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Cultural diversity in the classroom: a challenge or an opportunity?

The way we see the world is greatly influenced by culture, be it the values we carry, the perceptions we have or the behaviours we exhibit. Culture also affects how we understand and interact with each other. Therefore, cultural values and norms affect not only our day-to-day interactions with other people, but also extend to the classroom and affect both learning and teaching styles.

The way we see the world is greatly influenced by culture, be it the values we carry, the perceptions we have or the behaviours we exhibit. Culture also affects how we understand and interact with each other. Therefore, cultural values and norms affect not only our day-to-day interactions with other people, but also extend to the classroom and affect both learning and teaching styles. The past decade or so has witnessed a large influx of refugees into different countries, ­particularly to the Middle East and Europe. These refugees bring with them a wealth of cultural diversity. However, without a proper understanding of those differences, and if we fail to respect their diversity, the actions and behaviours of refugees are likely to be misinterpreted. This may further add to their social exclusion and aggravate their feelings of alienation. Embracing cultural diversity is not an easy task, but it is crucial for providing equal opportunities to learn, progress and integrate into society.

Obviously, adult educators have their own communication styles which are very much influenced by their cultural backgrounds. The aim is not to strip educators of their values, norms and perceptions. Rather, they too can bring a wealth of values and experiences to the classroom, thus making learning a reciprocal process as stipulated in adult learning methodology. It is adult educators’ openness towards diversity that helps students engage effectively in the learning process. Adult learning classes also provide a safe space where students can be themselves, express their views and different values without feeling judged, rejected or stereotyped. This atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion not only enhances the learning process, but also plays a vital role in minimising the effects of distress which many refugees exhibit, and which are often exacerbated by feelings of alienation.

Acknowledging the cultural differences that refugees bring with them into the host country in general, and into the classroom in particular, is essential for fostering a culture of inclusion as opposed to the creation of xenophobic societies that lack tolerance for people who are “different”. Equally, refugee students need to learn about the values and fundamental principles that are prevalent in their host country in order to achieve peaceful coexistence. In adult learning classes, educators are aware of the influence that culture has on the learning process, and strive to gear cultural differences towards supporting the learning environment. In essence, adult education is a lifeboat that brings students with diverse cultures onto safe shores and enables them to hope again!

This article has been published in issue 8 of DVV International's journal Adult Education and Development on “The role and impact of adult education”. Read the complete edition.

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The way we see the world is greatly influenced by culture, be it the values we carry, the perceptions we have or the behaviours we exhibit. Culture also affects how we understand and interact with each other. Therefore, cultural values and norms affect not only our day-to-day interactions with other people, but also extend to the classroom and affect both learning and teaching styles.

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