Education: Opening the eyes and minds of our young


It’s a widely held view that when it comes to racism, today’s generation is much less prejudiced than their parents’ generation. Britain has moved on, so the thinking goes, and become a 'post-racial society'. 

However, a recent survey of 6,000 British children by Show Racism The Red Card shows that these youngsters have 'been radicalised and indoctrinated' into racism as a result of the xenophobic press reporting and inflammatory comments from politicians on the issue of immigration. The likelihood of these youngsters adopting extreme right wing views as adults must represent a serious threat to society.

The survey found 60% of the children questioned believed that “asylum seekers and immigrants are stealing our jobs,” while 35% agreed or partly agreed that “Muslims are taking over our country.”

The research was based on questionnaires sent to 8,793 young people from 60 participating schools throughout England between 2012 and 2014.

Ged Grebby, SRTRC chief executive, said the findings raised serious questions about the information young people were getting from the media and sharing online - and warned more needed to be done to prevent them succumbing to far right ideologies.

“We have found that there is a large amount of negativity when young people are asked questions about immigration or Muslims,” he said. “This survey shows that this is fuelled by a totally distorted view of the number of immigrants and Muslims living in the UK.”

The study of almost 6,000 children at schools across England found:

• The average estimate for the percentage of foreign born people living in the UK was 47% [the true figure is 13% according to the 2011 census];

• 28% believed jobs being taken by foreign workers might stop them reaching their goals and half [49%] agreed that migration to the UK is out of control/not being managed properly; 

• More than a third agreed with the statement ‘Muslims are taking over England’ while 41% disagreed, and on average respondents thought Muslims made up 36% of the population [as opposed to the true figure of around 5%];

• Almost half [47%] agreed there are poor relations between muslims and non-muslims in England. 

These shocking results raise two important issues for concern. One is the power of the public discourse to shape the views of children. Given the torrent of anti-migrant rhetoric that has poisoned the well of public opinion on this matter, it’s no surprise that school children hold views that reflect that discourse.

The second is that schools should clearly be doing more to protect vulnerable white working class children from being radicalised into right wing extremism. 

The attitudes reflected in the survey presents a real danger for Britain and is a condemnation of the gross irresponsibility of politicians and the press who use the incendiary power of racism and xenophobia to forward their ambitions. The result is a generation (and if we don’t stop it future generations too) of young impressionable people whose views of migrants and minorities have become poisoned by the ruthless, widespread and hateful racist rhetoric used by adults to further their political careers. 

This election saw the emergence of the Movement Against Xenophobia whose national poster campaign ‘I Am An Immigrant’ highlighted the positive contributions migrant make to modern Britain and challenged negative stereotypes. It was a welcome counter to the wretched immigration debate to which we were exposed in the run up to 7th May. 

The ‘I Am An Immigrant’ campaign, an overwhelming successes, was funded through online crowdsourcing which illustrates that many ordinary British people are fed up with the current dishonest and racist debate on immigration based on ignorance, fear and hatred being peddled by the media and our politicians. 

Economic crises amplify racism and xenophobia. We must ensure that we don't see the progress we have made in Britain rolled back, destroyed by austerity economics and venal politicians scapegoating migrants to deflect public attention away from those who caused the economic crisis - the bankers . 

We must ensure our children don't believe the hype and instead open their eyes and minds to the world around them.

Lee Jasper