by Fiona Davies, Angela Melendro-Galvis,
When we are exploring notions of inclusion and exclusion in our schools, it is important to examine the experiences of students of different cultural backgrounds. Australia has a history of providing a monolingual and monocultural education for our students. Culture is defined as “a way of perceiving, believing, evaluating and behaving. Culture imposes order and meaning to our experiences and allows us to predict how others will behave in certain situations” (Chinn and Gollnick, 1998, p. 5). In this definition, culture includes the diversity of beliefs and values involved in spiritual beliefs as well as ethnic backgrounds.
Educational policies over the past twenty years have begun advocating for change. If schools offer an education which does not incorporate other cultures and offers only the perspective of the dominant culture, then many students are in danger of being excluded. Schools now offer Languages Other Than English (LOTE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to students; however, how much have schools really changed? Has the curriculum become more inclusive of other cultures, or do schools continue to present only examples of the dominant culture? The Department of Education 1997 report, “Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools” (MPVS) describes multicultural policy as being a policy for all Australians, concerned with long established groups, not just recent arrivals. “It is a policy that sees culture as an evolving phenomenon, cultural pluralism as a dynamic and enriching social value, and equality of access and opportunity as essential to the economic and social health of the State”.
Migration has always been an influential contributor to Australia’s population growth and diversity. Government polices have changed over time. In the early to mid 1900s we saw the ‘White Australia’ policies and assimilationist migration laws. The aim of assimilationist policies was to retain the cultural and linguistic homogeneity of the population. There was a preference for British migrants. Other European migrants were also accepted but they were expected to integrate into the dominant culture as soon as possible. The education system promoted and supported these policies, and English was the only language taught. Anglo-Saxon values and culture were promoted, and other cultures were ignored. There were no programs for students who did not speak English (Guidelines for Managing Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Schools, 2001).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, reports such as the Henderson Report on Poverty and the Karmel Report on schooling in Australia (1973) found that “not only did assimilationist policies disadvantage immigrants of language backgrounds other than English, but that such policies were also inherently wasteful of the potential, talents and resources immigrants could contribute to society” (Karmel, 1973). There was a shift from integrationist policies to multicultural policies.
Education played an important role in implementing these policies. In 1970 the Commonwealth Education Department introduced the Child Migrant Education Program (CMEP). The CMEP provided funding for teachers to conduct withdrawal ESL classes in schools. They also provided in-service programs for teachers on what were perceived as migrant issues. In 1978 there was a review of post-arrival programs and services for migrants (Migrant Services Programs), known as the Galbally Report. It was after this that multiculturalism became an official government policy (MPVS, 1997).
Multicultural policy began to influence education with the establishment in 1978 of the Multicultural Education Program (MEP). This was set up by the Committee on Multicultural Education of the Commonwealth Schools Commission. The Multicultural Education Program enabled State and Territory education to develop innovative programs in languages other than English, for mother tongue maintenance, for second language development and for bilingual education. It also supported projects to help school communities develop strategies to combat prejudice, racism and stereotyping. However, these programs were seen as something that was in addition to the real role of teaching and they ceased to operate as soon as the funding from MEP ceased (MPVS, 1997).
In 1993 the Ministerial Advisory Council on Languages Other Than English (MACLOTE) was established. MACLOTE’s major task was to propose strategies to ensure the provision of high quality language programs for all students in years P-10 and to 25% of students in years 11-12 by 2000. In 1995 the Council was also given responsibility for English as a second language and was renamed MACLOTE and ESL. MACLOTE and ESL has been aware that multicultural education is more than just teaching languages, and its current primary target is to ensure that, by 2006, all students P-12 will have multicultural perspectives in all eight key learning areas (The Arts, English, Health and Physical education, LOTE Mathematics, Science, Study of Society and Environment, and technology).
