A recent study of 6,000 10 to 16-year-olds found widespread misconceptions and negative attitudes towards immigrants and Muslims living in the UK.
The study found that a considerable number of children saw migration as a problem. 49% of the surveyed children believe migration to the UK to be out of control, and 60% though immigrants and asylum seekers are “stealing British jobs”. The survey also highlighted negative attitudes towards Muslims with 31% stating that “Muslims are taking over England”.
The research showed that the estimate of the number of immigrants and Muslims in the UK was far from the actual figures. Children believed that the percentage of foreign-born people living in the UK was 47%, whilst the true figure is 13%. Similarly, children though Muslims made up 36% of the population, as opposed to the true figure of around 5%.
The results of the study by the charity, Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC), are worrying, but unfortunately not entirely surprising. In 3FF’s own schools workshops and school linking programme we often find that we have to address misconceptions and stereotypes that have gone unchallenged. Children often absorb ideas and attitudes around them, both at home, from friends, their wider communities and from the media. Since we find many of these misconceptions and attitudes in society more generally, we can also expect to find them in schools.
To challenge both negative attitudes and inaccurate information, we must ensure that young people have the necessary critical thinking skills and as well as actual experiences of engaging directly with those they have negative attitudes about.
As the study by SRTRC demonstrates, children rarely have the opportunity to meet people from different communities. Enabling young people to meet, learn from and work with people from different faiths, beliefs or cultures could prevent misconceptions and stereotypes. Methods around sensitive enquiry and encounter need to be used, so that children have the opportunity to challenge negative beliefs about others through their personal experience. Through personal contact with people from different backgrounds, properly facilitated with the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity by asking questions, children often become more comfortable with diversity.
It is important that we give young people all the help and support we can both online and offline. Ensuring that young people can encounter and properly understand diversity is essential to create a more inclusive, safe, and trusting society.