Sofia Akbar Interview with BBC Radio Scotland

In 2018 Sofia was contacted by BBC radio Scotland for the GMS programme regarding the issue of lack of BME representation in the education sector. A damning report had been released and a viewpoint of a person in the position was sought after. The leading question was ‘Why is there an underrepresentation of teachers in Scotland and what could be done about it?’
Here is some of the exchange.

Q: Why did you become a teacher?
A: Because of my love for maths and passion to spread this appreciation for it. Because I wanted to inspire the next generation, I want to firstly help get rid of the negative connotations attached to maths, and secondly, to guide young people in their development and instil appreciation for education and critical thinking skills.

Q: What have your experiences been like?
A: Moving up from London, I was very much in the minority and felt it. I felt like pupils couldn’t see me as a teacher past my headscarf. I was treated like a Muslim lady talking maths, rather than given professional respect. Pupils found it easier to complain about me over the most trivial matters as though they doubted if I had teaching skills at all. Over the past year, things have improved.

Q: What stops ethnic minorities entering the profession?
A: The lack of BME in promoted posts highlighted very limited career progression opportunities. Unconscious bias is only believed by the one who suffers it, so this remains a visible invisible attitude that prevents progression. We have to stand out and abnormally excel to be recognized whereas our white counters don’t; they just do their job well and progress. Then the issue of representation, it’s a downward spiral. When looking at career paths, young people from minorities don’t see many of their own and automatically don’t feel like they belong. We need to address this issue the way we have successfully changed the culture on LGBTQI and gender equality in careers and society. By having role models of colour, the future generation with consider teaching a viable option. Lastly, even if we do enter, confidence is an issue. Having faced every day racism growing up, it is very difficult to believe in one’s capabilities to excel regardless of effort. Perhaps that’s why those of any kind of minority put in more effort than their mainstream counterparts. It’s because our journey is longer and tricker.

Q: What can be done to improve the situation?
A: As mentioned before, modelling professionals who don’t fit the stereotype to pupils contemplating careers is powerful. Equality training for staff, especially leaders, is required. Just because there is a very small proportion of BME people in the school doesn’t mean the staff should not be aware of issues arising. We need to educate our pupils to prepare them to contribute to wider society, which means we need to be aware ourselves. Currently leaders dismiss this particular issue of racism because it’s not their story, therefore not their concern, and there is no political buy-in.


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