Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

The Inter-Cultural Toolbox - a Means for Developing Intercultural Competencies

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

The Inter-Cultural Toolbox - a Means for Developing Intercultural Competencies

Article excerpt

It is the very nature of a school environment to have students from culturally disparate families mixing with educators and interested members of local society into a school culture and community. It is the culturally-specific knowledge, experiences and communication of values these individuals expose that is of interest to this paper. How does this cultural diversity affect the development of understanding and how can this affect students' overall school achievement?

Individual contributions to school culture are created through all discourse, be it social or professional communication, diverse linguistic competencies or through non-verbal behaviours. The values and priorities of an organisation are created by human interaction. All individuals in a school community, including the students, are equal in the contribution that they make to the overall school culture. All persons can be seen as stakeholders playing a vital role of interaction between the school and society.

It becomes a question of just how much personal and cultural identity can be used to increase the comfort of and respect for others, act as a support for, and enhance the prospects for success of individuals in a school community. Being 'interculturally competent', an individual can recognise and can help to inform skills when interacting within school communities. Awareness of the plurality of cultural and national influences is vital for individuals whose professional life includes multicultural populations.

In order to respect the values and life priorities of others, an awareness of self as an intercultural mediator is required. The time is nigh to recognise that our students and fellow educators may have far more interesting and diverse backgrounds than our requirement to label them just by one nation allows.

'Intercultural competencies' and 'related skills' are required to value each individual, their home culture and the experiences that inform them, within all school communities. This paper considers the benefits of intercultural awareness, provides an outline of structures that foster the development of skills within the context of the unique situations in which some schools find themselves and suggests ways to develop appropriate intercultural competencies in students, teachers and the wider school community.

Few job descriptions include skills that reflect intercultural competencies. Advertised roles for employment in schools or international schools or job appraisals also make little attempt to recognise the importance of the intercultural aspect of educating persons from diverse locations. To recognise, respect and value the integration of cultures creates new and important skills in the every day job of an educator.

Providing the help and structures for schools to build these skills is the next step. The complex issues surrounding intercultural competencies can be addressed through an 'intercultural toolbox', constructed to suit the context of each school, allowing intercultural competencies to be included in the everyday practice of education and become embedded in the structure and ethos of a school. Thus moving expectations far beyond the awareness of a multicultural group of people, to skills that will help all persons interact, understand one another and ultimately respect and care for one another equally, must be the objective.

Intercultural competencies are a very significant aspect in the role of educators applying their skills to the needs of students in preparation for their lives as adults. Skills such as respect, an open mind, action and engagement can signify a positive impact on learning, teaching and assessment that is far more important than just awareness of the multiple cultures within our communities. In many cases these skills are already in use although, as organisations, schools are still focused on the multiplicity of nations with their school populations and not the integration of cultures that is often successfully occurring right in front of their eyes. …

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