Posted on May 14, 2014

Racism Is Rife in Australian Schools, Study Finds

Cosima Marriner, Daily Life, April 13, 2014

Four out of five children born in non-English-speaking countries have experienced racism in school at least once a month.

Deakin University researcher Naomi Priest presented these findings–from a survey of children at five primary schools and four high schools in Victoria–to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Dr Priest said being told “you don’t belong in Australia” was the most common form of direct racism in schools. She said one in five students heard this at least every month.

Students also reported peers excluded them, or did not want to play with them because of race, while 14 per cent said they were spat on, pushed or hit. One in 10 thought their teacher did not think they could do something because of their cultural background.

Dr Priest said the experiences of school students reflected the rise in racist behaviour in the broader community. The latest Scanlon Foundation report on social cohesion revealed two-fifths of migrants who arrived in Australia in the past decade had been discriminated against because of their race.

“Schools can be a real microcosm of society where young people are negotiating those intercultural tensions they are seeing within the wider environment,” she said. “Schools can be a very important setting of socialisation in which racist behaviours and attitudes can either be countered or perpetuated.”

Dr Priest said 70 per cent of high-school students had witnessed or experienced racism at school, while previous research by the Victorian Department of Education found 55 per cent of students think racism is a problem at their school.

Less than half the students surveyed reported positive attitudes towards people from other cultures, although most thought it was important to be nice to their peers. Students who experienced racism had higher levels of loneliness and sadness.

“Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to racism’s harmful effects,” Dr Priest said.