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Let's really start to tackle racism in schools.

Byline: Nicos Trimikliniotis

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The Ministry of Education has recently endorsed a programme of interactive anti-racist education and training in schools following the Ombudsman's report into a series of racial incidents at schools.

The Ombudsman, designated by the EU as the 'Equality Body' to investigate racial and gender discrimination in Cyprus, recommended decisive measures to combat racism in all cases under investigation. This included dissuasive sanctions against perpetrators and the setting up of a specialised mechanism to evaluate allegations of racism.

A main focus of the report concerned a 13-year-old female migrant pupil who was intimidated and humiliated by the racist bullying from her classmates. She stopped attending her lessons, preferring instead to stay in the school yard for much of the school year. The school authorities confirmed that she had been racially verbally abused but refused to acknowledge that she was intimidated, because she failed to name the pupils who abused her. The school decided to treat the matter as closed without taking any action whatsoever.

Their decision was based on a report by the Head of Educational Psychology, which claimed that whilst racial discrimination and racist behaviour are to be condemned, such issues must avoid any media coverage for fear that it would spread. "Psychosocially vulnerable persons are at risk of copying action which is self-destructive or destructive of others when they know that they will be glorified as heroes via exaggeration," this report said.

In its report, the Ombudsman decided that the school gave disproportionately high emphasis to the danger of leakage to the media rather than taking decisive measures to combat racism. Regarding the manner in which the victim of the incident was treated by the school authorities, the report said that it is well known that victims who are in a vulnerable position would rather not name their assailants either because they fear for their safety or because they do not wish to jeopardise their chances of integrating.

In its recommendations, the Ombudsman referred to the 2007 Report of the European Union's Agency for Fundamental Rights, which notes the failure of Cyprus to provide racially recorded incidents in education. It also referred to other European Commission's recommendations on education which say a racial incident should be defined by its victim.

As a result of its investigation, the Ombudsman proposed that decisive measures be taken to combat racism in all cases under investigation, including dissuasive sanctions against perpetrators. It said a specialised mechanism should be set up to evaluate allegations and to record and monitor racial incidents. It also pushed for the establishment of comprehensive measures to combat racism, xenophobia, discrimination and nationalism.

Such measures, now supported by the Ministry of Education, are only the beginnings of a longer term process where society has to take action to combat racial and other forms of discrimination. Now a deeply racially divided society such as the USA has managed to elect a black president, even if this hardly the end of racism in America, surely we can at least begin to properly tackle racism. Let's start with the schools.

*Nicos Trimikliniotis directs the Cyprus National Focal Point for Fundamental Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination and is Project Leader, PRIO Cyprus Centre: Societal Reconciliation in Cyprus.

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Nov 19, 2008
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