At ISPP our classes are comparative to bouquets of flowers, some being more ‘exotic’ than others, but together a thing of great beauty.
Every one of our students is a part of this bouquet, each having a personal history, habits, values, as well as different family backgrounds that are most interesting.
As teachers, we adhere to the school’s vision of allowing everyone to:’learn together, grow together, and each make a difference’.
But are we really offering our students the freedom to express themselves and stay true to their own identities?
Is favoritism towards ‘international mindedness’, in events such as ‘International mother tongue day’, really sufficient?
How can we help Cambodian children, as well as children from 3rd world culture flourish and affirm themselves?
How can we effectively value their mother tongue as well as their cultural values, in order to make them citizens of the world, respectful towards others, who ‘celebrate diversity’ and successful adults in the future?
These many questions must be answered.
From a historical point of view, schooling in the later half of the 19th century was indifferent to cultural diversity. Efforts were focused on educating all students, not taking into account regional or cultural belonging, to make model citizens who would play an important role in the modernization of the state/ nation. This involved teaching only one language. This monocultural way in schools was put into question due to several factors.
Among these were the equality issues between white and African American people, the evolution of society values, and the finances needed to create bilingual schools following the battles between Hispanics and Americans in the 60’s. The various movements involving decolonization also played an important role. And so, little by little, the school system has opened it’s doors to cultures that were once excluded.
Two approaches were developed when raising the question of cultural identity:
multiculturalism in the English society, and interculturalism, more present in francophone society. The underlying idea of multiculturalism is the necessity for the school to recognize the value of the different cultures brought by each student. This recognition includes the language as well as other aspects of the culture. The recognition of minority rights therefore becomes the leitmotif of societies who think of themselves as multicultural (Taylor, 1994). Inversely, interculturalism puts forth the essential notions of interaction and exchange (Adballah-Pretceille, 2004), and has in part presented an answer to the risks of communitarianism induced by certain forms of multiculturalism.
These two approaches have not always favored a consensus among learners, but more often that not created individual and collective identities. Also, these notions have often been wrongly interpreted, and this is why valuing student’s collective cultural belonging has long been a subject of controversy.
It seems that the student’s identity not only involves the culture, language or religion, but also the collective and historic memory of the group. Even today, when the multiplying number of identity claimed issues are examined, nostalgic and critical speeches about national identity being threatened by immigration and globalization are present. This gives us valid reasons to examine our roles as teachers. Is it not imperative for us to find a balance between recognition of a certain collective cultural identity, as well as the need to build a common horizon insuring harmony and peace?
Please allow me to speak personally, to thereafter compare it to my experience at ISPP.
As you know, France is a country of immigration, and coming from the suburb of a big city, I must admit that the majority of my classmates at school were not what some would call “true French” people. In primary up until high school, a vast majority of them came from ancient colonies and often used Arabic, Lingala, Turkish, or other European languages such as Polish, Portuguese, or Spanish. For example, I remember in grade 6, we were 27 students. Twenty-four of these came from Africa (the majority from North Africa).
Taking into account historic, political and educational factors, the inability of politicians, and the lack of interest from certain school authorities (very few have recognized or valued cultural differences present in French schools, or other countries with immigrant history similar to France), these are perhaps the reasons that the situation regarding cultural identity is so complex.
Oftentimes, the educational system favoring acculturation is a stigma of cultural groups. Sadly, this turn has favored the exclusion of cultural integration involving these groups, as well as opposing views, even social tension (Ogbu, 1992 ; Berry, Phinney, Sam & Vedder, 2006). In France, cultural politics have more favored an assimilation of children of immigrants in the country, which has generated youths who have not been listened to or valued for their multiculturalism, their language abilities, etc., and have often been a stigma for not being able to write the “langue de Molière” well enough.
Also, there were no, and sometimes still are no allotted resources to support teachers welcoming students newly arrived from other foreign countries.
Almost ten years ago, I was teaching in France as a temporary professor in order to help students who had great difficulties with their exams. I remember having been in a technical class in a public secondary school in the Lyon suburbs, which taught students between the ages of 14 to 17 years old. This class was composed of 29 students. Of those 27 were boys, some of them had severe behavioral issues (many were expelled permanently from the building), and two of the 29 were girls. Around ninety percent had parents of foreign origins. Two of the students had been in France only for a short time; an Algerian and Congolese. Both had great difficulty regarding comprehension, reading, and writing of the French language.
