Abida Mian's Blog

An outlier that's living, learning and being myself…

Racism in higher education…

I didn’t sleep well last night. I had a call from a close friend who told me that her sister had been rejected from getting a place on a teachers training course.

I was shocked as I knew her sister well. Incredibly bright, having achieved a first-class degree in Mathematics, but not only that she came top out of all students. I understand that it’s not all about being academic, but she also had 6 months voluntary teaching experience in a school. My friend even told me that the headmaster of that school had told her sister that she was far too bright to be a teacher!

During the interview process, the interviewer kept referring to my friend’s sister as ‘Patel’ which is her surname. The interviewer at no point addressed her in the correct manner of Miss Patel but simply Patel – how patronising, I thought. I know sometimes it can be easy to pull out the ‘race’ card, but I couldn’t see why she wouldn’t get a place. Even one of her university lecturers told her that she was the best Maths student he’s ever come across. She’s polite, and passionate about education.

Not meaning to be rude, but how many people can get a first with distinction in arguably one of the hardest degree disciplines? Of those that do, how many want to be teachers (answer is none)? Most top graduates want to work in finance earning lots of money, she on the otherhand genuinely wants to help educate secondary school children.

Only recently did I read an article whose title was ‘Western Nations React to Poor Education Results’ – an international respected survey conducted found that teenagers in Shanghai to be the best educated in the world, and the British to be poor in comparison. We are poor in Mathematics & Science, in fact there are a shortage of teachers in these diciplines, yet we are happy to turn away first-class graduates who are passionate about teaching & education – can someone explain why, I don’t get it?

Luckily this is her first interview she has a few others yet, but quite rightly she feels dejected. I think she would be better off with applying for the Teach First scheme.

My advice that I passed on was that after she’s finished her other interviews, that she writes a letter of complaint to that particular university eloquently pointing out that she felt the interviewer was racist (that particular area has a low ethnic minority).

I felt appalled that in what I thought is a civilised country, racism still exists at all levels. I spoke with my dad, and he said it doesn’t matter how good you are, there will always be racist people who will prevent you from getting to the top. My dad is a first-class graduate, and a specialist in his field, but he said that he’s come across racism in his career. The worst he says are the Scots and the best people to work for are the Americans; but as I told my dad you can’t generalise and not every Scot is racist! I’ve never been the subject of racism, but I’ve heard colleagues make jokes about black people and Muslims. I maybe British born, educated at world-class universities, hard-working, brilliant at my job; but the colour of my skin is not White – does that mean that I’m not really British?

Ultimately we’re all human beings regardless of whether we’re classified as Black, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Other (if you’re mixed). Why is it though that views of race are still causing considerable suffering to the disadvantaged racial groups?

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