Strengthening Multiculturalism: British Curricula and Community Initiatives

Multiculturalism in the UK strives to balance respect for diversity with a sense of shared national belonging.1 In the current political climate, key multicultural approaches have been increasingly contested; yet these approaches remain crucial. 

UK Residential segregation has increased, potentially hindering social mixing and increasing mistrust between people from different cultures, furthermore in 2017 hate crimes increased by 29% against the previous year.2 As highlighted by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Islamophobic hate crimes have particularly increased, exacerbated by prominent terrorist attacks.3 A study by Intelligent Contact Management (ICM), the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, and the think tank British Future, found that roughly 40% of people in the UK think multiculturalism undermines British culture, accompanied by growing distrust towards politicians and their approach towards migrants and other cultures.4 This evidences how the government needs to strengthen policies that enhance Britain’s multicultural identity, combating discrimination towards migrants and people of other ethnicities, nationalities and religions.

Britain’s multicultural approach aspires to enable people to feel comfortable and proud of their cultural identity, promoting ‘the maintenance of each ethnic group’s cultural heritage’.5 A multicultural society thus supports diversity, and focuses on providing ‘equal rights and equal opportunities to migrants and minority groups’.6 Conversely, the policy of assimilation involves ‘efforts to make one group more homogeneous in relation to another’, often expecting immigrant groups to acquire new customs and ideologies, although assimilation policies vary.7 Authors such as Serge Guimond argue ‘that assimilation is a hierarchy-enhancing ideology, promoting the dominant position of majority group members by using their cultural characteristics to define the national identity’.8 For example, in France assimilation has resulted in a ban on hijabs and headscarves in public schools. Often, supporters argue French secularism needs upholding, or claim that the hijab symbolises ‘a growing association of Islam with fundamentalism, creating a sense of Islamophobia’ causing increased divisions, with the hijab potentially making Muslim women a target of discrimination.9 However, as Iffath Syed argues, discrimination is also based on aspects such as race or immigrants status, and therefore other approaches are needed to overcome discrimination, and furthermore, this ban is an ‘infringement of religious and cultural freedoms’, and restricts Muslim women’s choice and self-autonomy, arguably accentuating frustration and divisions.10

The root of resentment to other cultures and migrants is complex, stemming from broader grievances about economic insecurity, to a lack of understanding or interaction with other cultures and migrants. Anti-migrant sentiment has been particularly accentuated by socio-economic conditions; For example, claims that immigrants take most new jobs have become more common, however migrants ‘consume goods and services’, boosting demand and employment opportunities, and are overall crucial for the economy.11 CEP analysis of Labour Force Survey shows how UK immigrants are ‘more likely to be in work (78%) than UK-born individuals (72.3%)’, paying’ more in taxes than they take out in welfare’, and that falls in wages are often a result of ‘the fallout from the global financial crisis than immigration’.12 Furthermore, certain rightwing populist politicians play on the ‘fear of the other’ with immigrants and other cultures for political gain and this paper argues an imperial legacy is still present which has promoted an illusion of Western superiority, negatively impacting attitudes towards other cultures. Methods to enhance awareness and respect for migrants and diverse cultures, could include a more dynamic and far-reaching education agenda, community arts projects and foreign language engagement within schools and communities. Thus, this paper advocates key changes within the curriculum and community practices to heighten support and appreciation for multicultural values. 

Policy Ideas

A progressive and engaging education system plays a vital role in shaping the perception and actions of future generations, helping to foster a healthy and harmonious society.  Whilst many aspects of the British education system are commendable in promoting respect for ethnic minorities and other cultures, this paper recommends that all British schools provide a far more comprehensive account of Britain’s imperial history, broaden Personal and Social health education (PSHE) lessons and focus greater attention on teaching foreign languages. 

Introduce a comprehensive account of Britain’s Imperial History to schools

Edward Said explains how imperial British subjects ‘came to base their own sense of identity on hierarchical racial differences’, perceiving themselves as superior to others of different religions, ethnicities and cultures.13 This resultant pride was intrinsically woven into British culture, and to a considerable extent imperial assumptions of Western superiority and of what ‘britishness’ means, remain today, reflected in certain hate crimes and examples of racist and xenophobic behaviour. A way to shatter romanticised visions of the British Empire and imperial mindsets, is for schools to teach students about the Empire and the disturbing consequences of imperial outlooks, including slavery, whilst also learning about the history of migration, from the Commonwealth and worldwide, which has contributed immensely to the formation of our modern society. Ofsted highlight that ‘the history of the British Empire is being neglected in schools’, and even for students who chose history at GCSE, there is virtually no coverage.14 German schools rigorously teach students about the rise of Hitler and the atrocities committed by the Nazis to ensure an accurate understanding of the past.

