INTERCULTURAL EDUCATION: MORE THAN A COMMITMENT

Pieter Batelaan, Secretary General, International Association for Intercultural Education


Intercultural education is a relatively new phenomenon in educational theory and practice. In the 1970s the Council of Europe, concerned about the situation of immigrant children, set up some projects in which the term "intercultural education" was introduced. In other immigration areas such as Australia, Canada and the USA the word "multicultural education" was used which covered similar endeavours to adapt education to the realities of multicultural situations. In the past multiculturalism in Europe was not an issue in spite of persecutions of Jews or Gypsies in many areas. Multiculturalism has become an important issue since World War II. Not because of the dramatic increase of immigration in Europe, but because World War II made us aware of the need to protect minority groups against racial superiority through human rights. It made us aware of the need to build a society, a "world order", in which each individual could participate on an equal basis. This urgency was expressed in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. Human Rights are inclusive, which means that they apply to everybody: for immigrants and refugees in the countries of the European Union, for Gypsies in Romania and Hungary, for Croats in Serbia and Serbs in Croatia, for Russians in the Baltic countries, for the Saami people in Scandinavian countries, for women, for children, for men.

I. The importance of the issue

Twenty, thirty years ago, racism was not an issue in countries like Norway or the Netherlands. Violations of human rights and racism were phenomena in other countries like South Africa which were condemned by the Norwegians and the Dutch. It was rather easy to subscribe to the many conventions and declarations of international organisations, such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe, because they referred not to our own problems but to the problems of others.

Nowadays, since immigrants and, particulary, refugees appeal in our own countries to solidarity and human rights, since they want to have access to education, the labour market, and to the services of our own countries, racism has become a problem. In all countries of Europe we see that extreme right wing nationalist parties are popular, particulary in areas with many immigrants, and we are all concerned about violence against foreigners in our streets. Politicians try to stop the immigration and the issue of asylum seekers is high on the political agenda, not because of concern with the refugees, but because they are afraid of the reactions of those who will elect them for a new term in parliament.

The history of mankind can be described as a history of migration: from one rural area to the other, from rural areas to urban areas, from one region to the another following natural roads, from one side of the ocean to another side of the ocean, from one continent to another, from poorer regions to richer regions. And since technology has created a world wide transportation infrastructure, and since inequality is so obvious, it will be impossible to stop the the history of migration.

But even if the authorities succeed in their policy of slowing down migration, we are living together in a very small world, a global village in which we look through our television networks into each other´s back yards. This global village is multicultural. The villagers have different beliefs, different expectations, different ways of life, different value systems, different cultures. They have also different opportunities, different life expectancy, different access to natural, cultural and economic resources.

Both on a global level and on a national, regional and local levels, societies are characterised by this diversity and inequality. And because we cannot isolate one group from another we have to learn to live together and to build a society which does justice to diversity and creates equal opportunities for all citizens.

The word "learn" implies that education plays a role in this process of learning how to live with each other.
But are educators aware of the importance of this issue?

In discussions with principals and teachers about their involvement in the issues of intercultural education, the same standard reactions from principals, teachers and other professionals in education are repeated over and over again:

1. "intercultural education is an ambiguous and fashionable term, nobody could explain to me what it really means"
2. "intercultural education is not important for our school, because we have no immigrant children in our school"
2. "intercultural education cannot be applied in my subject area, it is something for the language teacher"
4. "we have each year one or two intercultural projects: music, cooking, geography about countries of origin; it is a lot of fun"
5. "there is no room in the curriculum for intercultural education, there are already too many demands on education"
6. "intercultural education is not a priority, it does not really change the attitudes of children, we should go back to the basics, the three r `s: reading, writing and arithmetic"
7. "we would like to do something in this area, but we need materials"

It is sometimes very frustrating to take these reactions seriously, particularly when they come from people who should know better. For instance, the people who say that "intercultural education is something vague and fashionable" (1) should be asked where they got this idea. The concept of intercultural education is not vague at all, although some writers about multicultural and intercultural education have tried to make it a puzzling concept.

Intercultural education has a basis in international legislation to which most European countries have committted themselves. It is vague for those who do not know the work that is done by the international organisations. It is one of the problems that the work of the Council of Europe, UNESCO, UNICEF and the UN in this area is so poorly implemented. Ministries of education, who are involved in this international work, hardly inform the educational institutions about their international commitments.