MACLOTE and ESL recommended several strategies to be used in implementing this proposal. These include:
• That a cooperative network across the key learning areas be established to assist in the development of integrated multicultural perspectives, possibly using the expertise of language teachers as a resource;
• That teacher networks with a focus on multicultural education be established by regions across the three school sectors in the context of the curriculum and Standards Framework Teacher Networks;
• That negotiations be undertaken with tertiary institutions to ensure that pre-service teacher training includes compulsory units designed to develop intercultural knowledge and awareness and culturally-inclusive teaching skills, and that those units be well integrated in the overall course; and
• That credit-bearing units and courses be designed to broaden intercultural knowledge and awareness, and that culturally inclusive teaching skills be offered by tertiary institutions at post-initial training level.
Other strategies outlined by MACLOTE and ESL include:
• That schools be required to address the multicultural policy in their school charters and report on the progress of its implementation through the first triennial school charter after 2000; and
• That support documents be developed to help school principals and councils evaluate the school administrative processes and how they facilitate incorporating multicultural perspectives into school life.
As beginning teachers we need to reflect on how well we can integrate multiculturalism into our classrooms in order to be inclusive of students of all backgrounds. There are students who have specific issues and who are at greater risk of exclusion in the education system. What skills do we need to ensure that these students are included in our classrooms? There are also issues relating to students from a refugee or asylum seeker background. Are ESL programs adequate to address the needs of students who have undergone an often lengthy and traumatic process of arrival to Australia? These students have often had an interrupted education and may have difficulties in literacy in their own language as well as English. How can we ensure that these students are not excluded? There are also issues relating to faith. Most of the policy documents we have examined do not mention faith as an issue. How do we as beginning teachers come to understand issues of faith and how we can engage in our classroom students of all faiths in an inclusive way? It is important to gain an understanding of how individual schools respond to the broader policy directions. Do schools have well-developed multicultural policies? How do schools provide an inclusive learning environment in a diverse student population?
In this chapter we will examine some of the issues associated with multicultural education approaches in our classrooms and schools. These include ways in which we can address the needs of refugee students and ways in which we can address issues of diversity of faith. We have specifically selected these issues because we have found that there are few developments in these areas. We will also explore ways in which we can change school policies to address multicultural issues and examine examples of schools that have successfully developed policies to ensure that all students are included in a meaningful way within our classrooms.
It is almost impossible to talk about having a culturally inclusive education system without somehow addressing the topic of faith. In many cultures, faith is so closely tied in with the defining practices of ethnic groups, that to attempt to develop an inclusive classroom without considering faith would result in a less than whole and truthful representation of these groups.
In talking about faith in the classroom, there are obvious disparities between morals, religion and philosophy. For example, Buddha Dhamma is not strictly a religion, as it does not involve worshipping a ‘recognised creator’. (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2000, p. 6). Rather, this is a ‘philosophy’. Likewise, moral behavior draws on beliefs, but is neither a philosophy or a religion. However, in others ways, it is extremely hard to separate morals, religion and philosophy. For this reason, in this discussion they will be referred to interchangeably as ‘faith’ or ‘spirituality’. Spirituality encompasses each of the above-mentioned dimensions, as it relates to “those things which support and give life to a person’s ideals, goals, sense of purpose and identity.” (Best, 1996, p. 77).
Spirituality in Australia
From information already presented in this chapter, it is quite clear how multicultural Australia is as a nation. Due to the huge diversity of ethnic groups in Australia, there are now, more than ever, a growing number of faiths and spiritualities being practiced actively in the community. However, this has not always been the case.
It seems as though faith has not been comprehensively addressed in the education arena, perhaps due to the strong representation of Christianity in the classroom and the belief that Christian religious education was sufficient. However, as our society becomes more diversified, we should be moving with this diversification to provide education that is inclusive to students from all faiths and spiritualities, not just the most vocal or widely represented faiths.
Should Spirituality be Addressed in the Education System?
Many people challenge the place of spirituality in education. However, there are at least three strong arguments for the inclusion of spirituality within the curriculum:
• It would appear, through personal observation, that many students are disadvantaged through a lack of spiritual awareness in the classroom. One example of this is the student who is withheld by their parents from science classes due to the non-representation of ‘creation’ explanations relating to the world’s beginning. Some schools may also, through rules and regulations, make it hard for students to adhere to spiritual beliefs such as the wearing of specific clothes or the carrying out of certain actions such as prayers at specific times of the day. However, by taking some of these issues into account, the school community is able to decrease exclusion on the grounds of spirituality.