Following the resurgence of the far right and the recent Windrush scandal, the enduring problem of the perceived ‘inferior other’ has been recognised, with Labour proposing implementing an Educational Trust to help schools teach the legacy and history of colonialism, and the great contribution Black Britons made during and beyond black history month.15 This significant historical period should be written into the compulsory history curriculum to target misconceptions of British history and misplaced pride, helping weaken resistance to multiculturalism. This would respond to criticisms echoed by Afro-Guyanese writer John Agard (positively included in the current GCSE English Literature curriculum with his poem Checking Out Me History) ‘dem tell me wha dem want to tell me’, where history lessons ignored his own cultural history.16

Introduce Dynamic Teaching Approaches and a Broader PSHE Programme

PSHE education in British schools commendably aims to enhance the resilience and confidence of students, including their ability to safely challenge discrimination and appreciate the differences between certain religions and cultures.17 Whilst it touches upon negative images presented in the media, there needs to be increased references to the media and the false, negative generalisations projected with reference to migrants, and people from other cultures and religions, particularly Muslims. 

PSHE lessons could be more impactful by making the curriculum’s delivery more dynamic and relatable. Classroom debate activities would give students with verbal and social learning styles an opportunity to proactively engage with content compared to passive learning or written tasks. Thus, whilst the PSHE curriculum is a positive means of promoting a healthy, non-antagonistic multicultural society, it could be further developed. Beyond PSHE, other teaching styles, such as classroom debates, would also provide positive engagement for students with topics like the impact of migration, covered in geography. Students are more likely to absorb statistics and facts on a topic like migration, if they have to formulate arguments themselves and present their points to their peers.

Encourage Foreign and Mother-Tongue languages

Cutting foreign language provision in schools is a regressive policy and it is time to move away from ‘everyone speaks English’ attitudes that perpetuate an image of superiority. Roughly only 25% of people in the UK can have a basic discussion in a foreign language compared to 90% in the Netherlands and Sweden.18 Furthermore, less than a quarter of all British state schools offer languages as compulsory GCSE subjects whilst the majority  of private schools offer this.19 Languages significantly impact social mobility and widen employment opportunities, therefore this divide perpetuates socio-economic disparity. The lack of attention paid to teaching foreign languages crucially misses an opportunity to aid positive inter-cultural relations and further strengthen Britain’s multicultural society.

Alongside boosting student’s employability, Raluca Pop points out, learning a foreign language implies being able to competently communicate in various cultural and linguistic contexts, extremely relevant considering Britain’s multicultural makeup, and therefore on a practical level such an approach encourages heightened contact between people from different backgrounds.20 Language is also a tool that encourages and inspires people to engage with the target language’s wider culture including food and history. Thus, languages offer a positive way to promote engagement with other cultures – the more we know of each other, the less we fear. Therefore a GCSE in a foreign language should be made compulsory in all British secondary schools.

Professor Leszek Borysiewicz also points out the importance of making more opportunities available for children to take qualifications in their home language; currently only a third of British students whose native language is not English take a qualification in their mother-tongue language according to an ICM poll.21 The exam system doesn’t recognise the linguistic capabilities of many of these students, clearly important when roughly half feel that their home language enables them to better understand and communicate with their extended family, helping provide a better sense of their heritage and cultural identity.22 The more supported by schools and comfortable individuals feel about themselves, the more our multicultural society can be appreciated with increased social cohesion. 

Community projects offer great potential to strengthen multiculturalism

Beyond school, policies that promote awareness and understanding of different cultures and celebrate multiculturalism need to be supported, encouraged and funded. In April 2017, the Mayor of London launched the Citizenship and Integration Initiative, partnering with civil society to initiate events that can help Londoners celebrate being part of an inclusive London identity.23 Local government efforts to strengthen multiculturalism and reach out to migrants are commendable, particularly as they increasingly work with other foundations and private companies to secure funding, nonetheless, the government’s role is vital. Earlier this year, the Government Integrated Community Green Paper, which will have £50 million committed to it over the next 2 years, outlined plans to make everyone feel comfortable to mix with different cultures and take advantage of community hubs such as libraries, parks and pubs.24 It rightly addressed shared activities in culture and sport to help combat segregation and create a stronger, more unified Britain. Approaches that enhance economic prosperity are also key considering migrants in particular, are unfortunately a popular scapegoat to use for socio-economic hardships.25

However, there needs to be greater recognition of how the arts are vitally able to engage people with other cultures and promote more intercultural interactions, through a variety of arts mediums, exemplified by the important work of ‘The Greenhouse Project’ that enables Liverpool’s children, young people and their communities to access opportunities that support their creative development, understanding and celebration of diversity.’26 Educating through art enables people to express themselves in new ways, and events can be lead by diverse groups, such as refugees. However, the money from central government to local authorities has dropped by 38% since 2010, and as the arts do not benefit from statutory status, these are seen as ‘easy’ cuts for Council’s facing tight budgets.27 Therefore the arts should have consistent support, backed by more central government funding, particularly as the need to promote our multicultural values has grown significantly.

