A pilot at the Khandaani Dhek Bhal project, Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, August 1998
Aims and Objectives
All children need to be valued for who they are. Strong identity and feelings of self-worth are crucial in child development. Academic research on black* children’s self-esteem and self-image has shown that, from a young age, black children are aware of their difference from ‘white norms’ and often grow up devaluing themselves (Ahmed, Cheetham and Small: 1986). This problem is potentially disastrous where black children are in care and, therefore, do not have access to forms of support which might be provided by family life. The problem can also develop when nurseries, schools, youth clubs and other agencies dealing with black young people allow a ‘white norm’ to exist by default and fail to tackle the special needs of black children.
The aim of this project is to examine the effectiveness of using multimedia software developed by the Institute of Race Relations to assist in meeting the special needs of black children with regard to self-esteem.
The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) published their software programme HomeBeats: Struggles for Racial Justice at the beginning of 1998. It has received a number of commendations in the multimedia and educational publishing industries for the quality of its design and educational approach and has since been installed in a good number of school and youth work settings around the UK. The HomeBeats software aims to be flexible enough to meet different needs from within the same package. Here we will only address the possibilities of using HomeBeats as a tool for the development of positive self-esteem and identity.
The most well-known approach to developing positive self-esteem and identity is the method of ‘positive images’ . This involves providing children with access to material depicting people from their own ethnic group who have achieved success in various fields (for example successful professionals, politicians, scientists, artists and media figures), in order to counteract the negative stereotyping of society at large. The ‘positive images’ method has an important role to play in developing confidence and raising expectations of one’s potential. However, used on its own, the ‘positive images’ method has some limitations. It tends to play down the wider issue of the values and norms which we use to define achievement in the first place. And, by focusing on stories of achievement based on individual talent and determination, it feeds into the idea that failure is one’s own fault.
The HomeBeats software therefore attempts to combine the merits of the ‘positive images’ approach with a wider look at movements which have tried to overturn racist values. For example, by adopting the slogan ‘black is beautiful’, the US black power movement reversed the norm by which black looks were devalued. Here, the struggle to take on racist values and the struggle for positive self-esteem and self-identity become one and the same. The method used by HomeBeats is thus to relay the histories of all those movements, whether in South Asia, Britain, Africa or the Caribbean, which have fought racist values and sought a self-identity as a single struggle. The software conveys these histories using the full potential of multimedia technology music, graphics, pictures, words, video clips, interactivity to make the material as accessible as possible.
One of the consistent findings in dealing with the issue of racism in educational settings is that adopting a top-down approach is doomed to failure. There is no one single method for providing awareness of racism or developing an adequate response to it. The most important thing therefore is to provide flexibility and be adaptive to the specifics of the given situation. The HomeBeats package attempts to do this by allowing the user to choose his or her own paths through as wide a range of material as possible. Because of the amount of material and the ease through which one can move about between looking at different times and places in history, there are hundreds of different possible experiences to be had. Hopefully the users will be able to tailor the software to their own interests, background and experience by their selections in using the software. Furthermore the software is designed to encourage exploration so that users make comparisons between their own experiences and those of others in different times or places.
The material in the HomeBeats package spans 500 years of struggles against racism, including slavery, colonialism, anti-racism in the UKand the growth of black communities in this country. The material is divided into 5 main sections, People , Places , Memories , Images and Visions . The People section gives biographies of individuals, both famous and obscure, who have fought racism, such as Anwar Ditta, a British Pakistani woman, who was forced to fight the British government for the right to be reunited with her children, or Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian woman, who struggled against racism in London in the 1950s and created the West Indian Gazette . The Places section looks at the historical development of local black communities in the UK where the struggle against racism went hand in hand with the struggle to establish a cultural identity. The Memories section looks at the historical struggles against colonialism and slavery. The Images section looks at the way race has been represented in various media at different times, while Visions examines different models for social change.
The Khandaani Dhek Bhal (Family Unity) project was formed in 1996 as a partnership between Barnardo’s Yorkshire and Routeways to Success in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire. Taking over an old school to use as a centre for the local community, the project has provided services to local Muslim children, young people and adults. In 1998 a need had been identified to work with children at the year 6 and 7 level just before entry to secondary school. It was found that many children at this age were not fulfilling their potential due to a lack of support at local schools. It was decided to establish a four week summer school in August for around 30 children to work primarily on literacy, but also to deal with the issues of self-identity and esteem in the context of local schools which had a clear culture of racism. An outreach worker visited Heckmondwike in July to help plan the IRR’s contribution.
In the first three weeks of the course the participants at the summer school were beginning to articulate the issue of racism as they had experienced it in their normal schooling. They described stereotyping by teachers, devaluation of their culture and a stigmatisation of the use of Urdu between classmates, all of which impaired their self development. Together with the facilitators, strategies were evolved for dealing with these issues.
The use of the HomeBeats software was scheduled for the fourth week when the participants were already articulate in recognising and describing racism. They would then, hopefully, be ready for further investigation into the issue, and to begin to set their own experience in a historical context. Groups of around five children, mixed between boys and girls, were taken for two hour sessions with the software under the guidance of an outreach worker from the IRR.