• To allow children to gain a balanced understanding of the world and develop as ‘cohesive and unified’ individuals in an ‘holistic way’ (Best, p.11, 1996), it is essential that they are made aware of the various spiritual beliefs which exist.
• To make no representation of spirituality in the classroom is in fact not a neutral position, but rather presents Humanism - a belief that there is no ‘supernatural force’ (Healey, 1998, p. 27), in a passive way. Would it not be better to present many spiritualities, rather than one?
What do Policies Say About Spirituality in the Classroom?
In looking at policies about spirituality in the classroom, it became quite evident that there is a definite lack of useful debate and an under-representation of this issue in the Australian educational literature. Often this issue is addressed as an extension of multiculturalism if it is addressed at all. Although, as stated above, spirituality is strongly linked to multiculturalism, this issue has the ability to affect the educational future of many students through exclusive classroom practices which disadvantage students from various spiritual backgrounds. For this reason, faith in the classroom should be a topic which is addressed on its own merit rather than as an ‘offshoot’ of the multiculturalism discussion.
This policy is clear that discrimination on the grounds of spirituality is unacceptable. However, it does not explicitly address how spirituality should be incorporated into the classroom.
In July, Dr Brendan Nelson (Commonwealth Minister for Education, Science and Training) announced a study into values education in Australian schools. Under this initiative, research will be carried out regarding ‘best practice’ in values education and ‘priority in funding will be given to activities which emphasize values in the school program’ (Finkelstein, 2002). Although this study, along with the Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools, has made a start in the right direction with some mention of spirituality, there is still much to be done in relation to developing cohesive and comprehensive policies for spiritually inclusive classrooms.
Examples of Spirituality in Schools
Religious Education Programs
Many schools in the Victorian Government system continue to offer very little in the way of a balanced view of spiritualities. According to the Council for Christian Education in Schools, almost 68% of Victorian primary schools offer one session of ‘religious education’ per week, with approximately 4,300 ‘Christian religious education teachers who use the agreed syllabus – Religion in Life’ (The Council for Christian Education, 2002). However, this program has a strong Christian emphasis, and, although parents are allowed to insist that their children do not take part in these sessions (The Council for Christian Education, 2002) often they have no other option but to do alternate activities not related to faith education. This program needs to be paired with a ‘spiritually sensitive’ curriculum if it is to affect wide-spread change, creating ‘spiritually inclusive schools’. Sadly, from observation, it would seem that many schools view the one session of religious education per week as a comprehensive implementation of ‘spirituality’.
Believing in Harmony
The Believing in Harmony Program was developed in 2000 by the Australian Multicultural Foundation in partnership with the Commonwealth Government. This program was created as a response to the increasingly multicultural nature of Australia’s community and aims to ‘ensure that our school children understand and appreciate Australia’s religious diversity’ (Australian Multicultural Foundation, p. 4, 2000). However, as the program only runs for four weeks, it is best used as one part of a spiritually inclusive program.
Separate Schooling Systems
As the Catholic Church has been doing for many years now, a growing number of faiths are offering faith-specific schools, with the curriculums of these schools being planned around major faith tenets. King Khalid Islamic College, in Coburg is one such school. Established in 1983, this school allows for various tenets of the Muslim faith to be carried out, such as the avoidance of ‘unnecessary touching’ between boys and girls, and also the observance of prayer times. (Dunn, 2002). However, aside from Catholic and Christian schools, there are very few schools of other faiths within Victoria. Often these school systems are inaccessible due to long waiting lists and high school fees.
One example of a ‘spiritualities’ education project which has taken place recently in Victoria (started in February 2002), is The Cultural Awareness for Understanding Project. This project was undertaken by a number of students from various schools, each acting as a future ‘ambassador’ for their school community in regards to differing religions and cultures. These students have and will spend a number of sessions ‘workshopping’ different religions and cultures. This will hopefully provide them with the knowledge to act as ‘change agents’ within their own school cultures for the integration of faiths (Russell, 2002, p.18). Programs such as this have the advantage of educating students at a grass-roots level through a process of education regarding spiritualities.
