To be ‘other’ in schools entails being treated or viewed as intrinsically different or alien to the broader student population. Ethnocentrism is a consequence of European colonialism within which the emphasis remains on assimilation (Hickling-Hudson, 2005). For refugee, immigrant and Indigenous students this often means compromising ethnic and racial identity. Low expectation associated with racial and ethnic status, conveys a double standard – “which defines academic learning in school as acting white” and assumes that students from diverse background are incapable of achieving academic success unless they relinquish their identity.
Fordham and Ogbu (1986) describe an experience of a young man of African-American decent whose teacher refused to believe he was capable of high quality academic work. As a result he was humiliated, discouraged and became progressively disengaged in schooling. This demonstrates how teachers’ inherent racism and inclination towards stereotyping, effectively limiting the educational possibilities and life chances for that young man (Fordham & Ogbu, 1996). In addition the teacher promoted a classroom culture of exclusion where difference is alien and difference is to be feared. Eurocentric education systems “function according to the cultural capital of the middle class and the elite… not all students acquire middle class cultural capital [and] school is not equal to all students” (Izaguirre, 2015, p. 890).
Marginalisation creates distinct power imbalance that significantly disadvantages students outside the prevailing ‘white’ culture. The process of ‘othering’ creates sociocultural inequalities which limit the capacity of marginalised young people to achieve quality educational outcomes, to develop self-worth and self-efficacy and fail to create cohesive and inclusive learning environments.
To provide equitable educational opportunities for students despite their status as ‘other’ is one of the most significant challenges in education today. Creating sustainably equitable and inclusive educational environments, requires the practices and structures of schools, teacher attitudes, practices and responses to diversity, to embrace cultural, ethnic and racial difference (Dyson, Ainscow, West & Goldrick, 2013). The inclusion of diverse cultural perspective into programming and curriculum will also provide opportunities for students from white middle class backgrounds to learn about values and beliefs of other cultures. This in turn develops in these students the capability to understand the commonalities between themselves and students from cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds, as well as the differences.
The status of being regarded as ‘other’ in schools may have fundamental and long reaching ramifications for refugee, immigrant and Indigenous students. Socio-emotional safety and sense of belonging are vital for the wellbeing of these students and for their successful immersion in education and in Australian society. It is critical to achieve this while supporting the values and beliefs that constitute the individual and cultural identities of these students. The importance of embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in curriculum to support the socio-emotional and cultural safety of Indigenous in Australia is also clearly recognised within the National Australian curriculum (ACARA, 2013).
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], (2016). Retrieved from http://www.acara.edu.au/
Dyson, A & Ainscow, M & West, M & Goldrick, S, (2013). Developing Equitable Education Systems, Manchester UK: Published Taylor and Francis
Fordham, S. and Ogbu, J. (1986). ‘Black Students’ School Success: Coping With the “Burden of ‘Acting White”: Urban Review. (18, (3), pp 176-206).
Hickling-Hudson, A. (2005). White Ethnic and Indigenous: Pre – service – Teachers Reflect on Discourses of Ethnicity in Australian Culture: Policy Futures in Education. (3, (4), pp 340-358).
Lzaguirre, L. (2015). When the ‘Others’ Come to School: A Marginalization Framework in Multicultural Education: Sociology Compass: (10 (4) pp 887–896).
NSW Department of Education and Communities, (2009). Aboriginal Education and Training Policy, Sydney, NSW. Retrieved from https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/policies/students/access_equity/aborig_edu/aetp_intro.pdf