Education International
Education International

Inter-cultural education and co-existence in school

published 28 March 2011 updated 13 April 2011

A new model of integration is emerging based on an equally integrationist curriculum in education centres. Secondary school teachers usually take a positive approach to inter-cultural education, although there is an evident correlation between the favourable attitudes of teachers and their training.

It seems obvious that teacher training and the curricula provided are two central elements of any effective inter-cultural education. Some of the problems and needs of teachers working with newly arrived immigrant pupils include the lack of communication, not only linguistic but also social, derived from an unfamiliar cultural clash which sometimes requires a submissive attitude by the immigrant pupil to be accepted by the group. Some teachers say they do not have the resources to mediate in such conflicts. Diversity in the classroom is another source of tension in already crowded classes which teachers say they cannot pay serious attention to all of the time.

Integration and cultural identity

The main lines of a plan for the integration of newly arrived pupils to promote inter-culturalism and avoid the creation of ghettoes in schools should look to include a thorough examination of certain concepts and their application. Teacher training, inter-cultural advisors and education co-ordinators; welcome programmes; interaction with families; temporary reception classrooms as well as language training and non-regulatory education by trade unions, are all useful starting points.

To achieve these objectives it is important to promote the integration of the newly arrived immigrant pupil into their new social and school environment while not forgetting their cultural identity, for them to develop strategies to ensure effective communication, and use the knowledge and experience previously acquired in their mother tongue.

It is also important to promote attitudes across the whole school which are conducive to integration in the classroom and society, including solidarity and co-operation and the rejection of intolerant, racist, xenophobic and socially marginalising behaviour. Promoting cultural exchanges within the classroom and stimulating knowledge, respect and value of the specific cultural traits of each social group are essential.

Finally, the need for urgent measures must be considered, such as creating the post of an inter-cultural education coordinator, who would take on this task as part of an Inter-cultural Education Plan.

A project for academic success

Until now, so-called policies of excellence have consisted of efforts to intensify more traditional educational methodologies and techniques, shaped by the use of the very latest technologies. Priority has been given to specific subjects in the curriculum – such as PISA assessments or diagnostic tests – to the detriment of more expressive and humanising forms. There has been an unhealthy emphasis on internal and external assessments as a form of control over what it is considered important. This goes along with the commercialisation of educational establishments which are forced to compete against each other to attract the best pupils and, implicitly, to avoid those with greater needs, in order to create a new managerialism in the form of governance. Finally, there is an aspiration towards ‘autonomy’ which actually hides a tendency among public authorities to shirk their responsibilities in providing quality education for all as a public service.

In this respect, policies of excellence could not be more opposed to policies of equity, which are aimed at inclusive, comprehensive, basic skills, functional learning and progressive pedagogy. The school curriculum needs to be revised accordingly in order to make it more scientific, functional and inclusive, and all forms of discrimination must be combated.

Inter-cultural education aims to keep with the function of educational establishments in a society which values information and knowledge more than ever. As a project it is stripped of its ethno-centric, macho and homophobic tendencies. It is an ethical project because learning to live together is a fundamental challenge for which we need to build real heroes, capable of resisting the most servile and acquiescent instincts, of assuming responsibility for their own decisions, of rebelling against injustice, of not sacrificing individual freedom for offers of greater security and, ultimately, of maintaining their dignity.

By José Trujillo Campos, Federación de Enseñanza de Comisiones Obreras(FECCOO), Spain

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 37, April 2011.