Diversity is one of the most frequent topics in current discussions around education. Its various interpretations can also be a form of diversity, accepting that we may all have opposing views on the same subject. In this post I will be discussing diversity and hope to generate more questions than provide answers.
The University of Edimburgh defines diversity as a way ‘to recognise, respect and value people’s differences to contribute and realise their full potential by promoting an inclusive culture’. I believe this perspective can be applied to the language teaching/learning context and should be interpreted so as to exemplify what teachers, trainers and managers can do in order to promote the culture mentioned and improve learning. Language, a tool for communication, encompasses the cultural diversity that may provoke clashes or alliances depending on behavioural competences developed by their users. That means that learning the language structure, its tools, peculiarities, lexis, grammar may not be enough for two or more people to communicate. Although this discussion is not recent, we still struggle to reach beyond the tangible knowledge of the language when approaching learners.
Even though most of us claim to believe that a diverse classroom where people understand the different cultural backgrounds, abilities, sometimes ages, options – regarding religion, sexual orientation – is the key to inclusive education and to help learners achieve their highest potential, our attitudes need to reflect those beliefs in order to promote empathy among learners. Attitudes towards learners in the classroom or outside the environment. That seems to be a bigger challenge.
The recent education reform in Finland has shown that changes in teacher training – focusing on how to approach students that learn in different ways (Darling-Hammond, 2012) – and adjustments to the assessment methods to suit the diverse group of learners may lead to improved learning outcomes. Their data points to a change in their approach to learning in order to reach individuals collectively – they all have the same lesson, but have their needs and interests valued. In the language classroom we can reconsider technical issues such as grouping, activity setting, topics discussed, assessment and reflect upon what adaptations can be made in order to include learners rather than standardise learners. If we aim at an inclusive diverse group of learners, we cannot treat each one as ‘another brick in the wall’.
For the teachers the idea of being around people who are different – and here it matters not how different people are, but simply that some divergences will be greater than we imagine – makes them better, more creative, diligent and hard-working (Phillips, 2014). The different people may be the learners or other teachers they work with, share groups of learners with. The more we embrace diversity, the higher learners reach and the less important diversity discussions become – there will be other challenges for us to focus on as empathising and teaching empathy to others will be second nature to all of us. What do you think?
Darling-Hammond, L. (2012) ‘Steady Work: How Finland Is Building a Strong Teaching and Learning System’. Annenberg Institute for School Reform V. U. E . Summer 2009. Pp. 15-25. Available online at: https://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Steady-Work-Darling-Hammond.pdf
Philips, K. W. (2014) ‘How diversity makes us smarter’. Scientific American, October 2014. Available online at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
The University of Edimburgh – discussion on diversity and equality: http://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity/about/equality-diversity