Teachers exert a great influence on student learning outcomes. However, recently, several reports have shed light on the systemic exclusion of students by them, apart from the other forms of bias inside classrooms. Implicit bias is defined as “the stereotypes and attitudes that occur unconsciously and may or may not reflect our actual attitudes” (Gullo, Capatosto, and Staats, 2019). Implicit bias reflects, reinforces, and co-creates structural exclusion and othering. Practised by educators, this can severely affect the experiences of students in the classroom and at later stages of their lives as well.
The pernicious effects of bias are thoroughly researched and documented in several domains of public life, including but not limited to the workplace, healthcare, the criminal justice system, and educational institutions (Staats, Capatosto, Tenney, and Mamo, 2017). It affects all forms of behaviour inside and outside the classroom, making it extremely important for teachers to understand and acknowledge their bias toward the students. In the Indian context, bias practiced against students on the basis of their caste, gender, ethnic, and religious identities leads to discrimination that affects not just learning outcomes but also overall well-being.
Pedagogic thinker Paulo Freire has critiqued the mainstream idea of classroom education, which he calls the ‘banking’ concept of education. He equated teachers with bank clerks and saw them as ‘depositing’ information into students rather than drawing out knowledge from individual students or creating inquisitive beings with a thirst for knowledge. Several other scholars and critical thinkers have emphasised the need for ‘awareness’, ‘curiosity’, and ‘questioning’, for a growth mindset and overall development.
However, inside classrooms where power dynamics exist, with teachers playing the dominant role and students expected to be passive listeners, such a vision of education does not get implemented. In fact, students are often punished for questioning teachers because it is perceived as undermining their authority. To make matters worse, teachers are seen outright discriminating against students on the basis of their gender, religion, ethnicity, class, caste, and neurodivergence. Such forms of implicit bias in the classrooms exclude students belonging to marginalised communities. In this regard, philosopher Bertrand Russell’s views are important: “No man can be a good teacher unless he has a feeling of warm affection towards his pupils and a genuine desire to impart to them what he himself believes to be of value.”
According to philosopher J. Krishnamurti, the goal of education is to foster healthy relationships not only between people but also between people and society. This is possible only through educational equity. It is crucial that the implicit bias in classrooms be eliminated to realise the goal of educational equity. According to the UNESCO, friendly classrooms can serve as a powerful weapon to reduce stigma and discrimination. Further, an inclusive classroom allows students to learn and grow together in a friendly environment where everyone feels included and supported, no matter their differences or abilities. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to address and reduce implicit bias in schools.
Need for training
Educators must be made to understand their role in the process and how these behaviours and attitudes lead to the use of exclusionary practices. Training and professional development programmes will help professionals understand and emphasise their unconscious attitudes and beliefs and the ways in which this influences their interactions with young children. The right form of training will help the stakeholders unlearn their biases and acquire the necessary skills to challenge their problematic behaviours.
Finally, policy development and enforcement that ensure reformative action will be crucial to bring about necessary changes in the educational system (implicit and explicit) in the long run. A concrete institutional structure needs to be put in place to implement practices designed to eliminate exclusionary discipline practices in early and late childhood education in schools and colleges.
Anup Tripathi is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Moitrayee Das is Assistant Professor of Psychology at FLAME University, Pune.