Conclusion

The Government needs to increase and improve policies to strengthen, not divide, our multicultural society, countering the present hostility to migrants and other cultures. There are many approaches to take, such as through enhancing economic opportunities and supporting deprived regions, and this paper focuses on education policies and community initiatives. It is important that the government makes learning about Britain’s imperial history a compulsory part of the history curriculum to help combat imperial mindsets that remain today. The PSHE curriculum should be expanded and involve more innovative ways of learning, and teaching foreign languages and home languages needs to be prioritised. Celebrating culture and educating people beyond school, in the community, such as through art programmes, is a positive way to improve social cohesion, engagement and combat hostility. When we embrace and celebrate our multiculturalism we can better live and work together.  

Eva Barnsley is a third-year International Relations student at King’s College London. 

Endnotes

1Antony Lerman, In Defence of Multiculturalism,Guardian Online 22 March 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/mar/22/multiculturalism-blame-culture-segregation. (Accessed 25 January 2019). 

2HM Government, HM Government, Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper March 2018, HM Government Online, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/696993/Integrated_Communities_Strategy.pdf. (Accessed 26 January 2019). 

3Robin De Peyer, Revealed: Anti-Muslim hate crimes in London soared by 40% in a year, The Evening Standard Online 26 February 2018. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/revealed-antimuslim-hate-crimes-in-london-soared-by-40-in-a-year-a3775751.html. (Accessed 27 January 2019). 

4Robert Booth, Four in 10 think British culture is undermined by multiculturalism’, The Guardian Online 17 September 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/17/four-in-10-people-think-multiculturalism-undermines-british-culture-immigration. (Accessed 28 January 2019). 

5Shana Levin, Miriam Matthews, Serge Guimond, Jim Sidanius, Felicia Pratto, Nour Kteily, Eileen V. Pitpitan, and Tessa Dover. 2012. Assimilation, Multiculturalism, and Colorblindness: Mediated and Moderated Relationships Between Social Dominance Orientation and Prejudice.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (1) (January 2012) (Harvard University): 207–212. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.06.019. 

6UK Essays, Assimilation Integration And Multiculturalism, UKEssays Online 24 April 2017, https://www.ukessays.com/essays/sociology/migration-studies-assimilation-integration-and-multiculturalism-sociology-essay.php. (Accessed 24 January 2019).

7Ibid

8Shana Levin et al. 2012. Assimilation, Multiculturalism, and Colorblindness: Mediated and Moderated Relationships Between Social Dominance Orientation and Prejudice.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (1) (January 2012) (Harvard University): 207–212. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.06.019. 

9Iffath U.B. Syed, Forced Assimilation is an unhealthy policy intervention: the case of the hijab ban in France and Quebec, Canada, The International Journal of Human Rights,17:3, (25 October 2012) 428-440, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2012.724678.

10Ibid

11Jonathan Wadsworth, Immigration and the UK Economy, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE, June 2017, http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/ea039.pdf. (Accessed 27 January 2019).

12Ibid

13Edward Said,Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. 

14John Steele, Pupils should learn more about the British Empire, says Ofsted, The Telegraph Online 12 July 2004. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3342159/Pupils-should-learn-more-about-the-British-Empire-says-Ofsted.html. (Accessed 29 January 2019). 

15David Wearing, Corbyn’s right. It’s not as simple as having ‘pride’ or ‘shame’ in our history, The Guardian Online 18 October 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/12/jeremy-corbyn-right-pride-shame-britain-history-empire. (Accessed 27 January 2019).

16John Agard, Checking Out Me History, 2007, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o60RW2a2m5w. (Accessed 28 January 2019). 

17PSHE Association, PSHE Education Programme of Study Key stages 1-5PSHE Association, 2017, https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/curriculum-and-resources/curriculum. (Accessed 28 January 2019).

18Ellie Osbourne, Why making languages non-compulsory at GCSE is a step backwards, The Telegraph Online 17 January 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/01/17/making-languages-non-compulsory-gcse-step-backwards/ (Accessed 27 January 2019).

19Ibid. 

20Raluca Pop, Foreign Language Learning in today’s multicultural and multilingual classrooms, Studia UBB Philologia: LXI, 3,2016, 231-238,  http://www.diacronia.ro/ro/indexing/details/A24926/pdf. (Accessed 29 January 2019). 

21Lucy War, Community languages not supported in UK education system, survey suggests, The Guardian Online 28 November 2014,  https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/nov/28/community-languages-uk-young-attitudes. (Accessed 28 January 2019). 

22Ibid.

23Greater London Authority, All of us: The Mayor’s Strategy for Social Integration, GLA March 2018, https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/final_social_integration_strategy.pdf. (Accessed 29 January 2019). 

24HM Government, Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper, HM Government Online, March 2018, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/696993/Integrated_Communities_Strategy.pdf. (Accessed 27 January 2019).

25Ibid.

26The Greenhouse Project, The Greenhouse Multi-Cultural Play and Arts Project, 2019 https://www.greenhouseproject.org.uk. (Accessed 29 January 2019). 

27Frances Richens, Pulse report: Local authority arts funding – what should be done?, Arts Professional Online 18 October 2017, https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/pulse/survey-report/pulse-report-local-authority-arts-funding-what-should-be-done. (Accessed 6 January 2019). 

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