In spite of many efforts made on all levels of the educational system intercultural education is still a marginal activity in the school. It is still necessary to explain why intercultural education is one of the most fundamental issues for the next decade.

Democracy is threatened by extreme nationalism and fundamentalism, isolationism and extreme individualism. The tensions within society are summarized in Table 1.


In the last decade of the 20th century, Europe is the scene of the battle between pluralism and democracy on the one hand, and narrow nationalism on the other; between policies of inclusiveness based on human rights and policies of exclusion, based on national groups' interests. There is a growing awareness of interdependence on the one hand and a tendency towards isolationism and short term national interest policies. The battlefield is not only to be found in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe, although the battle is the most spectacular there, it also manifests itself in the West when issues of "national culture',, "national values" or "national curriculum" are at stake. Even within the European Union we see how countries try to gain or maintain dominance, try to serve national interest. Within the
member states of the European Union we see an increasing resistance against immigrants and asylum seekers.

The idea that democracy is based on pluralism is for many countries and people too complicated. But the recognition of pluralism is the condition sine qua non for the establishment of democratic relations between people. The acceptance of pluralism and democratic rights for all citizens is the cornerstone of all European societies. It is important to notice that these rights are inclusive. The exclusion of groups is seen as a violation of democratic and human rights.

Pluralism implies that people have learned to look at the world from different perspectives.
What we see nowadays is that cultural, ethnic, social diversity still is a phenomenon which for many people causes problems because they never learned to accept and to value diversity. In former imperialistic countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands the relation with other cultures has always been characterised by inequality.

II. The concept of intercultural education

So far I presented you my idea about the multicultural, plural society, in which equity issues are related to groups. If we look at the issue from the level of the classroom, then the issue is a little bit more complicated, because in the classroom we have to deal with individuals.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to implement intercultural education, is that the many ideologists of "intercultural education" fail to realize that a classroom consists of individual learners, each individual with her or his own history and talents.
Heterogeneity, diversity in the classroom cannot be restricted to ethnic diversity.

What makes a group of students in any classroom a heterogeneous group?

* ethnicity / nationality / legal status

* social-economic background (social class)

* geographical origin (urban - rural)

* language

* religion and value system

* knowledge and skills

* academic status / talents / interests

* gender

* age

* personal history

As in the larger society, inequality and status differences also exist in the classroom. Status differences have a large impact on participation in the classroom. Therefore, the provision of equal opportunities to learn makes it necessary to deal with differences in the classroom, and we should be aware that status differences in the classroom are not by definition defined by membership or any ethnic or national group.

Intercultural education deals with isssues of diversity and issues of equity, both on the level of the curriculum and on the level of organisation of the learning process by the teacher.


 

In other words: "Inclusiveness" should be realized on the classroom level, which is the professional responsibility of the teacher, on the level of the school policy, which is the responsibility of the whole school community, particularly of the school management, and on the level of the educational system, which is materialised in the educational legislation. In order to realize the purposes of education, communication skills are fundamental. Participation implies communication. Without communication skills emancipation and democratisation, transmission and negotiation of values as well as personal development are not possible. Intercultural emphasizes interaction skills. The school, therefore, should provide all kinds of opportunities to practice communication skills. The school is one of the few places in society where people from different cultural and social background meet on an equal basis. It is one of the few places where they can learn to cooperate. Therefore the first criterion for intercultural education is:


1. The provision of opportunities to communicate and cooperate in heterogeneous groups.

Another reason why schools should provide all kinds of opportunities for interaction is implied in the theory of learning processes. Many teachers think that children learn what they teach. However, most of the learning goes through interaction and real experience.

The organisation of learning through interaction and experience is one of the main features of the project "Complex Instruction", of the Stanford University School of Education and the project "Cooperative Learning", in Intercultural Education of the IAIE. Both projects focus on the participation of low status students in the interaction within heterogenous groups. In these projects teachers provide equal access to learning by giving children equal access to the interaction in small groups. Both projects aim at the fulfilment of the second criterion for intercultural education:

2. The provision of equal opportunities for participation in the classroom interaction

a. by creating conditions so that all children will participate

b. by taking into account the knowledge and skills of all children: their language skills, their cultural knowledge, their different individual skills and aptitudes (which requires a "multi-ability approach")

Intercultural education is "education for democracy". It deals both with issues of diversity and with issues of inequality. Dealing with inequality implies a policy of equal opportunity and equal access in education. Thus intercultural education implies anti-racism and antidiscrimination activities; not as something that should be isolated, but as something that should be an integral component of all activities in the school. This brings us to the third criterion:

3.

a. The curriculum retlects the reality of the multicultural society. It is therefore not ethnocentric. It presents individual people as individuals and not as stereotyped representatives of a group.

b. The curriculum presents knowledge from different perspectives.

