Systematic Racism In Education: Definition & Examples

Image of an empty classroom. And no systematic racism in education.

Systematic racism in education is a form of racial discrimination that is supported by unfair policies, practices, and systems that favor some groups over others. This can include inequality in educator pay, access to high-quality schools, and educational opportunities. 

Systematic racism is often referred to as “institutional racism” or “systemic racism”. It is one of the core causes of inequality in international education. To advocate for change, it is necessary to understand the history of systematic racism in education and how it manifests in the current state of education.

History of Systematic Racism in Education

Systematic racism in education dates back to the early days of European colonization and the slave trade. During this period, African slaves were denied access to education. Even after the end of slavery, black students were segregated. Black students were denied the same educational opportunities as white students.

This discrimination was codified in the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, which legalized racial segregation in schools. 

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought some progress in terms of desegregation. But even today, there are still disparities in education between white students and students of color. Consider that in the United States, the opportunity gap between white students and students of color begins to widen even before they are enrolled in school. On average, children of color are born into households with fewer resources (for food, internet access, and books) and typically in areas with underfunded schools.

Such systematic racism has been deeply entrenched in the global education system. It also has led to unequal access to resources, opportunities, and quality education.

Examples of Systematic Racism in Education

One example of systemic racism in education is the under-representation of students of color in gifted and advanced classes. Despite making up nearly half of the student population, black students are only 6 percent of students in gifted classes. Additionally, black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their white peers.

There is also a lack of diversity in the teaching profession. In 2018, 80% of educators in the United States were white, while only 7% were black. This lack of diversity means that students of color are less likely to have an educator who looks like them or study school textbooks with relatable content, which can affect their academic success.

Systematic racism in education is also encouraged by unequal funding for schools. Schools in low-income areas are often underfunded, which leads to inadequate resources and a lower quality of education. This is especially true for schools with mostly black and Latino students, which are often underfunded and lack the same resources as other schools.

Imposition of Systemic Racism

Stereotypes further desensitize educators to the needs of students, enforcing systemic racism. Aside from the cases of harsh discipline on black students because they are perceived as more threatening than white students, Asian American children can be overlooked when instructors believe they don’t need as many resources as their counterparts to be successful. This common belief stems from Asian American kids being held up as a model for minority kids by the white supremacist mainstream.

Another noteworthy example is the prevailing segregation of educators in China based on the idea that white educators are from more developed countries, hence better suited to teach Chinese students. From his experience, one educator shares how instructors from the UK and US are given preference over Africans who are similarly or more qualified because of the stereotype that light skin is better.

Unfortunately, when a more qualified educator is unable to get employment because of their race, the children receive a lesser quality of education.

Racial Disparities in Education

Systematic racism in education has led to disparities in educational outcomes between white students and students of color. These disparities can be seen in test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment.

Black and Latino students are less likely to graduate from high school and less likely to attend college than their white peers. Additionally, they are more likely to drop out of college. 

These disparities are even more pronounced for low-income students, who are more likely to attend underfunded and under-resourced schools. Low-income students of color are also more likely to be absentees, which can worsen the educational disparities.

A group of international students in class.

International Education and Systematic Racism

Systematic racism in education is not confined to the United States. It is a global issue, with many countries around the world facing similar disparities in education. Black Caribbean students report high exclusion rates from schools in the United Kingdom. Also in Brazil, there are disparities in educational outcomes between Afro-Brazilians and white Brazilians.

In some countries, such as India, there is a caste system that prevents certain groups from accessing certain educational opportunities. The issue of inequality in education is even more pronounced in developing countries, where access to education is limited and resources are scarce. For instance, Amnesty International records South Africa as having one of the most unequal school systems in the world.

How to Combat Systematic Racism in Education

The issue of systematic racism in education is complex, and it requires a versatile approach to address the problem. Here are some steps that can be taken to combat systemic racism in education:

  • Increase diversity in the teaching profession

  • Discourage stereotypes and racially charged language

  • Increase funding for schools in low-income areas

  • Create programs to support first-generation college students

  • Showcase achievements of people of color

  • Increase access to technology

  • Increase access to early childhood education

The Role of the Government in Addressing Systematic Racism in Education

The government has an important role to play in addressing systematic racism in education. Federal and state governments can provide funding for schools in low-income areas, create programs to support first-generation college students, and increase access to early childhood education.

The government can also work to create policies that promote diversity and inclusion in education. This can include policies that promote educator diversity, eliminate discriminatory practices, and create a more equitable learning environment for all students.

The Role of Communities and Organizations in Addressing Systemic Racism in Education

It’s not just the government that has a role to play in addressing systematic racism in education. Communities and organizations can work together to create solutions to the systemic racism that exists in education. Communities can come together to create mentorship programs, provide resources for students, and advocate for more equitable educational policies.

Organizations can also work to raise awareness about systematic racism in education and provide resources for students and educators. EDU Passport is a great example of an organization that is working to reduce all forms of racism in education.


There are many resources available to help learn about and address systematic racism in education. Here are some organizations that are working to combat systematic racism in education:

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund works to eliminate racial discrimination in education and ensure access to a quality education for all students.

United Nations Children’s Fund: UNICEF is devoted to aiding national efforts to improve the health, nutrition, education and general welfare of children.

United Nations Academic Impact:  The UNAI supports the promotion of human rights, including access to education for all.

The Education Trust: The Education Trust works to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education.

The American Civil Liberties Union: The American Civil Liberties Union works to protect the civil rights of all students and ensure that all students have access to a quality education.

Wrapping up

Systematic racism in education is a widespread issue that has been around for centuries. It has led to inequalities in access to quality education and opportunities among students, and it has a deep and lasting impact on the lives of students of color.

We must recognize the reality of systematic racism in education and take action to make meaningful change. Only by working together can we combat systematic racism in education. Thus, we can ensure that all students have access to quality education.

Take a stand, sign up to EDU Passport and join our community to discover more ways to fight racism in education. 

Follow us

Top Articles

Share this article

The world is waiting to hear your voice!

EDU Blog is the perfect place to share your insights and experiences with the world. Apply to become a guest author today!

Related Articles