Universities Scotland

Race Equality Toolkit

Learning and Teaching

Embedding Race Equality into the Curriculum

#4Using case studies

Case studies are an effective way of raising race-related, cultural and faith issues.

They can be used to highlight practical and realistic scenarios that students might face as well as to assist cross-cultural competencies and understanding. The following case studies can be posed to staff and students using a problematised learning approach to identify steps that can be taken to address the case study issue.

Example 1

Following a six-week placement in schools, teacher education students are asked to share what they have learnt from their time on placement in tutorial. One student reports that, having observed for six weeks, she feels that the system is not equitable or fair particularly in relation to able pupils and pupils with no additional needs. She suggests that pupils whose first language is not English are getting too much teacher time leaving those who are perceived to have no issues, e.g. indigenous pupils (as described by the student), being unequally treated. The tutorial group of second-year teacher education students agree with their fellow student. How might you respond as the tutor?


This is an opportunity to open up discussion on an issue that many students (and probably staff) would identify with but are unlikely to voice so as not to be seen as “politically incorrect” or unsympathetic to the inclusion agenda. The key is to move the discussion away from a deficit model where pupils whose first language is not English are seen as problems or a drain on the provision and teacher’s time. Enabling inclusion requires careful planning and a realistic budget. The issues here might be varied:

The student’s comments could usefully be used to open up discussions about the contested terrain of equity and inclusion. For example, the concept of distributive injustice (as discussed by Sharon Gerwitz (2006:97)1) could be explored here. Distributive injustice may be occurring in the school as it does not have sufficient resources to ensure that the needs of each pupil are being met in an equitable way.

Example 2

An Asian student is being observed on a clinical placement. This student is working with an older person. Once the 15–minute consultation period is over, the older person wants more information and reassurance and continues to try and engage with the student. The student finds it difficult to cease the consultation and allows it to run over by five minutes. The practice educator marks the student down for the slippage in time since, in a real-world setting, over the course of a day there could be 20–30 minutes’ slippage and the appointment schedule would not be kept. Should the practice educator have imposed this reduction in marks on the student?


It would be reasonable for the practice educator to impose such a penalty, particularly if students have been told beforehand that time-keeping would be one of the criteria that would be used in assessment. However, the course might also consider in future offering ideas to students about how to draw a consultation to a close in a respectful manner. There may have been issues of age (respect of older people), culture (younger people do not dictate to older people) and gender in this case study. The student being Asian may or may not have been material but cultural issues may have played a significant part in this case study.

Example 3

You are a lecturer on a mechanical engineering course. After a lecture, a British home student of an Asian background stays behind to have a quick word with you as her Director of Studies. She mentions that she is not happy with the group she has been assigned to in another module. She explains that the group consists mainly of Asian overseas students and she feels that the level of English in the group is so poor that it is affecting her ability to take part effectively. She feels that she might have been placed in the group because she is Asian and that, if that is not the case, she feels that, as she is one of the few “home” Asian students on the course, it is a bit of a coincidence that she has landed in the group. She considers that she is missing out on robust discussions and wishes to transfer groups. As her Director of Studies what might you advise?


This is the type of tension that faces those responsible for ever more diverse learner groups. What needs to be explored here is whether the student’s concerns are real or whether they feel uncomfortable being in a group of “foreign” students. It would be erroneous to assume that visible minority ethnic students would naturally bond with students from similar ethnic groups from overseas. The reality is that many visible minority ethnic students who are second or third generation British or UK students may have little in common with students from similar ethnic groups from overseas.

The issue of language proficiency may be valid. That being so, the course tutor may wish to realign groups to have a better spread of linguistic abilities in any one group so that there is greater opportunity for everyone to be conversant around the topics being addressed. All students should be able to draw from their group work information that stimulates intellectual growth or skill development in the subject area. Barriers that prevent this will need to be addressed.

Those responsible for the course may wish to consider whether providing language support to international students to assist them in becoming familiar with terminology within the discipline might be a useful tutorial during the induction process. Can opportunities be provided to allow students to use their first language so that they can better articulate their ideas? There may need to be further discussion about how to support international students into new cultures of learning (see Burnapp, D., with Dickens, A. and Borthwick, K. (2009) Supporting International Students in UK Higher Education: A Staff Development Course, Southampton: Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies).

Equally, it may be useful to provide all students with an awareness of a multicultural and multilingual environment. The purpose of such a session would be to heighten awareness of different communication styles across cultures and to develop positive attitudes towards multilingualism.

4.1Raising sensitive topics within a culturally diverse cohort

Creating a safe space within a culturally and faith diverse student cohort for open and critical discussion on topics like gender and sexuality can be challenging. A paper by Dee Amy-Chinn discusses how she sets the scene to enable discussions:

  1. Gerwitz, S. (2006) “Towards a contextualised analysis of social justice in education”, Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 69–81.