Each of these programs work in some way to decrease the spiritual exclusivity of education. However, none of these methods, if used on their own, will achieve a comprehensively inclusive education environment for the many varying spiritualities of Victorian students. There is much effort needed to develop a ‘spiritualities’ policy which caters for students of all spiritualities within the Victorian education system. However, until a comprehensive spiritualities policy is developed there are a number of suggestions listed below, which can be carried out by individual teachers and school communities. This list has been adapted from The Muslim Guide (McDermott and Ahsan, 1993, p. 46).
• Make a special effort to find out the various ‘spiritualities’ represented in your class, and read up on those faiths/spiritualities with which you are unfamiliar.
• Try to organize ‘religious instruction’ which is appropriate for each child - where there is no appropriate instructor available, perhaps you could encourage students to carry out reading related to their spirituality.
• Try to include where possible, views from various spiritualities within each Key Learning Area.
• Try to present a balanced view of the world and its faiths.
• Encourage parents and/or students from various spiritualities to represent their views on the school council.
• Celebrate different spiritually significant events and include outings to spiritual centres in the curriculum.
• Try to develop school policies which make allowance for and are sensitive to, students who may wish to wear different uniforms, may need to pray at specific times or do not wish to take part in certain activities (eg sex or sexuality education).
• Provide, where possible, a ‘prayer/meditation room’ which can be used by students from different faiths.
• Make sure that the canteen provides a variety of foods suitable for various ‘eating requirements/philosophies’ related to spirituality.
• Try to have access to pastoral carers from various faiths.
Over the last few years refugees and asylum seekers have acquired great visibility within the Australian community. Polarized views and manipulation of political interests have, unfortunately, often surrounded this visibility. Bitter discussions on whether the country is being swamped by refugees who are a social burden due to lack of skills, or whether the compassion of Australian society is being abused by queue jumpers who force their way into Australia, posing risks for our social harmony, political stability and the country's security, are not uncommon.
How our education system in general, and we as teachers in particular, respond to issues related to refugees and asylum seekers, will reflect the nature of the society we are playing a part in building.
Teachers working in Victoria are likely, at some stage, to teach students from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds. A recent study from the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (2002), indicates that in the last 6 years (July 1996 to March 2002), 14,603 young people aged 12 to 25 arrived in Australia, with about 4,000 of them settling in Victoria.
If we do not provide an environment where these students feel included, where their self esteem and confidence can thrive, where they can become active and informed citizens, we will be perpetuating the discrimination they expected to escape from, and might irremediably alienate them from the rest of the society.
Table 1 summarises the entitlements that refugees and asylum seekers have.
Table 1 - Source: the information on the table has been compiled from the fact sheets produced by the Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs.
Issues faced by refugee and asylum seeker students
The inclusion of refugee and asylum seeker students might not be an easy task. These students may have undergone traumatic experiences including persecution, violation of human rights, imprisonment, abduction, family separation or loss, sexual abuse, extreme poverty and near starvation. The traumatic effects of these experiences can be expressed in behaviours such as withdrawal, quietness, fear, irritability or outbursts of anger.
Refugee and asylum seeker students might have lived in refugee camps or refugee-camp conditions for extended periods and as a result, their schooling has been disrupted, affecting their literacy and numeracy, as well as the development of cognitive skills that allow the manipulation of knowledge and concepts. This lack of scholastic abilities might result in behavioural problems that aim at hiding or diverting attention from these problems.
Finally, most refugees and asylum seekers do not speak English as their first language, and need to begin by learning the language skills needed to cope with school life. For most refugees and asylum seekers living in the community, education in Australia starts at an intensive language school or centre. The normal length of study in a language centre is 6 months, but extensions of a further six months are often granted to students with disrupted or no previous schooling. Hereafter, they are expected to join mainstream primary or secondary schools at a level corresponding to their age.
