Ethnicity Issues and Software

Author: Amy Chan

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What are ethnicity issues?

The main concern of ethnicity issues in relation to computer software revolves around the idea of representation. Biraimah (1989) found 15 randomly selected educational software programs to be evaluated and found they were designed mostly for Anglo males. The research documented that out of 1,942 characters evaluated only 63% were males and only 3% of the characters were identified as ethnic. Turner & Brown (2007) notes that girls and members of minority groups have to cope with differing from the American norm of European-American males. Findings support this theory when minority children mention ethnicity when describing themselves more often than their European-American male counterparts. Those in the minority groups rank ethnicity and gender to be equally central to their self-concept. The American classroom dynamic is constantly changing and the young faces in attendance for an educational experience come from many different backgrounds. The educational software used in the classroom may not represent that diversity proportionately.
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A Similar Story
The issue of inequitable representation sounds like an old tune, something that educators have heard before. Well, it is. As the populations in American schools continue to become more diverse, researchers and social advocates join together to call for school curriculums that incorporate multicultural perspectives. Schultz (2010) emphasizes that minority children begin to question the values of their own culture when classrooms use literature and lessons solely from the predominant culture. The sentiments expressed to move towards inclusiveness in the literature used in the classroom are but the same feelings expressed for educational software today.

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What this means for educators…
There seems to be an unending sea of educational software and resources available for teachers. Some of which, were designed with ethnic equity in mind. The educator’s job then is to find and utilize software that includes diverse characters and settings. The teacher needs to have a strong understanding of their students to make sure that the educational software appeals to the values and interests of all students.
That may seem like a daunting task because of the time consuming nature of the idea. Be reassured that it is worth investing your time in educating yourself on the issue, as well as, familiarizing yourself with the software you implement. Educators are ethically responsible in providing an equitable education to all students and computer software contributes to that picture.

Suggestions for a multicultural classroom:

Visit to find out more on a highly recommended game that focuses on teaching students math concepts visually. The game's main character is JiJi the penguin and the program does not pose any preference of any one ethnicity.

Screen shot of game from

Additional Resources for Educators

Principles and Tips for Culturally Appropriate Pedagogy

A comprehensive guide by Barbara Warren-Sams (1997) that provides a list of questions for the district, school site, and teacher to reflect on current practices. The guide also includes methods to find solutions for equitable access to technology including having a school site committee that reviews software for ethnic diversity and instructional purpose.

Culture Crossing
A user updated site where you can get an understanding of cultural etiquette, greetings, and taboos for places all around the world.

Guided Reading with Roy the Zebra A fun interactive site for K-2 students to practice basic reading skills with the main character Roy the Zebra.

Biraimah, Karen. (1989). Proceedings from Eastern Educational Research Association: Inequalities in classroom computer software. Savannah, GA.

Bowerbank, T. (2011, April 21). Roy: Tale of a Singing Zebra. Retrieved from

EMSTAC. (2011, April 21). Principles and Tips for Culturally Appropriate Pedagogy. Retrieved from

Landers, M. & Grossman, L. (2011, April 23). Country Guides to Culture, Etiquette, Customs & more! Retrieved from

Schultz, Suzanne. (2010). Judging a Book by its Cover: An Evaluation Tool for the Evaluation, Selection and Inclusion of Multicultural Children’s Literature in the Elementary Classroom. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Dominican University of California, San Rafael.

Turner, K.L., & Brown, C.S. (1997). The centrality of gender and ethnic identities across individuals and contexts. Social Development. 16(4), 700-719.

Warren-Sams, B. (1997). Closing the equity gap in technology access and use: A practical guide for K-12 educators. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.