Schools are challenged with the mounting diversity of students enrolled every year. The fact that teachers need to cater to the individual needs of students in a homogeneous class of students from one culture is already a challenge, then how much more if students from other cultures are added?
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It is heartening to know that several people in government, as well as non-government organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association for Family Day worry enough to exert much effort in promoting multi-cultural education. They publish curricula and handbooks focusing on an anti-bias setting. The National Association of State Boards of Education Task Force on Early Childhood Education likewise show their concern by encouraging he use of the home language of foreign and ethnic children and the incorporation of some parts of their culture in the curricular program. This fosters the development of basic skills of these foreign and ethnic children. Such efforts seek to ensure that children’s first school experiences are positive in that they feel accepted for who they are regardless of their cultural background.
How can diversity affect the growth and development of a child placed in a school setting that supports multicultural education? Brofenbrenner’s Ecological Model (1979) explains that the behavior and development of an individual is interplay of the individual’s biological and personality factors, his environment and the society and culture he was born into. Brofenbrenner also claims that effects of interactions between the individual and his environment are two-directional or characterized by reciprocity. This means that while a child’s development is influenced and molded by his family, school and peers, he likewise influences and molds the behavior of others. The growing child moves through five systems that inter-relate and affect his development.
The most basic of which is the Microsystems, where direct contacts between the child and his immediate surroundings result in behaviors such as dependence or independence and cooperation or competition. An example of this is the home base of the child and his relationship with his family. The pure culture of the society this family lives in greatly influences how this family lives and how the child imbibes the culture as he expresses it in his developing personality. The exosystem includes the linkages and processes which takes place between two or more settings having the child in common. A perfect example is how learning in school is supported by follow-up lessons in the home. The third level which comprises linkages and processes that take place between two or more settings is the exosystem. This includes at least one setting that does not directly involve the child, but still influences the processes within the immediate setting of the child. An example is the parent’s occupation. The workplace of this parent does not contain the child, but processes at work may affect his development such as the hours spent there by the parent may affect the parent-child bond. The fourth system is the macro system which includes the customs, values and laws considered important in the child’s culture and upbringing. A child from another culture may celebrate special customs and traditions from his culture apart from the special occasions celebrated in his host country. Lastly, the chronosystem in Brofenbrenner’s Ecological model refers to the time that transpires as the child relates in his various environments. An example is the change that happens to the child while he grows up moving from one system to another, like the westernization of the values of a child originally from an Asian culture.
This ecological model implies that the interplay and quality of the various systems and environments of the child will play different roles in influencing his development. Likewise, whatever comes out of that development will affect the various environments the child belongs to. For instance, the free expression of his culture may lead to environments being more accepting of it.
Children derive much benefit their exposure to multilingual and multicultural learning environments. Schools and teachers can and should design programs to appropriately address and include diversity as an asset which may be used in the preparation of all students for citizenship in a diversified global world.
This emphasizes the point that teachers need to be equipped with skills in accommodating and adjusting to the needs of children from various cultures. Global education is defined as “education that develops the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are the basis for decision- making and participation in a world characterized by cultural pluralism, interconnectedness and international economic competition (Merryfield, 1995, p. 1). In view of this, on a much more specific level, culturally relevant teaching must be learned by teachers. Such teaching takes into consideration the cultural background of the students at all times. It also keeps in mind cultural aspects in all interactions with students on both personal and educational levels. (Edwards & Kuhlman, 2007). Students’ cultures, languages and experiences need to be acknowledged, valued and used as important sources of their education because they deserve the best that society can give them.
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Teachers’ challenge in adapting their students’ local culture and knowledge to Western schooling may be met though literature. Selecting appropriate text is essential in connecting with students. Books should reflect characters from the same culture as the students’. Examples of story themes are protagonists who dealt with race issues and children who solved problems successfully. Lesson plans should incorporate culturally relevant ideas in each diverse classroom (Edwards & Kuhlman, 2007).
