Multicultural education

  • What is…?

Multicultural education is simply a convenient shorthand term used in discussing the concept of education for a multicultural society. (Lynch, 1983, p. 9)

  • Topic

Multicultural education (MCE) is a discipline, the subject of which is in itself confrontational, since the basis of this discipline is learning how to deal with differences. And every difference confronts our sense of security in life, our experience, eroding the picture we have of the world. At the same time, however, an encounter with difference can expand horizons and offer new experience, outlooks, and sometimes profound encounters. In order for this to genuinely take place, it is necessary to acquire the skills which help train us in this positive perception of heterogeneity.

The aim of this text is not to open up a polemic on the correctness of a multicultural society. In short, the authors assume that meeting people from various cultural environments is simply a given in the contemporary world. MCE is thus a discipline which, within the school environment, helps people come to terms with this given, which is how we would like to introduce it here.

At the very outset, mention must be made of a certain terminological confusion which is to be found in respect of MCE. We encounter terms such as intercultural pedagogy, intercultural education, intercultural training, etc. If we were to conduct a polemic regarding the accuracy of these terms, we would first have to define them precisely, because only then is it possible to polemicise using their contents.

The term MCE in the Czech and international context is used mainly in connection with the attempts made by schools to prepare pupils and students for life in a culturally heterogeneous society. As such, this discipline has not yet taken deep roots, and there exist many opinions as to what should be included in these attempts.

However, almost everyone agrees that life in a heterogeneous society requires a set of knowledge, skills, certain types of behaviour, and something like sensitivity for the specific situation.

MCE is often defined as the objectives which we want to attain on a cognitive, affective, and behavioural level.
Cognitive objectives are usually defined as training in critical and pluralistic thinking and the acquisition of information regarding individual cultural groups and cultures.
On the affective level, there exists an attempt to attain support for one’s own identity and a positive overview of oneself in combination with sensitivity to difference. This is best achieved through interaction and reflection thereupon.
Finally, great emphasis is placed upon the behavioural level, on equal treatment and the ability to understand situations in which we encounter cultural differences.

Naturally, it is not possible to concentrate on all these objectives at once. Each teacher and school as a whole sets certain priorities for itself, which are also variable. The priorities are bound to the specific situation and specific societal context.

As an example, we can cite a recent study from Holland (Veugelers, 2006). The authors attempted to ascertain the impact of the events surrounding 9/11 upon education. They based their qualitative study on in-depth interviews with teachers, and concluded that in this respect teachers were not accentuating sufficiently the content of education linked with MCE so much as the relationships between students coming from majority or minority groups. In short, the teachers were mainly concerned that the students from various groups behaved nicely to one another. In education itself, they then concentrated on training in critical thinking. And so, for instance, if two students argued and insulted each other over the invasion of Iraq, they received a punishment consisting of having to write a critical overview of this situation based on their reading of at least five different periodicals.
Even in this example, we see how different teaching objectives and the resources for attaining them can be. Through these differences we can trace certain tendencies, above all on the level of educational contents and methods.

The contents of MCE can basically be viewed from two perspectives. Firstly, we can attempt to impart information about others, i.e. minorities and other cultural groups. The attempt is to come as close as possible to the culture and lifestyle of these groups, and to understand them better.
A second possible approach relating to the range of individual educational methods comprises an attempt to look at each individual fact or piece of information pluralistically, i.e. from the perspective not only of majority society, but also from the perspective of the other. The aim is not to become acquainted with the other, but to hold a dialogue based on investigation and examination of events from various perspectives.
An example: the interpretation of the end of World War II is not simply a story of winners and losers, but a story of people dragged off to the USSR, displaced Germans, Germans from mixed parentage who remained in Czechoslovakia after the war and were not able to teach their children to speak German, etc. In short, we can regard one event from several perspectives at the same time.

As far as the actual contents of MCE are concerned, the basic themes here include the relationship of people from various environments, i.e. cultures, cultural identity, migration, integration, as well as xenophobia and racism, etc.
However, most writers agree that training in critical, or, if you like, pluralistic perception based on the specific knowledge of various cultures is a crucial skill which can be taught at every opportunity.

