you wish to see in the world.