By Nadeya Hussain –
Winston Bernard Coard is a famous Grenadian Politician who worked in southeast and east London as a teacher and youth worker during the 1960s.
In 1971, Coard published the book ‘How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system.’ In this book, Coard examined the British education system and argued that the system did not prepare for the needs of black children and newly immigrated Caribbean children.
He claimed that schools made black children and those from West Indian (Caribbean) islands backgrounds feel ‘educationally subnormal’.
Coard stated that West Indian children were told that their way of speaking was unacceptable. This institutional racism created a low self-image and consequently low expectations in the children.
Coard conducted his own research and found high numbers of many black, particularly Caribbean boys, were placed in schools for the ‘educationally sub-normal’, also known as the ESN.
He found, in ‘normal’ London schools, 17 per cent of pupils were from ethnic minorities, but in ESN schools, that figure was 34 per cent.
This large percentage shows the severity of the situation and how these children from an ethnic background were dumped in these schools because of language barriers and other minor difficulties.
ESN schools were originally created to deal with children with low intelligence, low IQ levels, and behavioural issues.
However, Coard believed that many West Indian children were wrongly placed in those schools and that they were only there due to a result of labelling and racism.
Because they were placed in lower bands, and teachers expected them to fail, this produced a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they lived ‘up’ to the expectations once the curriculum had labelled them.
They were then sent to the schools because they were labelled as children with behavioural issues.
In his book, Coard said: “If you expect to fail, then chances are you will.” From his research, it was clear; the British system could not adequately meet the needs of black children. Instead, the curriculum prepared them to fail due to low expectations.
He warned that black children in ESN schools were ‘being prepared for survival, not for excelling, or even participating actively in the society.’
If we look at when Coard published his book and research, there was a high level of institutional racism during the 1970s. There were books containing images that signified black people as servants and presented white people as superior.
The wider society ignored black culture in many situations. Although we have progressed so far, many still feel marginalised as they face racism in many ways. Bernard Coard’s work was one of the most critical reports ever written of the UK’s educational system, he inspired many to write about race and equality in schools even after his revolutionary career.