Consequences of Exclusion
There is no official data available that specifically looks at refugees and asylum seeker students within mainstream schools. Anecdotal information from teachers working with these students indicates that our education system does not know how to address the issues presented by these students. The lack of education policies providing a framework and offering some guidance on how we should respond makes things worse. Linzaat (2002), for instance, observes that:
“There is no explicit, shared understanding of the nature of the task confronting young illiterate ESL students but rather a fuzzy feeling at the heart of the education system that if we're nice enough, if the student could just Behave Better and Not Leave School, everything will be alright… or at least the problem will sooner or later be in someone else's sector. This central core of bad faith makes a mockery of the great efforts made by individual students and teachers, rendering them, at best piecemeal” (Linzaat, 2002, p. 2).
A recent study by Warrick (2001) provides valuable information on what might be happening to students with disrupted schooling within mainstream schooling.
Warrick studied the academic achievements of 286 secondary school-age students from a language centre from 1994 to 1999. He found that 63% of students with more than 2 years of interrupted schooling and 86% of those with no previous schooling did not finish year 12. Considering that data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that the national average of early leaving is 25%, the above figures are strikingly high. (ABS 2000, Cited by Teese 2000)
Teese (2000) has noted that when “achievement declines, integration weakens and dropping out becomes more and more likely”. With this in mind, Warrick's findings on the students' individual results in ESL, Maths, Science and SOSE, in the semester prior to exit are not surprising: 62% of students with interrupted schooling and 75% of those with no schooling had failed at least one subject (29% of interrupted schooling and 42% of no schooling students had failed all their subjects prior to exit).
These figures suggest that our secondary education system is failing to cater for the needs of refugee and asylum seeker students. If we consider the Victorian government's aim for a 90% year 12 or equivalent completion rate by 2010, there is no doubt that much work will need to be done to address the problem.
Teese (2000) suggests that “early leaving based on failure needs to be reduced or at least compensated for by successful learning and integration within TAFE”.
However, education pathways for refugees and asylum seekers are closely connected to their education entitlements and immigration policies. Table 2 summarises the rights to education according to the type of visa held by refugees and asylum seekers.
Table 2 - Source: the information on the table has been compiled from a document from the Department of Education: Conditions of Enrolment in a Government School
Refugees and asylum seekers face exclusion not only from the lack of a consistent response from the education system, but also from the immigration system which limits education entitlements. Only refugees on permanent protection visas (PPV) can access post-compulsory and post-secondary education. At a TAFE level, there are a number of programs worth mentioning.
Education Programs Addressing Specific Needs of Refugees
The Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (Collingwood and Preston), The Victoria University - TAFE (Footscray) and the Chisholm Institute (Dandenong) have started targeting refugees with disrupted schooling. According to the Discussion Paper for Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENS) released in April 2002 it is now recognised that young people with disrupted schooling have some particular needs that need to be addressed before they might be able to fully participate in training. Thus, these courses offer ESL, literacy, and subjects such as maths, science, IT, etc, and at the same time students are assisted with welfare and settlement issues such as income support, legal issues, health, housing and recreation. By looking at students' emotional and material needs, they are adopting a holistic approach that might enhance students' confidence and self-esteem as well as giving some sense of achievement and success in education.
The adoption of similar approaches within primary and secondary schools might result in better retention rates. A commitment to such a model can give students a sense of belonging and increase their possibilities of experiencing success. At this stage, it might also be the only an opportunity where TPV refugees and asylum seekers can experience a sense of belonging.
Currently the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST) is piloting school-based programs at primary and secondary school levels. These programs are looking at developing social support programs for children and young people, and providing professional development and secondary consultation for teachers.
The Reconnect Young Refugees Program is an early intervention program, run by the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (CMYI), for young people aged 12 to 18 who are at risk of homelessness. The program assists them to reconnect with their families, education, training, work and the community. The CMYI also runs the Refugee Youth Pathways Program, the only refugee youth-specific program in Australia, for refugees aged 15 to 21 years old. The program provides comprehensive support and information to young people in transition from school to work, enabling them to access pathways to education/training programs and employment opportunities.
