As the world gradually moves forward from an age that celebrates the independence of each nationality to an age of interdependence and collaborative efforts, then so does education. Joining the bandwagon of change for the better, education itself is changing with the changing times. Migration from the birthplace to another country, interracial marriages and other such circumstances have all made possible the convergence of diverse cultures and languages in a single place. In a classroom setting, no longer is it possible to see a concentration of just one race. Today’s society is full of individuals who come from a long line of European, Asian, Caucasian, African or American Indian ancestry. This diversity requires a different form of education, one that takes into account the unique abilities of each student in as much as it considers their different cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, the passive conventional teaching approach is not compatible with such diversity. Thus, this paper encourages the adoption of a more collaborative and interactive teaching method in schools through the establishment of multicultural education. As proven by eight studies, multicultural education promotes unity in diversity, fosters democratic attitudes and open-minded values, and provides experiential learning that helps students develop critical thinking and long-term retention.
The Practice of Multicultural Education
In the field of Social Work, educators and researchers endeavoured to explore “ a number of common themes” on multicultural education such as “ assisting students in affirming their own unique cultural backgrounds,” helping them come to an “ understanding [of] ethnic identities and cultural pluralism,” cultivating in them both “ knowledge and awareness of cultural diversity and oppression,” and encouraging these learners to adopt “ culturally appropriate” practices together with particular sectors or groups (Daniel, 2011, p. 251).
Top universities in the United Stated, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Japan also promote multicultural education by way of internationalism. Internationalism facilitates learning experiences between foreign and local students within a university, allowing them to develop the following: (1) knowledge that is critically aware of culture and its “ subjective nature,” (2) open-mindedness to fight against “ outgroup prejudice” and (3) “ intercultural competence” (Summers & Volet, 2008, pp. 357-358).
Despite these different approaches in putting multicultural education to practice, Stefan Ramaekers (2010) holds that an important place to consider in planting the seeds of multicultural understanding and education are the “ aims, goals and objectives for the different levels of education in a particular country” based on the guidelines and/or policies set by each country’s Ministry of Education (p. 55). The scholar believes that if a country were to operate upon multiculturalist principles, it should begin at the very roots of education. In other words, multicultural perceptions should be taught first and foremost to elementary school kids, continued towards secondary education and upheld and enhanced at the university level. The usual experience, according to Salako, Eze and Adu (2013), intercultural experiences are less likely to happen during elementary and secondary education and though “ cooperative learning is viable” at the college level, it is generally an “ underutilized method of instruction” (p. 305). This explains why there is a need to enhance multicultural experience in the university setting.
In a study by Yao, Buchanan, Chang, Powell-Brown and Pecina (2009), the authors cite James Banks’ “ widely adopted framework of multicultural curriculum reform” that covers five areas of development that the Ministry of Education can use as a guide in giving the conventional educational system a facelift: a) content integration, b) knowledge construction, c) prejudice reduction, d) equity pedagogy, and e) empowering school culture and social structure (p. 2).
Multicultural Education and Its Reason for Being
Multicultural education begins where conventional methods of teaching have left off. The rationale behind the existence of this new approach to education is basically discontent and displeasure over conventional methods of teaching, which are now being discouraged for a number of reasons. Some of the more important reasons include limited participation with little to no collaborative efforts taking place and the conventional method’s passive characteristic where students could only receive information passively (Daniel, 2011, p. 262).
Multicultural education is by no means perfect because according to an article by Helen Song-Turner (2008), it too has its “ blind spots.” The author argues that multicultural education may not be as effective as some scholars believe because incidences of plagiarism among students have more or less something to do with multicultural settings. In a survey conducted by the author, her findings indicated a range of reasons that prompted students to plagiarize. The most obvious issues included “ language problems and skill deficiencies”; other reasons for plagiarizing were “ stress and tension of living and working in a foreign country” and the belief that quoting a source word-by-word is an indication of respect (p. 49).
Why schools and universities should adopt a multicultural approach to education requires more than just one answer. There are three general reasons why multiculturalism should be integrated into the education system: (1) this approach promotes unity in diversity, (2) it fosters democratic attitudes and open-minded values, and (3) it helps students develop critical thinking skills and their capacity to apply what they learn by way of experiential learning.
Ethnicity as well as religion, class and other cultural quirks are the walls that divide nations. The only way to effectively break these walls is through an educational process that cultivates a mindset free of preconceived notions against particular racial groups. A study by Brahim and Sumantri (2010), affirms the assertion that multicultural education does promote unity in diversity. The authors find ethnicity as “ the most important element of the culture assets of a society” because it is “ one very important thing in maintaining the unity of a group of people or society” (p. 145). Individuals feel a sense of love and belongingness when they are with people who look and behave the way they do.
One of the thrusts of multicultural education is to unify the ethnic divide between and among students by continuously shaping their views of ethnicity towards a more positive rather than negative direction. Ethnicity, being a strong cause for conflict, is a double-edged sword with dual consequences: for better or for worst. The scholars’ advice is to adopt a multicultural framework in the education system that views ethnicity as a “ bounding element of a society” and in this manner, it can become a “ positive facility” that promotes shared values for “ sustainable [or long-term] society life” (Brahim &Sumantri, 2010, pp. 145-146).
