Recent studies of cultural diversity in societies globally reveal that we now live in a more multicultural world than ever before. It is due in large part to skyrocketing rates of international immigration in recent years. According to data from the United Nations, the total number of international immigrants was 271 million in mid-2019, a significant increase from the 153 million recorded in mid-1990. New cultural groups also emerge as language and conversation around sexual and gender identity, ableness, and other identity categories grow more nuanced over time.
Modern societies growing more multicultural has posed significant challenges in education. Language barriers have historically made it difficult for immigrants to seek quality education in their host countries. Furthermore, public, and private education have tended to emphasise assimilation into the host country’s culture. Therefore, much of what immigrants and other cultural minorities learn in school is frequently divorced from their values and lived experiences. Minorities also become frequent targets of discrimination, exclusion, and bullying in educational settings.
The world as we know it has become more culturally diverse, and education must change with it to stay relevant to contemporary students. More and more schools around the world have begun exploring more multicultural approaches to teaching and learning. Many schools, for instance, routinely incorporate discussions of multiculturalism into their leadership coaching and teacher training modules.
Here are 5 of the most compelling arguments for culturally diverse education at all levels:
Drives Greater Student Engagement
As previously mentioned, the experiences and values of groups outside the dominant culture are often underrepresented across school curricula and learning materials. Educators have observed this phenomenon across both secondary and tertiary levels of education. In predominantly white, patriarchal, able-bodied, and cis-hetero normative societies, for example, the experiences of people of colour, disabled people, women, nonbinary people, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other minority groups are typically underexplored in schools – if explored at all.
The effect of this large-scale cultural bias is that students from minority groups typically feel alienated and, at worst, actively oppressed by much of the content they are required to study at school. It naturally takes its toll on their desire to learn and participate in school. However, multicultural curricula, pedagogy, and learning materials can help drive classroom engagement and academic achievement.
Promotes Respect for Cultural Diversity
Schools are the foremost environment where young people acquire the skills, attitudes, and knowledge necessary to navigate life in the real world. Schools must teach material that will be relevant to real life outside the classroom and for school communities to reflect current social realities. As the world is increasingly multicultural, schools must adapt by welcoming students from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. They must also adopt the educational approaches necessary to meet the academic and interpersonal needs of all these students.
The opportunity to learn, work, and socialise with peers every day, from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, teaches young people to regard cultural differences with compassion and respect. Cultivating this attitude in the members of younger generations is integral to combating problems such as discrimination, hate crimes, and other forms of cultural violence. If students grow up in an environment that promotes intercultural harmony and equitable treatment, students are more likely to take these values outside the classroom.
It helps Correct Misconceptions about Cultural Minorities
The spread of incomplete, inaccurate, or outright erroneous information on racial, sexual, ethnic, and other minorities is one main driver of discrimination and intercultural violence. Culturally sensitive school curricula can go a long way toward correcting these misconceptions and communicating more nuanced perspectives on cultural minorities. Hiring teachers from various cultural backgrounds and choosing reading materials written by culturally diverse authors are also musts for schools striving for equity and enhanced cultural responsiveness.
Encourages Critical Thinking on Social Issues
Students educated in insular, culturally homogeneous school environments are more likely to be fed material that validates the dominant cultural perspective instead of offering a more complex and balanced view of the world. In contrast, schools that embrace multiculturalism encourage their students to remember that their world perspective and life values are not absolute, and it is worth engaging actively with other points of view on pressing issues.
Multicultural education thus helps minority students feel safe, validated, and more motivated to learn about their own cultures and those of others. It also allows students from the dominant culture to broaden their worldviews beyond their immediate cultural and social spheres.
Makes Education More Equitable
An equitable educational environment provides students with learning resources and opportunities that satisfy their unique needs. Students are unique individuals and learn best when their teachers consider this rather than applying a standardised approach to all learners under their supervision. For example, a student who is not fluent in English at a predominantly English-speaking school needs and deserves additional support from their teachers and school administration to succeed academically.
Multicultural approaches to teaching and learning are crucial to breaking down cultural stereotypes, eliminating discrimination, and building a more just and inclusive society. Schools must embrace cultural diversity to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving, increasingly diverse world.
To know more about championing and advocating cultural diversity in the school, reach out to Carrie Benedet here.