Saroj Lal: Pioneering race relations campaigner may have Edinburgh school named after her

A trailblazing teacher who broke down race barriers and fought boldly for equal opportunities may have a primary school named after her.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 4:55 am

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Saroj Lal made history in the early 1970s when she became the first ethnic minority primary teacher in the Capital.

Born in Gujranwala, in what was then British India, Ms Lal, who died aged 82 in March last year, moved to Edinburgh in the 1960s.

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Saroj Lal worked as a teacher at South Morningside Primary School between 1970-73.
Saroj Lal worked as a teacher at South Morningside Primary School between 1970-73.

After passing her PGCE at Moray House Ms Lal became one of Scotland’s first Asian teachers and proudly wore a traditional sari to welcome her primary three pupils to class at South Morningside Primary.

More than 50 years on from this historic day the trailblazer has been shortlisted as a possible name for a new city school.

The new institution, being built at Canaan Lane in Morningside, will be made up of pupils from South Morningside Primary School as well as Bruntsfield, James Gillespie’s and St Peter’s RC.

The student body of these four schools will collectively decide their school’s name in August.

Ms Lal dedicated her life to race relations and promoting equality.

While Ms Lal’s many accomplishments have been recognised with awards, scholarships and a mural in Leith, her son Vineet Lal said having her name chosen by pupils where she began her teaching career school would be a “fitting tribute.”

Mr Lal said: “My mother always said she spoke up for the voices that didn’t get heard and said these were important to represent. So having her name remembered would have meant a lot to her. But for her it would have been about being a figurehead for the voiceless, and helping them get a chance to be heard.

“Irrespective of the outcome I think it’s great that she’s being nominated, it’s amazing that we are having this discussion at all and we are keeping her story alive.”

‘Pioneer’

Ms Lal’s passion for equality and diversity took her from the classroom to the helm of Lothan’s Racial Equality Council where she worked closely with the Home Office, the NHS and the police.

Her dedicated leadership helped authorities break down barriers across languages, cultures, and faiths.

She helped implement robust reporting systems and equal opportunities policies, and ensured that the dietary and religious needs of those from ethnic minorities were met in Scotland's hospitals.

More than half a century on from the historic day Ms Lal entered the Morningside school her impact is still remembered.

Chair in multicultural and anti-racist education, professor Rowena Arshad. said: “Saroj was a pioneer in the very early days of race relations in Scotland. She entered teaching during the 'assimilationist' phase, when multicultural and anti-racist education were unknown concepts. She would have had to fly solo, and been incredibly resilient and creative in taking forward race equality.”

A passionate advocate for systematic change, Ms Lal was also a talented educator who helped nurture the dreams of many individual pupils.

Nicholas Jenkins, a former pupil of Ms Lal’s who is now a lawyer in the USA said: “‘Mrs Lal was a beautiful and graceful woman. I remember her distinctly, because I needed kindness and reassurance.

“I credit Mrs Lal among the handful of people who gave me the confidence I needed.”

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