Experts are calling for a new evidence-based program to address racism in schools to be expanded across the country, after a successful pilot was run in Victoria and New South Wales.  

The Speak Out Against Racism (SOAR) program supports schools, teachers and students to recognise and reject racism. 

Students and teachers who were part of the program felt it gave them something concrete to do about racism. 

“We need to ensure schools are free from racism and that all children have the opportunity to thrive without the burden of racism and its harms,” the program’s lead researcher Associate Professor Naomi Priest, from The Australian National University (ANU), said. 

“It is also important that children who experience racism receive the support they need. 

“We have strong evidence that racism is harmful for children’s mental and physical health and their ability to succeed at school and throughout life. This includes directly experiencing racism, as well as witnessing it online, in the news and in social media. This ‘second-hand’ racism is also harmful for children’s health. Children don’t have to directly experience racism for it to impact their health. We also know racism is on the rise during coronavirus.   

“Supporting teachers and students to develop the skills they need to recognise and reject racism, as proactive bystanders for incidents of individual racism as well as at a systemic level, is important now more than ever. 

“We must ensure that evidence-based programs for teachers and students to address racism are widely available and that schools receive the support they need to implement them.”  

New analysis out today shows students and teachers involved in the SOAR program felt it raised teacher confidence to discuss and address racism, and increased students’ awareness of racism. It also enhanced their knowledge and confidence to intervene to address racism at school, and reduced racial discrimination at school.  

“This program includes multiple components and goes well beyond a one-off day or activity – it supports teachers and students to have conversations about racism and it empowers students to come up with their own solutions,” Associate Professor Priest said.  

“It also facilitates review and action at a systemic and school policy level and encourages connection with the wider school community. 

“Poorly designed anti-racism programs can do more harm than good, so it is essential we work with experts and with local communities to develop and implement evidence-based programs in this area.” 

The program runs across two school terms and is aimed at students in years five and six.  

It includes teacher training and support, a classroom unit of work, auditing of school policies and practices, and student led activities to address racism in the wider school and community.  

“It is something I think parents, students and teachers will get behind.  We all want a society where people have the skills to recognise and reject racism,” Professor Kevin Dunn, one of the research team and Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Western Sydney University, said.  

SOAR is funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant and led by The Australian National University, together with Western Sydney University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Technology Sydney and Deakin University, in partnership with the NSW Department of Education, the Victorian Department of Education and Training, and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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