Toril Sundal Leirset Norwegian Union of Teachers

The discussion of "intercultural" and "anti-racist" education has gone on for several years in Europe. I'll try to give a short explanation of two different ways of looking at society and what kind of role teachers and their unions play in this case.

The sociologist J. Israel calls these two ways the harmony understanding and the conflict understanding. In a harmony model balance is the purpose of society. Contradictions and different valuations have to be smoothed over, eliminated and made harmless. The harmony model does not deal with structural problems, but with the conflicts between the majorities and minorities with cultural differences. This model explains racism as a social problem resulting from a lack of information. A consequence of the harmony model is a reluctance to use the concept racism. Treating racism as only an emotional problem, and believing that information will help, one can work with attitudes to abolish racism.

Racism is a complex problem and has to be combated in many ways. Antiracism is not only a question about attitudes, but just as much a question of how to change discriminating practices and abolish discriminating structures.

On the other hand a conflict understanding model looks at society as a process where different interests confront each other. A conflict model is based on inhabitants in a country not having the same oppurtunities and rights. When the members of a society have unequal opportunities, a difference of interests and conflicts will be the normal situation. It will be in the interest of some people to change these conditions and of others to maintain the inequalities. The last group is the dominant group in society and they have a superior cultural and social power.

In Norway seeing intercultural education as a measure to remove xenophobia has been the main issue. The emphasis has been on information about foreign cultures so children will become less afraid of the unknown. Focusing on differences will in many cases increase fear and uphold stereotypes. When information about other cultures is given to pupils in a classroom it is important to keep in mind that the unknown may remain unknown because the theme is removed from its context and isolated as a study object.

Since multi-ethnicity and bilingualism characterizes today´s pupils the schools should be characterized in the same way. All pupils should have the oppurtunity to identify themselves, both minorities and majorities. Antiracism must therefore characterize the working method at schools. All the pedagogical work has to take this into account, both in the content of the education and the organization. The schools must therefore:

-meet the needs of bilingual pupils
-promote and bring about a pluralistic society

In Norway this means you have to fight for the right to mother tongue instuction at the same time as you work to promote a pluralistic society. Since Norway implemented a new curriculum in 1987, bilingualism has been the main goal for pupils. The people from language minorities have a right to have mother tongue instruction. Language minorities are not mentioned in the school law. There is, however, a paragraph in this law giving each pupil an individual right to understand the education. But today, ten years later, we have to fight for the mother tongue instruction.

As teachers we must strive to fulfill the objectives of education policies and work on putting these into practice. To fight for the rights of the language minorities in the school is to fight against structural racism. This is an important task for all teachers. To fight for rights like these is the essential point seen in the antiracist perspective.

The European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) has made a draft action plan for intercultural education for a multicultural society. It says that teachers and their trade unions have a duty to contribute to the removal of obstacles regarding racism and xenophobia and a responsibility to promote the development of an interculural attitude and favouring the protection of equal rights for a democratic society.

To carry out this plan The Norwegian Union of Teachers is convinced that we have to leave the harmony-model. Norwegian Union of Teachers´ antiracist program is based on a conflict-model instead of a harmony-model. Today cultural explanations have taken over the biological, racist ideological ideas. Racism is not new, both the structure and practice are the same. It is the ideological explanations which have changed. The ideology is to defend the culture of the majority, and people from other cultures are looked upon as a threat.

- A human with feelings of solidarity must work for abolition of injustice.
- A human with feelings of solidarity will ask questions, and ask for legitimation of practice.
- This person will search for a full understanding of a problem.
- This person will not accept borders made by others if these cannot be legitimated.

On the opposite side, a person with a harmony perspective will not ask questions, but just accept the situation and be a person without alternatives. A person like that will unconciously go on and maintain and cover up the circumstances which create racism. In the future the school needs pupils and teachers who ask questions, and put themselves in a historical and structural context.

Discussions have taken place on whether the concept "antiracist pedagogy" is the correct one to use. The Norwegian Union of Teachers uses this concept and defines antiracist pedagogics as all the activities in the school which promote an antiracist school. Antiracist pedagogics is the work for equality in school, both for teachers and pupils. This includes giving language minorities mother tongue instruction as well as general pedagogical activities for the whole school, f.ex. intercultural education. Antiracist pedagogy is a perspective, not a subject or a kind of a theme. It must include a scientific, an emotional and an action element.

- The scientific element deals with knowledge about racism.
- The emotional element is about children´s feelings about inequality in the society, democratic justice and solidarity and human understanding.

If the scientific and the emotional knowledge is to survive we must take action to develop tolerance, solidarity and human understanding.

A thematic plan about a foreign culture can give pupils knowledge about their own role and their own attitudes. It is important that a thematic plan of this kind contains a critical evaluation of our daily routines, how we meet new knowledge and other people. The pupils must be conscious about what kind of prejudices they have.

The pupils must learn about the connection between racism in Nazi Germany, South Africa and their own country. We must let them know what creates and maintains racism. In that connection we need to analyse structures at local as well as national and international levels. It is important to raise controversial subjects because children have to learn to choose their attitude. If we avoid difficult questions, it means that the children must choose an attitude without the essential consultation and working out with aduits. A critical consciousness and attitude of solidarity and actions are the essence of antiracism. It is important to stress changing the discriminating practice which ideology tries to justify, obscure and make natural.

Antiracist pedagogy in practice means:

The purpose of an antiracist school must be visible in the school plans.
The councils of pupils, parents and school politicians must be involved in the discussions when those plans are being drafted.
Antiracism must not be the responsibility of one single teacher.

The teachers must have knowledge about antiracist work. It is important that all the teachers learn about intercultural education and that the teacher training programs are adapted to the students from language minorities. This is because it is important to have many bilingual teachers in the future. It is important that the teachers are conscious about their own attitudes and how these are carried on through practice. The teachers must be conscious of these matters being perceptive of the impressions received through their daily work in the classroom.

We need critical teachers who are engaged in solidarity work, but who don´t only connect racism and discrimination to South Africa and USA. A critical teacher will focus on the inequality in their own country through an analysis of the global society. A critical teacher invites the pupils to an active involvement, to ask why, to fight for justice, and demand that those who set up the framework legitimate their attitudes.
This is the foundation of antiracist work.

National and ethnic minorities exist in all countries in Europe. These minorities are to a great extent contributing to the development of multicultural societies. Cultural and ethnic minorities represent a tremendous opportunity for a dynamic enrichment of the lives of all citizens.

At present however, racism is on the increase in Europe due to economic, social and cultural crises. To combat and prevent these tendencies, education has a grand and important task to fulfill. All educational institutions from pre, primary to university must prepare themselves to receive children and pupils from a cultural and linguistic diversity. Teachers and their trade unions have a duty to contribute to the removal of obstacles regarding racism and a responsibility to promote the development of an intercultural attitude favouring the protection of equal rights for a democratic society.


Children and young people who are refugees


Children and young people who have been

forced to leave their country, alone or together with

their family, shall get protection and assistance in the

new country. All their rights shall be respected.

Those children and young people who have

been forced to leave their countries without their

families shall get assistance in finding their families

so that they can be reunited with them when it

will be possible. If it appears impossible to find

the family of a refugee child, a good home shall

be found for it.

The right to

one´s own culture


Children and young people belonging to

a minority or being indigenous shall

have the right to enjoy their own

cultural life. They also have the right

to their own religion and to use their

own language.

From the Swedish NGO Child Convention´s booklet "My Rights". Illustrations Lars Andersson





Til forsiden / Back to front