Social Diversity, Implicit Bias and Inclusive Pedagogy

I come from India which is home to people from different religions, cultures, race, ethnicity etc. There are around 1600 languages in India. It is hard to find another person with a similar set of thoughts, looks, language etc. in India. Even with so much of social diversity, there are instances of bias based on diversity everywhere all the time. I want to cite a few I have seen or heard in India since my childhood. It is common for men to do engineering in India and for women to become a doctor. One does not expect women to do civil engineering for example. One does not expect women to reach higher levels in a corporate job. Men in India feel women are meant to be housewives. This is obviously changing but is still prevalent.

One will think there won’t be any racial bias in India since we are all Brown. Well, you are wrong. It is very common for parents to find a relatively fair girl for their son for marriage. People in India mostly think that someone with relatively darker skin is not well off and not educated. Now, since we are talking about bias, it’s not limited to India. I think it has nothing to do with the country or place. It is prevalent everywhere around the world all the time. It has to do with the wiring in the Brain I think. Shankar beautifully describes the human mind having 2 modes – conscious (pilot) and unconscious (autopilot). The unconscious mind very quickly thinks of something and makes a judgment. It does not process the thought. For example – One does not see many women in an engineering college in India. So, the human mind thinks maybe women can’t do good in engineering.

Let us think of this in a classroom setting. Let us suppose you are an instructor and see two raised hands in the class. Instinctively, your mind chooses one of them. One does not think of it as bias at that time but it is biased in a way. If you allow a man before a woman or a white person over a black person, you are being biased. You also find biases when you are asked to make a group for a group project in a class. Most of the people look for known people or people with similar background. Why? Why does one do that? Because it is bound to happen. Because there is no perfect society. Until there is inequality across all the spheres in life, the bias will stay. Question is how to tackle it? How to counter them?

There are many strategies (Strategies). First of all, avoid assuming and judging on the basis of partial or no knowledge. It is better to know a new person or understand a new situation before making any comment or coming to a conclusion. In a classroom, it is better to know every student individually if possible.  It is important to give every student an equal chance and not let any bias come in mind while correcting exams or assignments. It is impossible to remove all the bias since some of it is related to the society in general but at least working on own biases is the first step. It is good to work in a diverse environment. A plus point of a diverse classroom is that it makes you more creative, hardworking and diligent. In a diverse setting, people are bound to work harder in solving problems in spite of differences. There is research backing this (Diversity Makes You Smarter). Do try the Implicit Bias Test. It is fun.

Were there any incidents involving biases in your life? Do you think biases are to stay forever? Do you think we can get away with them using some of the strategies? Let me know what you think.