The subject of math may be difficult for students of different cultures to learn because mathematical concepts may be interpreted differently, including terminologies. “If diverse learners are to fully benefit from the schooling experience, the teaching of mathematics needs to be linked to their lives and circumstances and in some respect, share their cultural norms.” (Ernst-Slavit & Slavit, 2007). This includes an understanding of the historical development of mathematics in the students’ country of origin, grounded in cultural heritage. The use of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds may be used as motivation in the classroom.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children defines developmentally-appropriate practices as those resulting “from the process of professionals making decisions about the well-being and education of children based on at least three important kinds of information or knowledge: age-appropriateness, individual appropriateness and cultural and social appropriateness” (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). The last knowledge pertains to the social and cultural contexts which the children live and or come from. Including this third component in a developmentally appropriate program ensures that learning experiences of all children are meaningful, relevant and respectful for the children and their families. The word that touches a chord for me in these definitions is Respect.
Being a teacher means welcoming any student who opens his mind and heart to learning and constantly challenging this student to excel. A good teacher is blind to racial prejudices and is interested in and respectful of the varied cultural customs, traditions and values each foreign child represents. It is basic for any human being to embody the culture he comes from, whether speaking the language or manifesting the accent of that language, manner of dressing and holding on to beliefs imbibed from that culture. Such behaviors need to be accepted, respected and even celebrated in the classroom. It also brings in much learning for the other students and makes the school experience richer.
For the foreign child, this acceptance helps in the development of his self-esteem and pride in his roots. He would feel that he has something to contribute from his culture, especially during special school events that highlight customs, traditions or even just stories from foreign lands. Learning a song or poem or two with his classmates and knowing that it originated from his homeland produces a healthy sense of pride in the child. Otherwise, if his cultural and social background is shunned, then he would grow up harboring a sense of shame for his roots.
I know it would take extra effort for me as a teacher to research on cultural practices and beliefs, but that is one way I can show to my students and their families that I fully accept them. Incorporating those in my lesson plan would show that I celebrate with them their culture and free them from always trying to adjust to the culture of the majority. I know it feels amazing to be acknowledged for who you truly are. Taking advantage of United Nations Month every October may be the perfect opportunity to highlight multicultural backgrounds.
I am inspired by how some people create materials to include the marginal population. Crayola, the leading manufacturer of crayons and art materials have come up with a whole repertoire of colors to include multi-cultural skin tones. Many others are following the same suit, showing a greater awareness of the importance of accepting all people from all races. For United Nations month, a fitting activity would be giving the responsibility of creating a multicultural bulletin board that welcomes children of all cultural backgrounds. Children may use various colors of their skin tone. This “rainbow of skin color” highlights trivia from the children’s various backgrounds which they are free to add to under their respective color in the rainbow. Each “bow” represents a cultural group and it is up to them to decorate their own bow to express their own cultural background. They can put pictures, 3-D objects, words and their translated meanings, etc. On another corner of the bulletin board, they can have a bigger space to write more information about their cultural backgrounds like where it is in the globe, what people are like there, what they eat, what people usually do, share their traditions, etc. Each child will be motivated enough to share what he or she knows and to bask in their own cultural roots.
Teaching children respect and acceptance of people who are different from them is one of the first steps in molding upright character. Upholding this value as they grow up leads to harmonious relationships between cultures, which is necessary in the process of globalization?
Bredekamp, S & Copple (1997) Developmentally- Appropriate Practices. NAEYC.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Edwards, S. & Kuhlman, W. (2007) “Culturally Responsive Teaching: Do We Walk Our Talk?”, Multicultural Education, Summer 2007
Ernst-Slavit, G. & Slavit, D. (2007) “Educational Reform, Mathematics & Diverse Learners”. Multicultural Education, Summer 2007
Merryfield, M. M.(1995), “Institutionalizing cross-cultural experiences and international expertise in teacher education: The development and potential of a global education PDS network”, Journal of Teacher Education, 46(1), 1-9.