The main goal of multicultural education is to help ensure that individuals are in a consensus when it comes to their beliefs of a “ just” society, “ unity within diversity” and quality education (Yao et al., 2009, p. 5). Change has indeed taken place and incidences of prejudice and inequality have slowed down in particular places such as Canada. Now nations have become large societies composed of intermingling cultures, “ each separate in its own right, but all complementing each other to form an entity” (Nordstrom, 2008, p. 135).
Multicultural education changes the attitudes and values of students towards other groups of people. One of its significant contributions at the individual level is that it fosters democratic attitudes side by side with more open-minded values. In fact, multicultural education has “ the same underlying core values of a democratic society” because of its emphasis on values education, active citizenship and empowerment – with the people or the students at the forefront of its advocacy (Nordstrom, 2008, p. 131).
A study conducted by a Finnish researcher claims that there is a strong relationship between love of the environment and multicultural education. Individuals who were educated in an intercultural setting tend to have an affinity for flora and fauna and show some concern for the environment in general. According to Hanna Nordstrom (2008), ethnic human cultures can be seen as humanity’s way of adapting to environments; that culture was formed out of the need to respond to the “ demand and opportunities of particular ecosystems” (pp. 131-132).
At present, multicultural education takes in a “ holistic perspective” that promotes key democratic principles of social justice and equity in combination with an emphasis on espousing the right set of social and fundamental values. Western societies have attempted to bring together people with diverse backgrounds into a single main culture for the last century. When this proved unhealthy, a different path was pursued where each culture could still retain its own identity while continuing to mingle with the rest, where the rights of each are duly respected and where each culture is given representation.
As a teaching method by itself, multicultural education is a formidable instructional tool and/or strategy. The study of Salako, Eze and Adu (2013) found that cooperative learning can address both academic and social skill learning by students and reported to flourish considerably in a classroom setting. The researchers carried out their study among junior secondary school students of Gateway Secondary School and Olumo High School located in the south-west areas of Nigeria. Through random sampling, 126 students aged between 13 and 18 years were drafted to take part in the study. The students were designated to two groups: the controlled group under the conventional teaching method and the experimental group who were subjected to a multicultural cooperative learning method. Achievement test on Social Studies (ATSS) was the standardized instrument used to measure sample population’s cognitive abilities. The results were consistent. In every age division, the controlled group committed more errors than the experimental group. This means that as a teaching method, multicultural education increases critical thinking and students’ ability to remember their lessons (pp. 305-308).
In view of present society’s ever growing need for interdependence and cooperation, supplying students with the right mindset and equipment that will help them thrive in a collaborative environment should be a top social priority. Students should be taught using a multicultural framework since early childhood so that they will grow appreciating other cultures and form a generous understanding of others as they age.
Multicultural education may have its own blind spots but these are by no means incurable. At the end of the day, it is still a work in progress that requires steadfast cooperative and the willingness to be part of a collaborative effort. This approach to education has far more positive aspects and rather than dwell on its negative side, people should look at the benefits it brings to society and find ways to strengthen the principles, values, aims and goals of multicultural education.
Worthy to note among others is its vision of promoting unity within diversity, where each individual can still be unique yet still be part of the whole. Secondly, multicultural education can impart democratic attitudes and values that can tear down ethnic and other culturally charged walls, often dividing people and leading to social conflicts. Finally, multicultural education enhances students’ cognitive abilities and is far more effective than conventional teaching methods. Learners are immersed in an active learning situation and learning is viewed as participatory and shared instead of a passive transmission of information and ideas.
Brahim, T. & Syarif Sumantri, M. (2010). Why Multicultural Education is a need for the EarlyChildhood Education in developing a new society. National Teacher Education Journal, 3(2), 139-152.
Daniel, C. (2011). Lessons learned: pedagogical tensions and struggles with instruction on multiculturalism in social work education programs. Social Work Education, 30(3), 250-265.
Nordstrom, H. K. (2008). Environmental education and multicultural education: Too close to be separate? International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 17(2), 131-145.
Ramaekers, S. (2010). Multicultural education: embeddedness, voice and change. Ethics and Education, 5(1), 55-66.
Salako, E., Eze I. & Adu, E. (2013). Effects of cooperative learning on junior secondary school students’ knowledge and attitudes to Multicultural Education concepts in Social Studies. Education, 133(3), 303-309.
Song-Turner, H. (2008). Plagiarism: Academic dishonesty or blind spot of multicultural education? Australian Universities’ Review, 50(2), 39-50.
Summers, M. & Volet, S. (2008). Students’ attitudes towards culturally mixed groups on international campuses: impact of participation in diverse and non-diverse groups. Studies in Higher Education, 33(4), 357-370.
Yuankun, Y., Buchanan, D., Chang, J., Powell-Brown, A. & Pecina, U. (2009). Different drummers: International perspectives on Multicultural Education. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 11(2), 1-17.