Benefits of an Intercultural Classroom

Education gives us the chance to understand that we are all tied together as citizens of the global community, and that our challenges are interconnected”.
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

Every day, international, national and even local news confront us with a world where intolerance, preconceptions, ignorance and fear of differences are the common denominator. This is not only seen through violent attacks in Europe and Asia, or the recent British vote to leave the European Union, but also in our schools where we encounter families who dress, eat, think or pray in a way we aren’t used to. Children and teenagers, with their innate curiosity, ask who they are, why they act like that, and why these differences exist. In many cases they might laugh at those who are different, and in the worst scenario, they isolate or discriminate those seen as different. Teachers and parents face such situations more and more frequently, and they need to provide answers and take actions.

In this context, educational institutions have a key role in developing intercultural and global competences of our students, which according to Darla Deardoff, an expert in intercultural education, is “the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behaviour and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions”. In other words, educational institutions need to generate concrete actions that help students develop skills, knowledge and attitudes to deal with diversity. Among multiple, these are just a few for students, teachers and schools:

The development of multiculturalism in the classroom will allow students to acquire the necessary skills and understanding to seize the opportunities that diversity offers. These skills include empathy and flexibility. Empathy helps us understand others and see the world from their perspective, as well as to be sensitive to their needs. Flexibility is a key skill for knowing how to behave in changing environments, dealing with a wide range of social situations and being able to adapt using appropriate behaviors. Students will understand differences, and they will work towards creating a more creative and healthy learning environment, being able to work with classmates who are different from them. Intercultural approaches prepare our students to learn about themselves and their culture in a better way, which is the first and key step to understanding and learning from others, comprehending cultural complexity. Students will be prepared to interact in a global, diverse and challenging world, an added value that should not be overlooked.

In order to facilitate and teach in intercultural classrooms, teachers should start by preparing themselves for the challenge. This means that first, teachers should develop their own global competencies, understand their culture and themselves as a product of it. Teachers will be able to work in more inclusive classrooms, where all students would understand the curriculum. They will have an understanding of diversity that allows them to work with both students and teachers from different contexts, ages, cultural backgrounds and even different countries. They will be able to lead interesting projects and generate a deeper impact in the community.

Working with teachers and students will contribute to developing an institution with a spirit of cooperation and teamwork. Harmony will improve and the working environment in the institution will become more creative as a result of bringing in different information and criteria. Members of the school will also incorporate what they consider enriching from the different cultures that are part of it, looking simultaneously to the world and locally. Students will see the world outside the school, collaborating in their neighbourhoods, creating a global classroom with concerns that go beyond the reality of its members.

There are many benefits, bit with short and long term impact, in the educational community and its area of ​​influence and the world. AFS is always working on new materials, content and programs, in order to develop intercultural learning opportunities for schools in Argentina and Uruguay, and beyond.

We invite you to create more inclusive and intercultural classrooms and make a change in the world.

This article was written by , Volunteer Development Director for AFS Argentina & Uruguay and an International Qualified Trainer for the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program. The article originally appeared in the Newsletter for Educators (in Spanish), part of AFS Argentina & Uruguay's educator and school relations strategy to keep an open dialogue with educators, offering intercultural learning and development opportunities.