DIVERSITY - OUR GOLDEN RESOURCE

Intercultural learning process in a class of 12 year olds from 14 nations. Lecture, exhibition of pupils work, discussion.

Max Strandberg, form 4 - 6 teacher, Rinkeby, Sweden


I teach in a multicultural school in Rinkeby where the method emanates from the cultures represented by the pupils. Rinkeby, a suburb in the Stockholm area, was rapidly built during the end of the sixties, at a period when Stockholm did not have enough labour capacity. Apartment houses with rented houses dominate the area. On one square kilometer people from 65 different countries live together. Pakistanis, Turks, Somalians, Bosnians, Serbians, Gypsies, Latin- Americans, Kurds, Finns, East-Africans and Swedes buy their vegetables at the marketplace.

Rinkeby was first populated by Swedes from the north, workers from Finland,Turkey, Greece and Yugoslavia. Many refugees came from Chile and the rest of Latin America during the seventies and the beginning of the eighties. Later came refugees trom Iran and Kurdistan. The main refugee stream is today from Somalia and Bosnia. Most of the Swedes have moved to other suburbs. The unemployment is high and the average income in Rinkeby is the lowest in the Stockholm area.

In the suburb there are four junior and one senior level schools. The pupils love their schools so much that most of them don´t like summer vacation! Most of the teachers have worked in the school for a long time. Newly employed teachers have applied for work in Rinkeby because of the multicultural atmosphere.

There are not many occasions for people to speak Swedish with persons that have Swedish as their mother tongue. Few pupils have been to a Swedish home. Parents and teachers worry a lot about the level of the spoken and written Swedish. The average marks are lower than in other schools. Nearly all pupils have learnt to read and write in their second language first. Some refugees have a high education and some are more or less illiterate. Most parents have a lower self-esteem than they had in their native countries. Many refugees suffer from horrible memories. For some ethnic groups religion is more important than it was in their native countries.

In my classes, at intermediate level ( 10-14 years), there were one or two pupils who had Swedish as their mother tongue. The rest of the pupils spoke about altogether 14 different languages.

To work with immigrant pupils is a matter of respect.

The question is if we value their culture or not. Is culture, religion and languages anything that is useful in the classroom? It is important to be aware of the fact that we all wear glasses, ethnocentric glasses. Those glasses make it more difficult to understand people from other cultures. The attitudes, of everyone who works for human rights, must be that foreign cultures bring us knowledge and insight. The diversity is a golden resource!

Most immigrants have other frames of references than Swedish pupils.

It is harder for them to understand the texts in the schoolbooks. The contents of the education must change so it has more connection with their background and with life in Rinkeby. I believe that the immigrant pupils can gain deeper understanding if the teaching has a starting point in the knowledge each pupil has from her/his own culture, and is "culturally comparative''. The parents can here in many ways be important for the school. If we can strengthen the parents´ self-esteem, it is a beneflt for the pupils.

The following is one example from my teaching method as used when teaching about the viking age. I use the same method in various subjects as social sciences, mathematics? geography and English.


HOW WE WORKED WITH THE VIKING AGE

 

Pupils´ foreword to the exhibition and later book THE VIKING AGE IN OUR COUNTRIES made by the 11 year old pupils:

First we read in our textbook about the Viking Age and our teacher told us about the Vikings and their travels.

We built small Viking ships trom paper and flower sticks and painted them with water colour. From the same model we built a big ship. Old cardboard boxes are good building material.

Then everybody made their own research, wrote and made pictures in their own History books about the life and faith of the Vikings.

We listened to many tales about the gods Tor, Oden, Frej and the giants.

One day Jan Johansson, the Mayor of Rinkeby, came to tell us and show us pictures of his voyages through Europe with a true replica of a Viking ship. He gave us good advice on how to go on with our work on the big Viking ship.

We decided to find out ourselves how life was in all our different home coutries during the age of the Vikings. So we made our own questions.

We thought our questions would be difficult to find answers to, but we asked our parents and grandparents and our native language teachers, and we studied books.

OUR QUESTlONS TO WHICH WE WANTED TO FIND ANSWERS:

1. What people lived in my country in the age of the Vikings?
2. How did they live? What was it like inside their houses?
3. How did they do their cooking? What did they eat?
4. What tools and what kinds of weapons did they have?
5. How were people dressed and what did their clothes look like?
6. Did they have horses?
7. Did they have any cattle? What kinds?
8. Nature - what did it look like? Was it like today?
9. What gods did they have?

We made an exhibition which we showed in the Town Library of Rinkeby. The class had 13 big posters and a big Viking ship with a lot of small ships and other things around it.

Then we wrote the texts on our computors (that was fun).

Finding pictures for the screens was not very easy.

We wanted the posters to be beautiful, so we worked a lot with them. In the Music lessons we sometimes sang Viking songs. Some of us made Viking clothes in the Textile handicraft lessons.

At the opening of the exhibition we treated everybody to "mjöd" (an old Viking beverage), Viking bread and entertainment. Between 40 and 50 persons came. The Mayor of Rinkeby, our headmaster, our former teachers, native language teachers, Max and his parents were there.

Our native language teachers have helped us a lot to get together the pages of this booklet.

It has been good and interesting for us to find out something about what happened and what the life of people in other countries at that time was like. They lived in different ways and they had different kinds of cattle. People also had different kinds of food.

We have also learnt many new kinds of words.

We are not very old but we managed to do a difficult piece of work.

 

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