The term culture denotes the integrated pattern of human behaviour (thoughts, communication styles, actions, customs, beliefs, values, institutions) of a racial, ethnic, or religious minority group. By racism we mean the systematic, institutionalized mistreatment of one group by another based upon skin colour or ethnicity. Racism is about power. In Canada, many ethno-racial minorities and First Nations people experience systematic barriers to their participation in the labour force, school, housing, and other areas related to community life. Evidence of these barriers is found in the over-representation of these groups in social housing communities, living in poverty, working in low-paying jobs or being unemployed, and suffering from physical and mental health problems. Young people in minority and First Nations groups do not have access to the same resources available to most Caucasian youth in Canada.1 Some young people belonging to these groups are particularly susceptible to experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Components of Cultural Competent Programs

In order for a school program to be culturally competent, staff must have the capacity to respond to the unique needs of students and parents whose cultures differ from dominant, mainstream Canada. Essential components of culturally competent programs include: regular needs assessments; the recruitment and retention of diverse staff; training; targeted strategies (specialized teams, positions, standards); cultural interpretation and translation for new Canadian families; strategic partnerships with local community groups; curriculum materials that accurately represent racial minorities and First Nations peoples; equal application to all students of school policies and procedures regarding bullying, harassment and discrimination; extracurricular activities where students learn about their cultural heritage, backgrounds and individual differences.2

Promoting Harmony

It is essential that adults in the school be clear about what racism is. Pretending that it doesn’t exist, ignoring racial tensions, or not confronting stereotyping amounts to giving tacit approval to the status quo. Teachers who have multi-ethnic and multi-racial classes are in an excellent position to address racism and promote harmony among different groups of students. Teachers need to support the safety of ethno-racial minority students by ensuring that:

  • minority and First Nations students are not targeted by other peers.
  • minority and First Nations students do not become isolated or segregated in group activities.
  • minority and First Nations students are not perceived as the ‘expert’ on their race or ethnicity.
  • a ‘them/us’ dichotomy does not develop in the classroom.
  • subtle forms of racism (e.g., jokes, assumptions that immigrants are all the same) are addressed immediately.
  • special efforts are made to include parents in class activities.


Useful resources include the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (, Barbara Mathias and Mary Ann French’s 40 Ways to Raise a Non-racist Child (1996), Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey’s Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development (1998).

Statistics Canada, (2003) Tjepkema, 2002.
Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2000.