My interview with Gary Chin, Principal of Greenwich Community College, is the third in a series which forms part of NIACE’s activity for Black History Month 2012.
What do you do outside of your role as Principal of Greenwich Community College?
I am an active member of the Network for Black Professionals and I mentor at least two aspiring managers each year who want to move up the management ladder in further education (FE). I have mentored about 15 people and most have been successful in securing the position of Heads of Department. I also volunteer my services to help out BME staff.
What does the mentoring involve?
It lasts around six months, sometimes longer. I see mentee’s once every month depending on our availability and mentor them to achieve their goals. Nine to ten years ago, most of the mentee’s were middle managers and they often wanted to become Heads of Department – that is what I did in the early days of mentoring.
Now I’m helping mentee’s who are trying to join middle management by helping them address and develop the skills needed to be able to apply for those positions. Some mentee’s require additional support and we continue with the informal mentoring, and others get what they need and they are quickly on the road to success and achieving their goals.
How did you get into education?
Having worked in education for many years, my role was more than just teaching, I also had involvement in the developing of the curriculum. I got inspired by the difference you can make to people’s lives through education. I see myself as a product of FE.
Having attended courses at FE colleges where I have experienced some examples of both really poor and really good FE teaching and learning, I felt that I could actually give something back to the sector to improve other’s learning experiences. I had an experience that I could share.
What kind of barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?
My biggest barrier was at school in the 1970’s – where I went to a predominately white boys’ school due to the profile of the population at that time. The teachers had this pre-determined perception about black students – their destiny lay in being a sportsman. So they would actively encourage young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) boys to join the basketball, football or athletics teams. They did not see BME boys as anyone who could hold a key position in industry or commerce – that to me was the biggest barrier.
My mother being a Jamaican was a firm believer in education being the key to opening all doors, no matter how thick or heavy the door was – she was absolutely right.
She actually changed my destiny – she removed me from all of the sporting activities and this gave me more time to concentrate on my academic learning. That was the turning point in me seeing and valuing the importance of education to my future job prospects.
With significant strides in race equality over the last 30 years, what do you think the barriers are today for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) learners and how do they differ from those experienced 30 years ago?
I don’t think things have changed – what has changed is the legislation outlawing overt discrimination. In my day we had ‘sus’ laws and now you have ‘stop and search’, but the big difference is you have legislation which protects you against racial discrimination.
When I was young and started working I was getting racist comments at work. There was no redress, you just had to suck it and seethe or open your mouth and loose your job. Now you can enforce the law, quote parts of the act and the act will protect you.
There is also the issue about raising the aspirations of our teachers to aim much higher for all learners. Getting people to see and value that young people do have high aspirations and they do want to get to the top irrespective of where they live – that also is the biggest barrier.
What about parents and communities and their aspirations?
Part of the UK’s issue is that because of the social support you can get, the desire to want to become independent and be successful is not as important because the state system will support you.
We see immigrants who come from a system where they know how important it is to have education and the difference it can make to your life. Culturally they have those values. West Indian families have lost their appetite for wanting to achieve.
How can providers support BAME learners to achieve and progress?
At Greenwich Community College one of our recent arrivals of immigrants is the Ghurka community. Their primary need, at the moment, is literacy in terms of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
We have had to train a very large number of literacy teachers to be able to meet that need. We also have introduced ESOL beginner classes which enable a family approach, allowing both parent and child to engage in education.
The Ghurka community realises and values the importance of being able to speak the English language and of education for their children and this is demonstrated by their early arrival at 7:50am in the morning for their lessons.
What would you like to see changing over the next 30 years for BAME learners and what role do you want to play in that?
I would like to imagine a time when black and minority ethnic learners achieve their highest aspirations, where the Prime Minister and maybe 50% of the Cabinet are BAME backgrounds.
I would also like to see a situation where the top ten companies’ Chief Executive is from a BAME background. Where we are no longer the minority.
In terms of myself, I feel I play a key influential ambassadorial role – in spearheading the positive promotion and encouragement of BAME learners and staff to become tomorrow’s leaders, where they can influence as well as change the type of world we live in.
At every opportunity I try to raise the profile and encourage BAME learners to aim high. Whatever you want to achieve you can do it! I think they need to hear that more.
How do you ensure that BAME communities are represented in every aspect of your provision, across the curriculum as well as in terms of staffing?
We have a very diverse local community. There are about 192 different languages spoken within the college, so we take equality and diversity very seriously, both in the curriculum and throughout the college. If you came here you would see lots of posters and images valuing equality and diversity in every corner of the building – you will see it in everything we do.
I also attend the classes – particularly the ESOL classes – and the students ask me lots of questions like where I come from and how I got to where I am.
I tell them, “It is about determination and it is difficult.”