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Best practices: Anti-discrimination education – watchdog monitors school textbooks

The subject matter of discrimination raised by the Association turned out to be a very hot topic for the public opinion and to the decision makers of the education policy in Poland. Basing on the results of the monitoring recommendations were made which were later passed on to the Minister of National Education. These recommendations are to help including anti-discrimination education in the formal education program, and to invoke overall changes in the approach to education. In the years 2010-2011 the TEA monitored the program of education and personal improvement of teachers, the contents of the core curriculum, and the contents of chosen school textbooks, searching for subjects connected to acting against discrimination and analyzing the image of people who represent minorities.

Are girls being told that they should be courteous and quiet? Are boys expected to be courageous and go-getting? Does the teacher know how to react when the students call each other “faggot”, or when they nickname a Vietnamese boy “yellow”? Are students of pedagogical majors and specializations taught about discrimination and exclusion, which can also appear inside the school walls? Do school textbooks present a true vision of society or only healthy, complete families of strictly Polish origin? These were the questions asked by the examiners, when they begun the first Polish monitoring of equality in the education system.

Poland is obliged to introduce the rules of non-discrimination and to promote the principals of equality in education on the basis of international conventions and declarations. The people brought together in the Anti-discrimination Education Association decided to find out how Polish schools manage this task.

The key question which needed answering during the monitoring, was to find out the degree to which the current teacher education and development system evolved the teachers abilities to prevent discrimination and their competence in supporting students who belong to groups which are vulnerable to discrimination. This subject was an introduction to the monitoring. The first step was to check if the regulations of the Polish law indicates that people working with children and youths should have the abilities to cope with situations of discrimination, and if this should be one of the obligatory criteria when qualifying for work as a teacher. In this purpose the contents of regulations defining the standards of teachers education and development were studied in search for references to anti – discrimination education.

To find out how the teachers anti-discrimination competency development program looks like, the training institution’s offers of pedagogical courses for teachers was studied (the study included 18 out of 43 institutions, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education), as well as the offer of the Centre for Education Development ( a public institution, responsible for the lifelong learning of teachers) and the offers of post-graduate studies for teachers in the academic year 2009/10.

The full image of the teachers education and development system was supported by interviews made with education experts.

The second area of study in this project, was monitoring the school textbooks to four subjects: History, Polish Language, Society and Politics and Education to Family Life. The main focus was the obligatory education system for children and youths, therefore the analysed textbooks were meant for teaching in primary schools and junior highs. A detailed study of the texts and graphics (photographs and pictures) was performed. This part of the monitoring was meant to answer a second key research question: if and how does the students educational system in Poland develop the awareness anti-discrimination education in students, in particular, their knowledge of forming and functioning of discrimination mechanisms, their knowledge and skills to prevent discrimination, their knowledge of discriminated groups and emancipation movements. The study made use of both – quantitative and qualitative analysis. The number of times the keywords for anti-discrimination education appeared was summed up. All quotes containing those phrases were copied. Thanks to this tool, it was possible to say that – for example – in the Education to Family Life textbooks the word “migrant” does not appear at all. The context in which a word appeared was also important. This allowed to answer questions such as: in what social role does a person from a specific minority appear, what are its character traits, what does he/she do. For example, in Society and Politics textbooks there is no shortage of descriptions of people practicing the second largest religion of the world – Islam. The words Muslim and Islam, and the words which derive from them appeared 21 times, however only in context of terrorism, religious fanaticism, in descriptions of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 or the war in Iraq.

The monitoring encompassed a total of 55 textbooks and exercise books (18 – History, 11 – Education to Family Life, 6 – Society and Politics and 20 – Polish Language), 4 core curriculums to the above subjects, the offers of 19 personal development institutions for teachers, 1023 offers of courses and postgraduate studies and 2 regulations of the Minister of Education. There were also 6 individual interviews done and 4 focus studies in 4 different Polish cities.

As a result, an extensive report entitled “The Great Absent” was concluded. After a massive distribution of the publication, the public institutions themselves started initiating contacts with the Association. The conclusions from “The Great Absent” were cited during an official speech of the Polish Ombudsman to the Minister of Education, on the subject of expanding the scope of classes on human rights and equal treatment within the teachers development system, as well as passing the information onto the students during lessons. In the following months direct meetings were held with: Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment and the Under-secretary of State of the Ministry of Education. The discussions focused on introducing anti-discrimination education in schools. And although it is definitely too early to claim any major success, it can be admitted that the decision makers attention was directed towards the subject raised by the Association. Although anti-discrimination education is not (yet) present in schools, it is beginning to appear in the main threads of discussion on the subject of formal education in Poland. After finishing the monitoring and publishing the report, the organization has not been idle, it commences numerous advocacy activities, builds official relations and is looking for allies.

In December 2012 the Ministry of Education begun implementing one of the postulates made by the Coalition for Anti-discrimination Education, included in the recommendations of “The Great Absent”. A letter from 5 December 2012 addressed to the Curators strongly emphasized the responsibility of school Head Teachers to spread the knowledge about human rights and the protection thereof. The importance of working against discrimination was also indicated, taking into account issues such as socioeconomic status, race, sex, language, creed and ethnicity.

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