10,700. That’s the number of people that permanently settled in New Zealand in December 2016. Migration is a global trend which has a personal note for me. I, like so many others, am a migrant. My whakapapa will forever be linked to New Zealand. But what does this mean for my teaching practice? After all, my main distinguishing factor is my accent. But beyond that, I have learnt and assimilated the Kiwi way and I consider myself bi-cultural. The transition to becoming an All Blacks supporter was easy for me.
But this is not always the case. What about the students in my class? How many of them are part of this global trend? And what is their cultural identity? Do we cater for students’ cultural identity which comes with migration? According to Sir Ken Robinson, children should be encouraged to pass on their cultural genes, while still being part of globalisation. Globalisation is the process of international integration between the world’s cultures.
One definition of culture is: a community’s way of life, held together by shared values, beliefs and attitudes. Culture gives you a sense of identity. A defining factor is shared language, dialect, accent and vocabulary. But that’s the first thing to change for many students. Those I spoke to said that they adjust their accents so that they can fit in. So, it’s only when you scratch the surface that you discover that they come from a different background, or that for some of them, English is actually their second language. In reality, our classes are made up of a complex mix of ethnicities, religions, ideologies and cultures which must overlap and affect each other. Students straddle cultural commitments and end up with multiple identities. I feel that we overlook this aspect in our quest for credits and course completion. Add to that the idea that we are living in the most stimulating period in history, bombarded by information vying for attention. And then we wonder why students are losing interest in worksheets.
Impact on education
Diversity is central to our population and with it comes benefits. And problems. We need to actively teach respect of cultural perspectives. In this way, we can ready them for the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world in which they live. Robinson cited four central roles that cultural education should fulfil:
- Teachers should enable students to recognise, explore and understand their cultural assumptions and values. We can’t expect schools to bring an end to prejudice and discrimination. But we must combat ignorance and oppose discrimination.
- Enable students to understand cultural diversity by bringing them into contact with other cultures. Talking about different values and practices can lead to understanding.
- Encourage students to look at the history behind contemporary values and practices which helped shape them. I was amazed to discover that some of my students didn’t know who Anne Frank was. One girl triumphantly said: “Of course I know who Anne Frank is. I’m Jewish.”
- Help students to understand that culture is evolutionary and has the potential to change. If they feel as if they have two or even three cultural identities, they are not alone.
Sir Alan Bullock said:
“Any society that turns its back on the past and falls into a cultural and historical amnesia, weakens its sense of identity.”
It is up to us: teachers, parents, grandparents, whanau, to pass on knowledge of the past so that the next generation can have a greater understanding of the present. “It’s a small world after all.”
Education Review Office. (2012). Evaluation at a glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand School.
KPMG Australia. (2014, May 22). Future State 2030 – Global Megatrends.. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im5SwtapHl8
OECD. (2016). Trends Shaping Education. Retrieved from http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/education/trends-shaping-education-2016_trends_edu-2016-en#.WKPLSBhh2CR#page1
The RSA. (2010, Oct 14). RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms.. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
Robinson, K. (2014). Cultural Education. Retrieved from https://sirkenrobinson.com/pdf/allowfutures