Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Multicultural Orientation in Science Education: Appeal, Predicament, and Resolution

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Multicultural Orientation in Science Education: Appeal, Predicament, and Resolution

Article excerpt

Abstract

Science was once part of the domain of culture. Yet in modem societies, the cultural essence of science has been obscured by its practicality. In contemporary societies, the cultural dimension of science has been gradually restored, and cultural diversity has received greater attention. A multicultural orientation in science education is an appeal for cultural diversity ensuing from ethnic diversity and the imbalance of ethno-regional development, yet it faces many challenges such as globalization, the unreasonable demand of national unity, unfavorable educational conditions and so forth. The concept of intercultural interaction based on the principle of "harmony but not sameness", rooted in the co-existence of commonalities and differences across multiple cultures, offers a new resolution for the predicament of multicultural orientation in science education.

Key words: Science education; Multicultural orientation; Intercultural interaction; Contemporary societies

INTRODUCTION

Conceptually science is a part of culture. In his discussion of human and human culture, Ernst Cassirer stated that "science is the last step in man's mental development and it may be regarded as the highest and most characteristic attainment of human culture" (2013, p.355). What distinguishes humans from other species is human labor. It is this labor that has created cultural elements that are uniquely human, including language, mythology, religion, art, history, and science. "Humanities-infused" culture is the essence of science, yet this essence has been obscured by the practicality of science in modem societies. At present, our understanding of science has shifted the focus from the social dimension to the cultural dimension with the intention of transforming it from a simple social activity to a complex cultural activity of human beings. The return of science to its cultural origin would undoubtedly present new challenges to science education, including the inevitable challenge of the conflicting appeals between cultural diversity and cultural unity in science education.

1. APPEAL OF MULTICULTURALISM IN SCIENCE EDUCATION

Biological diversity is rarely challenged nowadays. Biodiversity is not only the basis for the existence of life; it also provides a conceptual foundation and methodology for understanding and grasping cultural diversity (Ge, 2007, pp.24-32). In fact, an understanding of biodiversity is a natural sequence to the advanced mental development of humans and a logical orientation. Now that we have reached a wide consensus on ecological diversity, just by taking it one step further would we come to the conclusion that national and regional differences in ecosystems and the diversity of human activities, along with intercultural communication in the long course of human history, have brought about cultural diversity. With the return of science and science education to their cultural origin, the concept of multiculturalism would naturally bear on science education. In addition, cultural diversity ensuing from ethnic diversity and the imbalance of ethno-regional development in China will infuse vigor into the concept of multiculturalism in science education.

Since ancient times, China has always been a nation of ethnic diversity. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, as part of its effort to implement ethnic policies, the Chinese government adopted "ethnic identification": The 56 ethnic groups that have been formally identified by the government, along with ethnic groups yet to be researched and further identified, constitute the "big family of the Chinese nation" (Ma, 2004, p.113). In this big family, Han is the biggest group, accounting for 91.5% of the population of China according to the 2010 census; other ethnic groups account for the remaining 8.5%, hence the category of ethnic minorities. These ethnic minority groups usually live in the unfavorable environment of remote areas. …

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