News & Insights 27 September 2022

Why fostering diversity must be at the heart of the community building and social cohesion

In 2018, Sab, an acclaimed maths teacher, left Turkey to seek refuge in the UK for fear of political persecution in his home country. On arriving in London, he felt alone and alienated – a common experience for many refugees. After a few weeks in the UK, Sab felt the need to put his passion for teaching to good use and he opted to become a volunteer tutor with Action Tutoring, an education charity focused on helping disadvantaged pupils to progress academically.

Within months of being a tutor, one pupil described his maths tutoring sessions with Sab as “one of the best I’ve ever had.” Years later, Sab would go on to become a maths teacher in a school in London, helping hundreds of primary school children to comprehend complex maths concepts, inspiring them to take up careers in STEM, and guiding their futures positively.

This is just one of many inspiring examples of how talented individuals from diverse backgrounds can create social change and break the barriers of exclusion. This instance is a win-win situation: the pupils improve their knowledge in maths, get better grades and connect with a tutor from a different background while Sab feels a sense of community, belonging, and fulfilment in teaching children facing disadvantage. There are innumerable benefits for the nation if we can collectively learn from this story and attract individuals from different backgrounds and identities to contribute their skills to community building and development.

Understanding the fractures

Our society today is divided more than it has ever been in modern history, along the lines of deeply-partisan political and cultural wars, wealth, and class, with social media further fuelling these pre-existing divisions by creating a space for people or bots to easily project uninformed assertions, half-truths, and conspiracies, without reproach. Author and changemaker, Jon Yates, in his book Fractured painted a big picture of how our society is divided today and posed central questions about our current disposition: why are we so divided? What is driving us fundamentally apart and how do we knit ourselves back together?

Jon makes a logical case that shows that we are fundamentally predisposed to mostly connect with, seek out or socialise with people like ourselves, which creates an echo chamber that hurts any chances of learning new knowledge and reaching out to talents from other backgrounds. The People Like Me (PLM) syndrome, as Jon labels it, usually is not a result of the difference of opinion, but rather the distance between people and seemingly lack of understanding or consensus. He believes this phenomenon hurts our democracy, community-building efforts, security, health systems as well as the economy.

Jon provides a holistic solution out of the mire with the potential of uniting us to pursue the common good of society, which he called the Common Life. With the pandemic creating a unique opportunity to come together, we must recalibrate the way we build our networks by connecting genuinely with diverse people unlike us and fortifying the ties that bind us as a society, rather than feed the divisions. The more we spend time with others unlike ourselves, the more understanding, friendly, tolerant, and supportive we become.

The power of diversity

I have witnessed first-hand how Action Tutoring has blossomed with the support of our highly diverse pool of volunteer tutors who drive our mission of unlocking the full potential of every disadvantaged child to give them a better shot at life and the future. Recruiting volunteers of different age groups, nationalities, professions, cities, sexual orientations, genders, and abilities, we have striven to build a positive and inclusive pool of changemakers, representative of the wider communities and people we serve.

Pupils see their tutors as positive role models and matching them with volunteers from diverse backgrounds can help the child to develop better social skills, confidence, and career aspirations. Beyond the advantage of a broader range of skills and abilities, working with people from different backgrounds generates diverse ideas and fresh approaches to solving problems. Fostering diversity and inclusion helps us to thoroughly understand and respond to the particular needs of the communities in order to create more tangible and effective policies. Recruiting diverse volunteers has also encouraged people from similar backgrounds to be inspired to volunteer.

Education is key

Levelling access to high-quality education for every child, irrespective of their background, is a major way to reduce fractures and the People Like Me syndrome. Pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds often have less access to the tools that support them to progress academically in school. This means they are unable to reach their full potential and don’t do as well in their exams as their wealthier peers – referred to as the attainment gap.

One of the tools that help narrow the attainment gap and ensure all pupils get the same support is tutoring. Action Tutoring’s solution for the last decade to level the education playing field has been to use the power of volunteer tutors to bridge the gap and ensure that tutoring support can be accessed by every pupil who needs it, not just those who can afford it. This is why the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) is an incredible opportunity to narrow the attainment gap and roll out tutoring on a significantly larger scale, so it can be embedded as a lasting feature of the education system to reduce the existing inequalities.

If more diverse pupils progress academically, they are likely to build social mobility as they grow and contribute further to society, than if they fail to reach basic standards and have little chance of escaping the traps of inequality. The time to act is now. Let’s start building diverse networks and including people from different backgrounds in community and nation-building.