Developing Multicultural Awareness in the Classroom

Multicultural awareness concerns the need for teachers and school leaders to be aware of the cultural issues that can affect learning, as well as learners' ability to access the curriculum. It also extends to preparing all young people to live in a multicultural society, both in Britain, and as global citizens.

Knowledge bank

Multicultural awareness is currently undergoing something of a renaissance in our schools, mainly due to a number of factors residing outside education.

Multicultural awareness has also attracted a fair degree of controversy. This has come predictably from far right groups who are ideologically opposed to a multicultural Britain. But it has also come from more mainstream groups in society who have

Multicultural awareness mistakenly labelled it as being driven by 'politically correct' motives.

The most far sighted and inclusive view of multicultural awareness recognizes that every culture requires equal respect and recognition - including the prevailing culture in the catchment area of your school, even if this is not ethnically diverse.

Schools in rural or mainly white areas have been criticized for not preparing young people to live in a multicultural Britain because they did not try to enrich the curriculum with resources, examples and case studies drawn from or representing other cultures than the prevailing one. This is not to say that they were expected to do this at the expense of the prevailing culture.

It's vital that all learners are encouraged to recognize and celebrate their own cultural background and traditions - some may need some encouragement to do this, especially where there is mixed heritage.

On a day-to-day basis, being aware of multicultural issues means that in planning and teaching lessons, and in giving feedback to learners on their work, you're mindful of the need to embrace different cultures and ethnic groups. For example it may mean that when discussing religious festivals, that you recognize that different individuals in your classes may not observe the same festivals. It may also mean that you're mindful of taboos and sensitive topics within different cultural groups, or indeed different ways of interacting with authority.

Many publishers and other resource providers have been slow to recognize the need for images that are representative of Britain today. This can have a negative effect on any groups who do not see themselves represented.

Many practical things can be done to show your respect for different cultures. On a simple level, being prepared to understand and celebrate the culture of others is an important principle that can be injected into your teaching.

Multicultural awareness can be considered as part of a wider agenda to ensure that diversity in all its forms is recognized, valued and celebrated. It can be seen as part of a drive to engender more tolerance and respect for others, especially those who are different from ourselves.

Ask yourself

  • How does your school embrace multicultural issues? How does this impact on your classroom work?
  • What is your view on the degree to which you can embrace multicultural issues in the subject(s) you teach?
  • Think about your own cultural background. What is important to you about that background and how can this be translated to children and young people in a way that respects the fact that they may not share this background?
  • To do list

  • Write out your definition of what multicultural awareness means to you in the context of your classroom.
  • Allow yourself to have some open reflection about any reservations you have concerning multicultural awareness in schools. Then share some of your thoughts with a trusted colleague to gain their perspective.
  • Prepare a personal 'cultural heritage audit', outlining what matters to you about your own cultural background. Ask your learners to do the same and then use this as a basis for discussion.