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Study shows children’s books lack ethnic diversity

Boy reading book in library
Image: iStock

Competency in reading and writing in school – aged children has been a major concern for parents, teachers and commentators for some time.

In 2018, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Report claimed Australia’s 15 – year – olds were just above average in literacy. All the results in English, Mathematics and Science were the worst they’d been since 2000.

Children books lack ethnically diverse characters

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Edith Cowan University professor, Dr. Helen Adam studied the cultural diversity in books aimed at kindergarten/ prep aged children.

Out of 2413 books, only 18% (approximately 434 books) featured non – white characters.

Even the most anti – politically correct crusader could see something wrong with this. Right?

The UK has been worse, with less than 5% of children’s books having at least one non – white character.

 

Immigration and ethnic diversity is a reality

Immigration is a major part of Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 Census, most of Australia’s immigrants come from the UK and New Zealand. However, between 2006 to 2016, the rate of immigration from those countries slightly decreased.

Conversely, immigration from Asia has increased. There has been soikes in immigration from China, India and Nepal.

Could this disparity lead to white supremacy among children and young people?

The Sydney Morning Herald feared lack of diversity in characters could create white supremacy in Caucasian children. To be honest, I think that’s a bit alarmist.

However, when I first read the article, my immediate thought was how would it affect the education of children? Would children from non – White/ non – English speaking backgrounds and their families feel so discouraged that they’d isolate themselves? Maybe refuse to speak English at all? If we expect migrants and their families to assimilate, I think we need to meet them half way. They should be included in  all facets of society, including in literature and pop culture.

 

Will their ethnic diverse authors in the future?

Looking briefly at Booktopia’s Top 50 Favourite Australian Authors of 2018, most of the authors listed were from a European background. The exception was Vietnamese – born, Anh Doh.

Authors should be able to write about characters who are not the same as them. Characters can have different ethnicities, sexual orientations, life experiences, etc. Not all characters have to reflect the exact identities and experiences of the author/s.

Having said that, it’s not surprising that most authors create characters who somehow reflect their knowledge and experiences. And ethnicity may play a role in that.

Will diversity in characters change in the future? With our current trends in migration – an increased South and East Asian migration rate, it’s possible that we’ll have more authors from different ethnic backgrounds, hence characters.

Of course, publishers need to be open to potential authors who were not born here. Then there’s the Australian market. How popular are books from non – European migrants/ second generation Australians going to be? Only time will tell.

 

All children deserve a decent education. Children should be able to read about characters they can relate to. This includes children who’s family has cone from overseas.

 

What do you think about ethnic diversity in children’s books? Is there enough? Do you think it’s important? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.