The IRR supplied two Apple Macintosh Powerbook portable computers, equipped with mice, speakers and software for the project. These computers were connected to a laser printer made available by the community centre.
In the two-hour session the students were invited to familiarise themselves with the software and learn how to navigate through the sections and print off pages. Using the People section they were invited to choose three people from the fifty available and investigate the stories of each of their lives in more detail. The software provided them with textual information on their lives and historical background, audio and video recordings of them speaking and photographs. Pictures and text could be printed for off-line research. An outreach worker from the IRR was at hand during these sessions to provide assistance and guidance. The children were then asked to compile a presentation to the rest of the group on the person who they found the most interesting. These presentations were delivered the following week.
The children were each asked to fill in detailed feedback forms. They were asked what things they have learnt, what things interested them and what suggestions they had for improving the software.
The choice of which people’s lives in the software the children found interesting offers us an insight into the possibilities of identification which the children found in the software. Some of the group (especially the boys) looked to fellow Muslims for points of identification even if these were from different ethnic groups to their own. Many chose Muhammad Ali both because of his embrace of Islam (and hence his name) and also because of the image of strength he seemed to offer. His defiant stance against racism was also picked up on: “Muhammad Ali [interested me] because he said he fighted because he knew about racism.” Or: “Muhammad Ali [interested me] because he learnt how to play Boxing so he can defend the Black people.” Others in the group chose to focus on Anwar Ditta or Mohamed Ali Jinnah because they were Pakistani Muslims. One participant identified Anwar Ditta as being from “near Heckmondwike”.
Other members of the group explored figures for other reasons, such as an interesting name: “Olaudah Equiano interested me the best because I never came across that name and the way [he] worked out of slavery.” Another chose Nelson Mandela because “he has been through so much and is still alive can you believe it?” Some picked up on individual experiences of racism such as Anne Frank or Gerlin Bean: “I was interested in Gerlin Bean. I don’t believe that a patient would swear at a black nurse even though she was trying to help the patient. She was one of the first black nurses in England.” Another commented that she had learnt “about how some black people went through a lot of trouble to get their rights, and to show that black people had equal rights as white people.”
Some of the group stated that they had gained a wider knowledge of black people generally: “I have learnt more on black people [and] countries I also learnt more black peoples’ names.” Another: “We learnt about famous black people in history. I didn’t believe that black people could do such good things I learnt about different people and their names which I didn’t come across.” Some went further saying that through the software they had learnt that, as one put it, “black people are just as brainy as white people”. The software would thus appear to have contributed to a more positive self-image.
Possible areas for improvement of the software were also identified by the group. One or two asked for more people to be included in the People section because the fifty provided was insufficient. Others identified a problem in the quiz game section whereby answers were not given to wrong questions. One participant in the group wanted the software to provide more information about Pakistani history.
The overall response of the group to the sessions was very positive. Attracted by the strong visual appeal of computer graphics and sound, the children were able to remain attentive to the material for the full two hours.
It is still rare to see a black face in electronic media, whether educational or otherwise. If nothing else, just putting black faces on a computer screen and making those faces available to children, is a positive step. Seeing that face come alive with audio and video material adds interest for children and giving serious consideration to that person’s life and their historical context, sends out the message that black people are worthy of recognition.
Children are very good at embracing the interactive, exploratory and playful aspects of the package. They adapted to the navigation controls of the package very quickly, learning mainly by trial and error. Most of the children who used the software were then able to make a journey through various different peoples and times and make connections between them. This would put them in a good position to use other multimedia software in the future for research, using their own initiative.
The participants were able to successfully identify with people from a wide range of different groups and historical periods whose lives had been described in the HomeBeats software. They were able to compare these people’s experiences with their own and develop a wider historical understanding of racism. Through this process they could arrive at a better sense of their own worth and gain the confidence and self-esteem which would help them as they entered secondary school.
- Young people were successfully introduced to interactive, specially designed software material currently unavailable to them.
- Young people were given the confidence and competence to use PC-based multimedia software for their own research projects.
- Development of a historical understanding of prejudice and exclusion was enhanced through the software, and this contributed to an understanding and situating of their experience.
- Development of an informed self-identity, self-esteem and confidence was enhanced.
- Knowledge of the experiences of victims of racism from other ethnic groups was enhanced.
- Methods for providing a suitable educational context for the use of HomeBeats software with a group of black children of this age were developed.
- Some areas for improvement of the HomeBeats software were identified.
The pilot project has shown the potential of using HomeBeats software in the context of a Pakistani summer school whose participants have been unable to benefit fully from their normal school because of its alienating environment. Further, the results of this pilot suggest that HomeBeats could be usefully deployed in a number of other fields where black children find themselves in an alien environment, e.g. black children in care, foster homes and long-term institutional health care.
Thanks to all staff, children and their families at the Khandaani Dhek Bhal project in Heckmondwike and especially to Nellie Maan for all her help and support. Thanks also to Naina Patel for initiating the project.
- Ahmed, Shama, Juliet Cheetham and John Small eds. Social Work with Black Children and their Families, London: 1986
- Barn, Ravinder Black Children in the Public Care System, London:1993
- Hendricks, Jean Harris and John Figueroa Black in White:The Caribbean Child in the UK Home, London:1995
- Milner, David Children and Race, London:1983