Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Globally-Minded Students: Defining, Measuring and Developing Intercultural Sensitivity: Part 2

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Globally-Minded Students: Defining, Measuring and Developing Intercultural Sensitivity: Part 2

Article excerpt

Introduction

In a recent article (International Schools Journal, vol XXXI11 No 1, November, 2013) I highlighted the fact that, while co-existence and tolerance of cultures may exist in international schools, the potential for cultural exchange and understanding is not fully developed. Indeed, there is a tendency to minimize difference. I then made the case for developing intercultural awareness, sensitivity and competence among staff as a starting point for change. Intercultural awareness is certainly desirable; however it is passive. One should preferably aim for intercultural sensitivity as a mindset that leans towards something more active and, hopefully, to intercultural competence through behaviour.

In this article I look at how one might measure the degree to which intercultural sensitivity (ICS) already exists among staff in a school and how one might develop it further.

Measuring intercultural sensitivity

As many as 87 'intercultural assessments' have been put forward (Fantini 2006). Abbe, Gulick & Herman (2007) identify four main types of assessment. The first is the Multi-Dimensional Construct, where cognitive, behavioural, motivational and strategic (meta-cognitive) aspects are assessed. The second, the Developmental Construct, is where the aim is to measure one's experience of cultural difference. Third are the Trait-Based models, where culture-general traits considered to contribute to intercultural adjustment and performance are assessed. All of the above are self-reporting models.

A fourth approach is termed Behaviour (sic). Fantini (2005) claims that 'competence is abstract and cannot be witnessed; consequently, it must be inferred by observing how one performs'. He believes that in assessment, what one does, not what one thinks one would do, should be measured. This implies that any instrument that asks questions about beliefs, values and potential responses is not as valid as recording an individual's specific actions.

This type of assessment requires a trained person to shadow a participant in multiple situations (or fixed scenarios) in order to record accurately what is witnessed. The process of qualitative assessment instruments is very challenging though could be considered more authentic. (An extensive list of assessment resources is listed by the Intercultural Communication Institute n.d.)

A good assessment should differentiate levels of ICS. A number of authors favour a developmental approach to ICS with continua that define different degrees of ICS. Hill (2007) summarises three: Chapman & Hobbel (2005), who consider multicultural education; Fennes & Hapgood (1997), who consider a continuum of intercultural learning; and Heyward (2002) who looks at intercultural literacy. The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) formulated by Bennett (2004) should be added to these as he proposes something similar. In all but Heyward's model, the emphasis is on the development of mindset, with adaption from a 'closed' mind to an 'open' mind. However, Heyward refers to learning rather than adaption, a subtle but important difference. While it includes attitudes to some extent, the focus is primarily on skills.

Intercultural sensitivity is an affective condition, a mind-set, and intercultural competence, resultant behaviour. As both can develop over time an assessment that measures the degree of development would seem to be appropriate.

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS)

In his work on intercultural competence, Bennett (2004) refers to the DMIS as a continuum that extends from ethnocentrism, where one's own culture is central to reality, to ethnorelativism, where one's own beliefs and behaviours are experienced '...as just one organisation of reality among many viable possibilities'.

As Hammer, Bennett and Wiseman (2003) see it, the DMIS is 'an explanation of how people construe cultural difference'.

Bennett (ibid) states that those in denial are 'generally disinterested in cultural difference' and do not recognise or understand the distinctive characteristics of different cultures. …

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