The Way Forward
Often schools are removed from the communities they serve. As teachers, we can encourage change and promote a sense of community and belonging. Using the collaborative work between agencies such as VFST and CMYI and schools as a model might give us the opportunity to create policies that provide a more inclusive environment for refugee and asylum seeker students. As beginner teachers, it is important to be aware of what is going on beyond the schoolyard and to maintain contact with local or specialist organisations that can provide valuable expertise. VFST, CMYI or the Asylum Seeker Scheme (ASAS) from the Australian Red Cross are all examples of organisations that you can approach regarding professional development on issues related to refugees and asylum seekers.
In the previous sections regarding faith, and the education of refugees and asylum seekers living in the community, there is a clear lack of adequate policies that look at addressing the current issues in relation to these areas. There needs to be urgent attention placed on developing more detailed and focused policies on the subjects of faith and the education of refugees and asylum seekers, on an individual school and government level.
In providing an inclusive learning environment, schools must take up the challenge to develop school policies that address the issues of inclusion and exclusion. This section will explore and give real examples of inclusion. It will look at schools around Victoria that have begun to implement various strategies. Another area this paper will cover is teacher attitudes; as beginning teachers we are still forming our personal approach, and therefore we need to understand the importance of having an inclusive approach.
Responding to Government Policy
In Victoria a number of strategies and initiatives were put in place in order to assist schools to implement the 1997 Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools. The Multicultural Education Programs and Practices in Victorian Schools program was then initiated by the policy. Fifteen government schools, three Catholic schools and two independent schools were invited by the Department of Education to participate in the study.
The case studies demonstrate a wide range of approaches to, and understandings of, inclusive practices and programs in schools. These strategies can be categorized as follows:
Multicultural day/s, celebration of festivals, foods, dance and music
These are days where entertainers, mainly from different cultural groups from outside the school, are invited to participate. Other annual cultural events are also celebrated such as Chinese and Vietnamese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Easter, Christmas and Ramadan are some other events and important dates that various schools recognise and celebrate.
One school has a literacy intervention program for ESL students. ESL programs in general ensure that all students are able to access all parts of the curriculum. Staff in all subject areas are aware of how to assist ESL students to acquire subject specific language. Other programs include LOTE, which focuses students on learning a specific language such as French, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and others. Some schools specialise in Studies of Asia or Koorie Education.
• Cross-cultural or multicultural perspectives in programs and practices
• Learning about indigenous culture, history and learning to understand and respect that culture.
• Koorie-centred excursions/incursions.
• Traditional ethnic music and dance in school concerts.
• For integrated studies in many schools, relationships have been made with ‘sister schools’ in other countries. All types of events and activities take place; one of those has been exchanging letters and visits.
• Racist behaviour is handled through one-to-one counselling with students.
Generally, multicultural perspectives have been included in various Key Learning Areas across the school curriculum, especially in that of Studies of Society and Environment and Integrated Studies, where culturally inclusive perspectives permeate a range of topics.
Departments within the schools are resourced to be able to teach with multicultural perspectives, including library and maths. Some schools actually set time aside each term to plan for integrated curriculum and multicultural perspectives. Units are designed to be culturally inclusive and old units are reviewed to see if they can be made more inclusive. Teachers start with what they have and build on that in an evolutionary way. Information about multicultural programs and practices are then disseminated within the school through the staff manual, curriculum program documents and units developed by individual teachers.
Parent involvement programs
Schools have realised the importance of representing and acknowledging parents. Schools have held inclusive events such as barbeques and information nights. Ethnic-specific parents’ groups have been set up where issues are raised and discussed; the school council would then take up these issues. Some schools have also translated polices such as their Welfare and Discipline policies into the languages spoken by families in the school community. In-service programs and family literacy programs have also been implemented. There has also been an inclusion of parents from diverse cultural backgrounds in school councils.
The diversity of schools, school populations, programs and practices included in this study to some extent have mirrored the diversity of Victorian society. They have also realised the importance of including instead of excluding, celebrating differences and valuing the vitality that culture brings to everyday life. The variety in approach also reflects the ability and commitment of schools to provide an environment that responds to the needs and values of their particular students and communities.
