Intercultural Communication within Multicultural Schools: Educational Management Insights

Article excerpt

Introduction

Most advanced countries comprise various heterogenous and multilingual cultures.

* In the United States of America, there are over 180 ethnic groups. According to Klope (1995:3), more than 100 languages are spoken within a school system in cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The country has experienced a major transition since the 1960's. Until the mid 1960s the United States bore similarities to the past apartheid system in South Africa, such as primarily segregated education (Scott, 1992: 281).

* Canada evidences a history of confrontation between the English speaking and French speaking groups. Furthermore, schools in reservations provide schooling for Native Canadians.

* In 1980 the Malaysian population consists of 55,3% Malay, 33,8% Chinese and 10,2% Indian people (Gonzalez, 1988: 846-847). Prior to independence in 1969, four languages, English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil were used as media of instruction in schools. South Africa has at least 20 cultures or subcultures (Smuts, 1996:46) and 11 official languages. At his inauguration, President Nelson Mandela referred to the "rainbow nation of South Africa".

In the twilight years of the twentieth century, the new democratic South Africa, well-known for its past system of apartheid, is undergoing radical reform in the sphere of education in particular, and transformation in socio-economic circumstances in general. The country is experiencing a transitional period. During such a period, culture shock or "transition shock", that is the movement from the known to the unknown, may effect individuals in new circumstances so intensely that they may experience "generalized trauma" (Klope 1995: 206; 207). Changing social conditions requires new ways of dealing with people, fresh ways of interacting and communicating with people of other cultures.

The above corroborates the view of Sigband and Bell (1994:78) that there has never been a more acute need for effective intercultural communication worldwide than at present. This is also true of schooling in South Africa. In a pluralistic South Africa, few people, and definitely no educational manager, can avoid intercultural interaction. The focus of this article, therefore, is intercultural communication within a multicultural school setting.

Aim And Research Methods

Educational managers require a better understanding of intercultural communication thereby enhancing interaction between the educational manager on the one hand, and parents and pupils from another culture on the other hand. In this regard, the following questions were formulated:

* What is culture?

* What is the purpose and nature of communication in general and intercultural communication in multicultural schools and classrooms?

* What is the difference between covert and overt messages?

* Which obstacles exist in the communication process?

* Which guidelines are there for effective intercultural communication in multicultural schools and classrooms?

To address these questions, the article has a twofold aim. Firstly, culture and communication in multicultural schools are examined. Secondly, guidelines are provided to enhance intercultural communication which will allow meaningful relationships between people of diverse cultures. These aims have been reached by the following methods. A literature study of recent monographs, journals and research reports concerning intercultural communication in multicultural school situations was undertaken. This was followed by visits to Malaysia (1992) and America and Canada (1994) because these countries have experienced similar educational problems on the area of intercultural communication in multicultural schools and classrooms. Furthermore a case study of intercultural conflict in a South African school, the Potgietersrus debacle (February 1996), was completed. …