The school had no human resources, or any type of assistant to help me in my duties. It was heartache for me to see these two students cave under the worries and anxieties due to their problems, and I was incapable of giving them the necessary time or energy to help. The boy unfortunately completely dropped out.
From my schooling and professional experience in Public schools, I understood that the French educational system shunned culture, and only accepted certain forms of culture able to be expressed sporadically, solely on specific occasions. Or, the only culture that was enhanced was the academic culture, I mean the writers, the castles, the middle age songs…It was so distant from a dynamic and a living culture, where everybody could be part of and can make a difference.
For example, many schools authorize Muslim or Jewish students to not take part in certain sports, or be excused from school for certain religious holidays, such as Aïd al-Kabïir, or Yom Kippur. But I have never seen a teacher speaking about the symbolism, rituals, or emotions associated with these events, and even less so was it in question to allow to students to share with others about these events. My feeling is that teachers were too much afraid or indifferent or ashamed of the Israel-Palestine conflict or the consequences of decolonization.
France, wanting to be a secular country since 1905, does not allow any religious expression. Schools do not allow any expression associated with religion, and the students automatically censor any expressions of attachment to their mother culture as well, because there is no room for such expressions. Even now, International-mindedness is really not valued in Public Schools. And this is without describing to you the effects of school drop-outs, class dynamics, the loss of orientation for certain students, and unfortunately the effects on social well-being, while not forgetting the effects of racism as well.
At ISPP, my point of view is that the direction and the teachers make sincere efforts to favor international mindedness and accept the cultural diversity between classes, in itself an element of the school’s dynamic and richness. I see many initiatives from teachers to get to know the students, allowing them to express who they are today, where they have come from, and of their family’s journey.
They allow their students to be conscious of this diversity and validate the languages spoken by the students, in order to show them they are individually recognized. They also reap benefits from their experience with others and are able to explain the meaning of this linguistic openness.
For example, in MYP and PYP, the question regarding the definition of a 3rd generation child is the subject of a teaching unit in foreign language. In PYP, the question regarding migration in discussed in grade 5, and religious practices in grade 4. All these teachings have as a base the notion of cultural identity, and offer a better understanding of others. All these teachers offer their students the ability to express themselves through writing, drawing etc. I am overjoyed at seeing these pertinent approaches to teaching that truly favor international mindedness.
When I see guest speakers who are invited to speak about Cambodian traditions, projects based on Olympics Games or Maya in grade 4 bring a Tanzanian statue to class to speak about her home country, or students from grade 5 translating the IB learner profile into their mother tongue…And I am very proud when, walking along the Gr 4 and Gr 5 corridor, I can seen these board with all the students pictures hooked on the world map. Yesterday, when I attended the musical performance done by Japanese, Cambodians and one Uzbekistan teacher, all of them sharing the same passion for music, It was so meaningful for all our shool community!
I am very grateful for all the teachers who do their best to make international mindedness a priority.
I also thank the direction, who allot funds in order to ensure a teaching of Cambodian as a mother tongue, or as a foreign language. The linguistic diversity is an asset for all the students. Learning living languages encourages and builds knowledge of the world, as well as openness towards another’s culture and language. I hold in very high regard the support from direction when we wish to organize cultural activities (events, outings, culinary activities, field trip, exhibitions, collaborations with local schools etc) that ensure the knowledge of other cultures.
But, we can also improve our practices!
SPEALTAC can be a force and a tool that helps us all to progress further. I appreciated certain lectures on the subject, such as:
– International Mother Language Day: Putting your Money where you Mouth is!
Which shows how the promotion of the mother tongue helps develop not only the mother tongue, but also the children’s abilities in the major language of the school.
– Early Learning Toolkit: Mother Tongue Instruction, which explain some use of Internet in our practices: http://www.coetail.com/laylablock/2016/04/30/10-ways-internet-can-empower-language-learners/
I am looking forward to improving my practices and sharing with the ISPP community and SPELTAC Members regarding this issue. In this way, we will be able to really insure our students’ learning together, growing together, making a difference, and the conviction that we as teachers have done our best.
ABDALLAH-PRETCEILLE M. (2004) : L’éducation interculturelle. Paris : PUF.
BERRY J. W., PHINNEY J. S., SAM D. L. & VEDDER P. (2006) : « Immigrant youth: Acculturation, identity, and adaptation ». Applied psychology, 55(3), 303-332.
OGBU J. U. (1992) : « Les frontières culturelles et les enfants des minorités ». Revue Française de Pédagogie (101), 9-26.
TAYLOR C. (1994) : Multiculturalisme. Différence et démocratie. Paris : Aubier.