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Dealing with diversity in the classroom


learning world

Dealing with diversity in the classroom

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Today’s news is overwhelmed with questions on multiculturalism, diversity and peace. In this edition we take a look at how education can play a very important role in building intercultural tolerance and respect.

Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, but its indigenous communities have faced a long history of discrimination. We go there now to see what lessons can be learnt about diversity by immersing yourself in another culture for a day.

The late 1990s saw a rapidly changing Australia, and with new immigrants came new cultures such as Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese. Alongside this, the world’s oldest living culture, Indigenous Australia, needed an outlet to revive the importance of their history and stories. In schools around Australia, through Cultural Infusion’s Discovering Diversity programs, old Australia blends with new Australia and teaches students to live in a more harmonious and inclusive community.

Aboriginal Elder, Alan Harris, and his sons, Tristan and Azza, have been running Cultural Infusion Programs for 12 years. Not only has this changed their family’s life, but the lives of many young Australians who now acknowledge and respect the role of Aboriginal Australia in the country they live in.

“The Aboriginal for a day program is our most popular program, because it submerges the students and teachers for a full day of concentration on different aspects of Aboriginal culture,” says Alan Harris. “Our main important message to the schools and the students is to understand that if they’re living in Australia then everything about Australia is their history, they need to know it, its important.”

Students thrive within the context of entertainment as education, and in Collingwood College where 80% of the students are from backgrounds other than English, teachers recognise the importance of reinforcing knowledge of different cultures for their students.

“We’re currently with the older children doing the ICAP program, which is looking at cultural identity and leadership within cultural identity,” explains teacher Sormeh Afkar. “We’ve just started that but it’s been really good, looking at team work within culture, and really having respect for different cultures.”

Cultural Infusion changes the way Australian students learn about their country, and the cultures and history that have made them how they are today.

Belgium: united we stand

In Belgium the threat of terrorism has raised concerns over intercultural conflict and understanding. But in one of the country’s multicultural neighbourhoods a nursery has gained recognition for its positive example of supporting diversity in the community.

The Tierlantuin nursery is based in a multicultural neighbourhood of Ghent. Every day it opens its doors to 42 children and babies aged from 8 weeks to 3 years. This year Tierlantuin came first out of 14 European projects to win the Evens Prize for Peace education. The main reason for its success is its very positive attitude to diversity.

What makes this nursery different to others is that parents are welcome to drop in at any time during the day. They are actively involved in the activities and decision making processes. When the mums and dads come to pick up their children, a lot of them tend to stay for a while and take part in the group’s play, workshop or info sessions.

Situated amongst social housing, the nursery is highly visible and accessible. Today, parents and staff members have prepared a soup and are sharing it with the neighbours.

Katrien Reynaert, the director of the nursery, explains that it is very important for the children to recognise the differences not only between themselves, but also between their families. For example, those with two fathers or two mothers, or a black mother and a white father. Children who face and accept these facts at an early age will nearly all become very tolerant people in the future.

“In this context, it is still possible to live together with different cultures and work together constructively,” says Katrien Reynaert. “That means a high tolerance. I also see this in our nursery. Everyone feels welcome. Everybody is happy. Everyone interacts with others constructively. If we can build this in a small entity then yes we must also try to implement it in a broader environment. It’s very important.”

The core approach of Tierlantuin is to create an environment that does not avoid conflict but deals with it in a constructive and acceptable way with children who are facing differences from a very early age.

How important is intercultural education? Are there any interesting projects near where you live? Tell us about it on our social media pages.

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