Developing a Multicultural School Policy
In order to develop a multicultural policy there needs to be contributions from all the parties and people involved. School staff, parents and the local community need to cooperate in producing a multicultural policy that is specific to the population of the school and viable in practice. These people need to collaborate in implementing the strategies that hopefully aim at including multicultural programs and perspectives within their curriculum.
In America and the UK, the inclination has been to set up a working party which consists of parents, school staff, community members and students, that considers priorities relevant to the school’s particular situation. This group can focus on initiating and sustaining wider discussion among staff and the school community. It can also look at pursuing positive policies of cultural awareness across the whole school life (Craft, 1984).
Focusing on teacher practices would be the main focus for this working party. Professional development sessions are set up that determine the attitudes and position of every teacher within the school. A main focus question for discussion could be one such as: what are the underlying biases and stereotypes in attitudes and teaching approaches towards the progress of minority ethnic group pupils, as individuals and as a group?
This group would also look at examining the appropriateness of textbooks and materials used, and the implications of the ways in which current operations of the school have influenced and limited the approaches used to encourage multicultural education. The group would look at how well or ill equipped they are for this, and what developments would be helpful. Implementation of these procedures will create a framework in which teachers can have the opportunity to contribute to the working of an inclusive school policy (Craft, 1984).
Although one might say that this approach consists of idealistic conditions, it is the responsibility of the teacher to consider how multiculturalism can be made a balanced educational ideology in a society whose traditions are not always necessarily geared towards tolerance of multicultural issues (Craft, 1984).
The attitudes that we carry into the classroom play a big role in the implementation of multicultural policy. What we decide to implement in the classroom can either include or exclude our students. As teachers we can often be the decisive element in our classroom. It is our personal approach that creates the climate; we carry the keys to facilitate inclusion or exclusion (Education for Global Involvement, 2001). We need to examine what issues, biases, prejudices, and assumptions we carry into the classroom and how these inform and influence our classroom curriculum. In fact, we must constantly engage in a process of examining and critiquing our own perspective.
Multicultural education acknowledges that schools are essential to laying the foundation for the changes needed in society for the abolition of repression and injustice. Influencing social change is the underlying goal of multicultural education. In order to accomplish this goal there are three aspects of reconstruction that will boost the process, that of self, the education system and society. As teachers we have a responsibility to reflect on and understand the worldview through which we understand people and their lives. Only when we have a sense of how our own perceptions are developed in relation to our life experiences, can we truly understand the world around us (Gorski, 2000). We also have a responsibility to our students to work through our prejudices. An essential practice that we need to cultivate is to be frequently examining who is (and is not) being reached by the teaching styles we adopt, and relearning how our own identity affects the students’ learning experiences.
Multicultural education should not be seen as a diverse set of optional extras, but as an integral part of a good education for all children in a society that supports positive awareness of cultural diversity (Craft, 1984). In reality, the lack of local multicultural policy in schools results in exclusion; it is also more likely that there is an incompleteness in the curriculum. Students do not have the opportunity to view subject matter from diverse perspectives and a forum to critically analyse materials and media will be lacking. Unfortunately student voices in the classroom will be restricted and the curricula will not reflect the diversity of learning styles that exists in every classroom. We need to examine the structure, values and attitudes that we have adopted, and that the schools we work in practice, in order to determine how we might be supporting exclusive activities within the curriculum (Gorski, 2000).
Multicultural education is an evolving approach for reconstructing education. The education system needs to see itself as part of society at large, and understand the need to critique and address its current shortcomings, failings and discriminatory practices. This way of thinking is grounded in the ideals of social justice and educational equity, and is dedicated to facilitating educational experiences in which all students reach their full potential as learners. We all need to take into consideration the various aspects that comprise ‘multicultural education’, including faith and the education of refugees. Multicultural education acknowledges that schools are essential in forming people who are committed to eliminating oppression and injustice in our society. As beginning teachers we need to grasp the urgency of adopting a positive approach, one that helps students flourish, not one that restricts the learning of our class as a whole.
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