Our Primary school is a predominantly white urban school. We wanted to find what Year 3 (age 7–8) children’s preconceptions were about India before we started our Indian topic. We assumed the pupils would have quite fixed stereotyped views about what India was like.
We asked children to discuss in small groups and decide where they thought the picture was taken. Initial analysis showed that, by Year 3, children already have very preconceived ideas about India and the UK. The responses also revealed a lack of awareness of the diversity of the UK.
Pupils often based their decisions on:
- Physical appearance of people
- Skin colour. Any photos showing black and minority ethnic children/adults had to be India despite the fact that one of the children in the focus group was from Bangladesh. Normally Indian people have dark skin
- Clothing, particularly, head scarves. They’ve got head thingies, Women have Indian scarves, clothes
- Preconceived differences
- Food looking different to what they may eat. We don’t normally have food laid out on the table
- Transport: India wouldn’t have cars or trains like that.
- Things familiar to them. We have a Pizza Hut, so it must be England.
It was interesting to note the different attributes children seemed to associate with the countries. What pupils perceived as a picture of India was more often described with words dirty, rusty, crumbling and crowded while UK was said to be clean, modern and normal.
Children were asked where they got their ideas about India. They cited TV and books.
What we did as a result of the initial assessment
Previously, the India topic was largely based on the Action Aid resources about the village of Chembakolli in the tea-growing area of Tamil Nadu. We feared that this approach would further reinforce the stereotypes that children held about India. We decided to change our approach to challenge stereotypes of people and places and offer pupils a more balanced view. Along with that we wanted children to become more aware of the wider world and find out more about the similarities between their lives and the lives of children in other countries.
Images of India and the UK
We focussed on diversity in India, discussing weather, landscape and languages. For example images of India were selected to show its diversity as well as similarities to the UK. We ensured we looked at pictures of both urban and rural areas in India. We compared Mumbai to Brighton as both were cities and therefore comparable in a way Chembakolli and Brighton are not.
Furthermore we made sure that the images of Mumbai showed a lot of the familiar as well as the less known aspects. At the same time we used images of Brighton that showed some of the things previously associated with India, such as homelessness and certain type of architecture. A child from the class was visiting Mumbai on holiday: his parents were approached and asked to take some photos to highlight similarities between India and the UK. We explored the pictures together.
To wrap things up we did a lesson about the influence of and presence of Indian culture and Indians in the UK. I took an enquiry-based approach to encourage lots of questions about India.
We repeated the India or UK activity at the end of the topic and the teacher sat with the same focus group and recorded their comments.
Changes in attitude
- The main difference was that more children said It could be either so we added an extra Either column at their request. This was not seen as an option in the first assessment.
- Children still often based their decision on skin colour. However, there was recognition by one child that We have people of different coloured skin and We normally have black people living here.
- Judgements still made on food and clothing being different.
- Children were a bit more likely to say that buildings and transport could be in either country
- Children had realised that many companies present in the UK could be found elsewhere in the world as well They have Pizza Hut in India too.
All in all, there was a significant change in attitude of the group. One child thought that the photos could be in either country. Pupils had less stereotyped views of buildings and transport. However, children still judged on skin colour and clothing and showed lack of recognition of diversity in the UK. This was despite a lesson about the influence and presence of Indian culture and Indians in the UK. The learning for me as a teacher was that just exposing children to diverse images was insufficient to counteract the media stereotypes bombarding us.
The introduction of a lesson about stereotypes and the discussion that followed with pupils had a great impact. They no longer judged pictures so much on skin colour and clothes. A conversation about what a stereotype is and asking children whether they thought they had made a stereotyped comment was vital to this. Comments included In London, there’s loads of black and brown people and You can get people in either place wearing head scarves. However, children still seemed to equate diversity with London only, not the UK.
When asked why they had changed their mind about some of the photos, pupils said:
“When we looked at [our classmate]’s photos of Mumbai, lots of things looked the same as here so most countries can look the same in different places.”
“This is like that lesson about stereotypes.”
“I think they probably do have Blu-tack in India now.”
We felt we needed to introduce lessons specifically about ethnic and cultural diversity in the UK and address stereotypes using photographs in Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education.
Our tips / ideas for doing that
- Source multiple real life stories from local residents who have migrated to your local area
- Use books that reflect diversity in the UK, and resources that show urban environments in India
- Focus on similarities between any group of people or place
- Use images to challenge perceptions: you can find a collection on RISC resourcebank
|Photograph||Pre topic Comments||Post Topic Comments -first year||Post Topic Comments- second year|
|Crowded urban shopping street in England||Normally Indian people have dark skin. Much more crowded. Costumes-Indian fashion clothes. Woman wearing head thing around her.
It’s England- Writing is in English.
|Headscarf and brown coloured people.
Signs in English. We normally have black people living here.
|“You can get Indian things in London.”
“In London, there’s loads of black and brown people.”
|A family sitting around a dining able eating a meal||Costumes, They have loads of meals, We don’t normally have food laid out on the table. You wouldn’t get that much food on the table here. Her jacket covers the back of her body.
England- They are in a restaurant.
|Headscarf – people at table are black. Never seen table with so much food in the UK. I don’t recognise the food.
I don’t have that much food. There are lots of people and food.
|You can get brown people having dinner in both countries.”
“You can get that type of food in India and the UK.”
|Cars parked outside a Pizza Hut store||I’ve been to Pizza Hut. I recognise that tree. I’ve seen that pizza hut. Everything is bright and there is a person on a bike.||They have Pizza Hut in India too. India has English writing. They both have Pizza Hut. Not written in Indian language.||” You can get pizza hut here and in India.”
|Women in headscarves with children, in a school setting, sitting around doing art activities||Costumes, sunglasses. Women have Indian scarves, clothes, They’ve got head thingies.||She’s wearing a head scarf. The packaging of blu-tack is different. Blu-tac is in the same language as ours. Blu-tac in our language but people are wearing headscarves.||” This equipment could be in either place,”
“You can get people in either place wearing head scarves.”