Cultural Diversity and Education in a Multicultural Classroom
Legendary writer Maya Angelou once said that “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
This is true in a multicultural classroom. Every year teachers are burdened with creating the right lesson plans for a class of 30-40 students each with their own learning abilities, thought patterns and interests. Throw into this mix students from different cultures – you have strengths as well as challenges to face that go beyond just drawing up lesson plans.
Identifying Multicultural Diversity
For any child the classroom is a second home where they spend half their time learning, communicating, playing, building relationships, forming an identity and forging a unique place for themselves. This makes it even more important for a teacher to understand the dynamics of diversity such as ethnicity, race, language, culture, education, religion, place of birth, Diaspora experiences, war memories, minority conflicts, socio-economic standards etc in the classroom.
Creating a Multicultural Classroom
The success of a multicultural classroom can be studied by the advancement of the educational goals of all the students, and the fostering of a supportive and respectful teaching environment. Some ways to achieve this:
1. Awareness of Learning Styles
Every culture has its own way of imparting knowledge which may be remarkably different from the dominant culture into which a child is thrust.
Take for example East Asia: Students from China, Japan and Korea are used to a teacher-centric, book oriented, rote memory learning style. The students themselves are introverted and are uncomfortable with public touch and intense displays of opinions or emotions. Students from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will look to the teacher for constant guidance, and accept everything the teacher says as absolute truth.
On the other hand, students from progressive western cultures are more comfortable with asking questions, challenging information, and communicating their displeasure with the teacher or the lesson. A teacher's openness to and acceptance of the varied learning styles can make teaching in the classroom a more tolerant, inclusive and cohesive experience.
2. Communication Resource
As teachers, we want our children to learn in an environment where they can accomplish everything that is possible and feel loved and included while doing so. Unfortunately, in the world, discrimination and racial bias is a scarring reality. But a teacher can become a resource on a wide range of issues connected to diversity and multiculturalism for children and parents.
3. Diversity Awareness Activities
Encourage diversity rich activities in the classroom.
For example: Create your own classroom library and encourage each child to choose a book that represents their country or culture. If they are too young for this, reach out to their parents. Then, take turns reading the books and have an open discussion about the content.
Plan a cultural exchange unit where students are asked to bring in something that reflects their heritage. This could be a piece of handicraft, food, traditional clothing, a song or speech recording etc. Open up a discussion, but sometimes such exchanges can become charged so administer strict rules about acceptable behavior before hand.
Hold these awareness activities on a regular basis, especially at the start of a school year, so that what is considered different becomes something familiar and exciting. Look for creative lesson plans and activities that will enrich the student's learning experience.
4. Anti-Bias Education
Multicultural assimilation can begin at a very early age since kids are extremely curious and often come up with their own surprisingly creative explanations to understand the differences around them.
When we make our classrooms an anti-bias classroom, we are helping children be proud and accepting of human differences. An anti-bias curriculum will also encourage them to assess their own identities and teach them to create, live and learn in an inclusive environment. So, if a 3-year-old in your class doesn't want to sit next to a new arrival because they “talk funny” or “dress funny”, intervene immediately to send a positive message and counter the hurtful effects of those statements.
As a teacher you have an unique role in promoting all children's chance to thrive and succeed in life.
Understanding a multicultural classroom is the first step in effectively knitting together a multicultural blanket. Then, encourage appreciation of differences, avoid cultural stereotypes, acknowledge differences, and integrate new multicultural programs. We live in a world brimming with myriad colors, let us make a rainbow out of it.
Written on behalf of Global Kids Oz by Annie Besant