As far as MCE methods are concerned, here too there exists a range of possibilities. MCE can be reduced to the provision of information regarding the life of other cultural groups in the form of lectures. However, other directions can be found which attempt to introduce elements of teaching based on experience into the learning process.
However, over recent years researchers have agreed upon one thing. Within the framework of MCE, it is necessary to teach a certain kind of sensitivity during encounters with difference. This means the acquisition of one’s own personal experience and the ability to reflect upon this experience. In other words, MCE is obviously best taught in a diversified environment, which offers a sufficient number of incentives to ponder things and to deal with cultural differences.

But what can one do in an environment which does not provide this heterogeneity? Even here, there are certain possibilities: if one cannot meet face to face with difference and variety, one can at least meet with it in the form of stories.
Generally speaking, narrative is a very important tool of socialisation. We learn many things in life with the aid of stories and narratives. The story is a very sensitive method by which one can mediate difference without demanding a certain method of experience in advance. One can listen to the story and arrive at one’s own opinion, engage in polemics with the characters, agree or disagree with them; one can mark out one’s own territory.
Work with narrative is simply one of the possible methods and procedures within the framework of MCE. However, it is a fundamental feature of the tool which, in the form of Czechkid, we are making available to you.

  • Stories and examples

In conclusion, let’s put into context what has already been said – and how else than by using a story.

Not far from Leeds, there is a school which is well-known for two reasons. It contains a large number of pupils from various cultural groups, and is one of the model schools in the sphere of MCE. When I went to the school, I met one teacher who is the doyenne of MCE at the school. She introduced us to various projects they were working on. For instance, they invite parents of children from different cultures to come to the school and teach the kids various skills in the classroom, e.g. dance, how to build a nomad’s caravan, how to start a fire, etc. When I asked to what extent they planned these activities and did them with a special purpose in mind, the teacher smiled and answered: “The most important thing is to do everything naturally. It’s not a question of, right, shall we do multicultural education today? Basically, we do it as a normal and natural part of everything else. Sometimes we decorate a nomad’s caravan and sometimes we just chat about things, or we invite someone to play the kids something which they do not know. Being natural, that is the only thing which works and which is genuinely necessary.”

  • Sources


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Banks, J., A. (2004). Diversity and Citizenship Education; Global Perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bennett, C., I. (1990). Comprehensive Multicultural Education; Theory and Practice. 2nd edition. Toronto: Allyn & Bacon.

Doležalová, O. e.a. (2004). Rámcový vzdělávací program pro gymnaziální vzdělávání [Framework education program for secondary schools]. Praha: Výzkumný ústav pedagogický.

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Gaine, C. (1987). No Problem Here; A practical Approach to Education and Race in White Schools. London: Hutchinson Education.

Gaine, C. (1995). Still No Problem Here. London: Trentham Books Limited.

Gaine, C. (2000). Stereotypes in cyberspace: writing an anti-racist website. The Curriculum Journal, 11, 87 – 99.

Gaine, C. (2001). If it’s not hurting it’s not working: teaching teachers about race. Research Papers in Education 16, 93 – 113.

Gersie, A. & King N. (1990). Story making in Education and Therapy. London.

Hammer, M., R., & Bennett, M., J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring Intercultural Sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27, 421 – 443.

Hernandez, H. (1989). Multicultural Education, a Teacher’s Guide to Content and Process. USA.

Lynch J. (1983). The multicultural curriculum. London: Batsford Academic and Educational Ltd.

Lynch J. (1986). Multicultural Education, Principles and Practice. London: Routlege & Kegan Paul.

Tappan, B., M. & Packer, M., J. (1991). Narrative and Storytelling: Implications for Understanding Moral Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass INC., Publishers.

Veugelers, W. (2006). Education and major cultural incidents in society: September 11 and Dutch education. Journal of Peace education, 3, 235 – 249.

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