Multicultural education refers to any form of teaching or education which incorporates the histories, values, texts, beliefs and perspectives of people from different cultural backgrounds. There are various broad definitions of culture; most definitions incorporate race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation and exceptionality. Exceptionality is a term used to describe students with specialized needs or disabilities (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013). The concept of multicultural education is based on the idea of equity for all students regardless of the culture. Multicultural education aims at the removal of barriers to educational opportunities and success for students that come from different backgrounds (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013).
Multicultural education in early childhood
Early childhood educators work with children and families from diverse backgrounds. The society is becoming increasingly multicultural and multi-racial and this calls for educators to be able to support the development of children by instilling in them the necessary tools they need to survive and live together. Teachers are an especially important part of this; they must develop and environment that fosters respect and inclusiveness for all (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012). The need for an inclusive environment in early childhood learning is especially heightened considering the issue of the school readiness gap. Research has shown that there are gaps in preparedness for school between children from different cultural backgrounds. School readiness is defined through the development of five major categories
Physical well-being and motor development
Social and emotional development
Approaches to learning
General knowledge and cognition
Differences between students in the five categories mentioned were sometimes attributed to the attendance of pre-school, but even after programs that encourage attendance of pre-school, differences are still apparent. This means there might be some things that students from one cultural background learn before school that others are (WIlliams, 2017).
Manifestation in early childhood
In an early childhood learning setting, multi-cultural learning calls for the elimination of or modification of educational practices, policies, programs or materials which are either discriminatory or are not fully inclusive of diverse cultural perspectives (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013). Multicultural learning recognizes the fact that student learning and thought patterns are influenced by their heritage and cultural identity. Teaching culturally diverse students therefore requires a certain level of recognition for these diverse backgrounds. For instance, in terms of instruction, multi-cultural instruction calls for the use of text, materials or contexts thats students from a particular culture might understand and that reflect their cultural experience (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013). Here is what culturally diverse learning might look like in early childhood settings;
Learning content modification: Use of text and learning materials which include multiple cultural references and perspectives. An example could be a lesson on colonialism in North America, which could address different perspectives like the European settlers, African slaves and Indigenous American perspectives (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013).
Critical analysis: culturally diverse learning during early childhood calls for the scrutiny of learning material in order to identify potentially prejudicial or biased materials. Educators should also analyze their own cultural assumptions and how they could be changed to eliminate bias (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013).
Learner cultures: multicultural learning in early childhood settings calls for teachers to learn about the cultural backgrounds of students and intentionally incorporate the learning experiences and content relevant to these personal cultural perspectives and heritage. Educators should also encourage students to learn about the backgrounds of other students in class, with students from diverse backgrounds given a chance to discuss and share their experiences (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013).
Resource allocation: resource allocation is another important way through which multi-cultural learning must manifest, especially considering the principle of equity. Equity must also reflect in terms of the distribution and allocation of educational resources, with learning experiences further based on need and fairness rather than strict equality at all times (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013).
Curriculum design, student instruction, learning assessment, teacher education and staffing, as well as legal and legislative issues must facilitate this (Glossary of Educational Reform, 2013).
Two frameworks are always adopted by early educators in multi-cultural education, multiculturalism and an anti-bias curriculum. Multi-culturalism basically focuses on the creation of equal educational opportunities and positive attitudes towards differences (Banks & Banks, 2004). An anti-bias curriculum emphasizes the actions of the individual in response to discrimination and prejudice (Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2006). These two represent a proactive and reactive approach. Another approach, inter-culturalism, adds another layer. Interculturalism is important because it recognizes the fact that no one person fully represents one race, and that sometimes, there is great diversity within a cultural group than between groups (Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012). It is through an incorporation of Interculturalism that values and practices of diverse families are accessed and integrated into the curriculum.
The intercultural approach incorporates diverse family values and practices by encouraging children to share their cultural practices and helping transform the childrens understanding of in group variations. Here, there is no expert providing knowledge to the novices, but rather all individuals, teachers and students inclusive, get the chance to learn from each other. It should be differentiated from the classic multi-cultural approach where a teacher introduces the students to cultural experiences that do not necessarily reflect their daily lives. Here, when diverse family values are incorporated into the curriculum, early childhood learners understand that every individual is unique and special, and contributes to the diverse fabric of society.
Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. M. (2004). Handbook of research on multicultural education. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.
Derman-Sparks, L., & Ramsey, P. G. (2006). What if all the kids are white? Anti-bias multicultural education if all the kids are white? Anti-bias multicultural education with young children and families. New York: Teachers College Press.
Glossary of Educational Reform. (2013, August 29). Multicultural Education. Retrieved from Glossary of Educational Reform: http://edglossary.org/multicultural-education/
Ponciano, L., & Shabazian, A. (2012). Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 23- 30.
WIlliams, K. (2017). Culturally Responsive Early Childhood Education. New Haven, CT: Yale University.
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