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Racism in International Education

By Proserpina Dhlamini-Fisher
Racism in International Education

I have to echo my shock and sorrow after reading Forrest Broman’s article entitled “Ending Racism in America” in the April 2015 issue of The International Educator newspaper. However, I must also mention that, sadly, educational racism is not only alive among students in the U.S., but among some international educators worldwide.
As an African woman, who is an international educator and leader, my educational journey of over 20 years has been exciting, interesting, frustrating, and inspiring. I have met awesome mentors, colleagues, and friends from all over the world along the way, but sadly, more often than not, I have also come across people who judged my colour before judging my person, qualifications, and abilities. I am proud to be Swazi, as I am proud to be from Africa.
But I believe the saddest of all my experiences has been the ignorance of colleagues who continue to refer to Africa as if it were a country, generalising about peoples of over 50 different nations, cultures, traditions, and customs in Africa, ignoring that there are personal, tribal, and linguistic differences in so many individual countries on the African continent.
I am not naïve to ignore the fact that international education has been developed from a western perspective, with western ideologies, philosophies, and strong influences. I am also conscious of the fact that, to promote mobility among our future leaders (present students), it is important to teach them content and skills that will prepare them to return to their countries and contribute to those economies, while giving them the option to live and work anywhere in the world. Do we really have holistic thinking, open-minded and innovative leaders and educators for these roles?
I do know that the educational debate in many countries today is based on questioning the relevance of education as it is, but more importantly the practicality of the education we offer our students locally, internationally, and globally.
As we move forward in being innovative in our teaching, it is paramount that we look within ourselves and ask how we are contributing as international educators to ensuring that the students we teach from all parts of the world pass through our classrooms and schools feeling confident about who they are as individuals, nationals of their countries and followers of their religions. Are the movers and shakers in international education truly representative of all the stakeholders who teach and learn the curricula we continue to develop and innovate? How much of our “stuff and baggage” do we leave outside the doors of our schools, to avoid interference in offering the best international educational experiences to our students?
I am still saddened that when I walk into international educational gatherings and schools, I still see shock amongst my esteemed colleagues, hear inappropriate references to local people, and still hear our international educators and leaders (who normally only speak one language), wanting to punish students for speaking in their mother tongue, in their own countries during school hours!
Thank God the International Baccalaureate emphasizes the importance of host culture languages, but I would like to remind them that there are still countries in this world that have several host culture languages.
As we continue to develop international education in the 21st century, let us go back to basics and ask ourselves who are we as educators, and are we really teaching, inspiring, and reaching all our students in international schools equally without showing prejudice to those who are different from us as international educators…
Dare I mention that I am still surprised and amazed that international schools dare to put adverts up stating that “only candidates with U.S., UK, Canadian, and Australian citizenship may apply”? For jobs in International Schools…
I might be the ignorant person here, but I have seen other jobs advertised in local and international newspapers across the world with a preference for local before international. It seems that the one profession that emphasizes international awareness and respect is promoting exclusion already among the staff. It makes me wonder if “paying families” from the excluded countries are also excluded at these schools?
Well if this is what is still out there, then maybe I should not be surprised if some of my western colleagues are still shocked when they see me attend leadership conferences, recruitment fairs, and speak at international educational gatherings.
Are our international educators as internationally minded as our students?

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01/25/2018 - chuckndlovu
I know I am commenting on this article almost two and a half years after it was posted, but I would like to state how much your sentiments resonate with me and many colleagues around the world. Thank you for bringing this up. An area of particular importance which needs further articulation, in my opinion, is that of international schools narrowing the field of recruitment by stipulating the desire for 'native English language speakers'. I have seen less experienced, less committed, less talented teachers 'tour' the world after bagging lucrative postings because they are white,whilst those of 'colour' cannot so much as get a foot in the door for an interview. I am currently working as a head within a group of schools where the parents insist on a high percentage of white teachers and will remove their children if this is not adhered to. I think more needs to be done to bring this issue in international education to light. Well done for starting the ball rolling.
07/05/2015 - cushisrael
Thank you so much for your article .Over the past three years I have observed precisely what you are referring to as a narrow view in International mindeness
.As a bilingual woman of color, I fit into many categories, but even my fellow American teachers are so quick to try to judge me based on color alone. In spite of the fact that my family is Spanish speaking and Jewish ,I am told I am African-Americans by Americans who actually studied American History.
I find the locals in several countries are apprehensive at first, but they respond to me based on the way my colleagues respond to me..
Racism will always be the blemish on American life .It is simply apart of the countries culture and those of us of color have learned to live with .International schools still have a better opportunity to prepare students to become tolerant and well aware of the similarities we have as human beings instead of emphasizing " Why they are not like us?"



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