These criteria should determine the professional standards from which the aims for teacher education and staff should be derived.

III. Consequences on the level of classoom and curriculum.

Intercultural education is far more complicated than "education for cultural minorities", "global education", "education about the interactions between culture", "anti-racist education", "bilingual education", or curriculum reform. Intercultural education includes:

* promotion of intercultural and international understanding

* recognition of and respect for cultural differences

* issues of human rights and citizenship (human responsibilities)

* the provision of equal opportunities (the educational system should be inclusive)

* strategies for equal access to the learning processes in order to achieve an equality of outcomes.

And the aims of intercultural education can only be achieved by a comprehensive approach, which means that issues have to be addressed both at the level of curriculum and on the level of classroom practice. Respect for diversity can only be achieved if there is respect for diversity within the classroom. Equality of opportunities can only be achieved if childrenwithin the classroom have equal access to the learning process which is managed by the teacher.

What I mean by comprehensive approach on the level of curriculum is that the promotion of values cannot be restricted to separate lessons or separate subjects such as "peace education", "human rights education", "environmental education".

The common basic values which should be taught can be summarized under the headings:

1. Respect for human dignity and human rights

2. Respect for culture and cultural diversity (which is not the same as cultural relativism, intercultural education does not require students to accept abhorrent cultural practices).

3. Reverence to the earth. This is formulated in Article 29 1.e. of the Convention of the Rights of the Child as "the development of respect for the natural environment".

The first two values can be considered as derived from the western christian-humanistic-liberal tradition. From other traditions we can learn to reconsider our attitudes to nature. These values are continuously threatened by counter forces such as fascism and racism (1), ethnocentrism and vandalism (2), excessive consumerism and pollution (3).

From the tension between basic values and counterforces "pedagogical" aims for intercultural activities can be derived (See Fig. 1).



* knowledge about human rights and fundamental freedoms
* knowledge about human behaviour
* awareness of one's own attitudes
* insight in structures which determine relations between people
* knowledge about the characteristics of racism and fascism
* insight into the interdependency of people, groups and nations
* awareness of responsibility, citizenships
* awareness of one's own cultural values
* knowledge of where they stem from
* proficiency in own language and knowledge of one's own culture and religion in relation to other languages, cultures and religions
* understanding of the multicultural character of society
* the ability to look from, and evaluate from different perspectives
* development of communicative and crosscultural skills
* understanding of interdependency
* knowledge of the "state of the planet"
* understanding of structural impediments to solutions of environmental problems
* awareness of increasing interdependency and the need for internationalization
* understanding of causes and effects etc.

The list of goals can be expanded. It is easy to see how different subject areas could contribute to the achievement of these and other pedagogical goals derived from the understanding of basic values and counterforces.

But there is more: children are not only educated in schools. What is happening in the family, in the neighbourhood, in the town, is as important for the education of children as what is happening in school. Therefore, professional educators in the schools, should cooperate with the community.

This brings us to the main concern of the next decade for education and that is the quality of the teacher. Professional standards for teachers can be derived from the criteria for intercultural education. But there is more: strategies for teaching should also be derived from what we know about learning processes.

It is easy to say that equal access should be provided for all students. But how can it be done? How do we invent the medicine? Like in the pharmaceutical industry: through research, development and training.

A time traveller from the l9th century would be astonished by the changes in production, communication, and transportation systems that have taken place, because these systems have changed as a result of research, development and training. He would have no problem with education, because research has hardly had any impact on education.
Research, skills and knowledge of the teacher should be based on a commitment to the philosphy of education in which democracy, pluralism, human rights and equity are fundamental concepts, based also on an awareness of the purposes of education as included in the World Declaration on Education for All, and to which I referred earlier.

Commitment is a first condition' but commitment is not enough. What is really needed to meet the challenges of pluralism in education is research based on theory and professionalism. And that is not an easy job.

 

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