Intercultural programs in the K-12 school system and in post-secondary education institutions are a form of multicultural and diversity education. Intercultural programs are described as the proactive and action-oriented aspect of a phenomenon that teaches people to interact and communicate effectively and appropriately with ethnic, racial, religious, cultural and other differences. Intercultural programs are delivered in a range of forms, including through youth community programs, sustained dialogue programs and various cross-group interactions.
Keywords Accountability; Allport's Intergroup Contact Theory; Bilingualism; Culture; Diversity; Equality; Intercultural Competence; Intercultural Programs; Interculturalism; Intergroup relationships; Marginalized; Multicultural Education; Service Learning
Multicultural education is an educational approach that integrates factors such as the instruction of students from different backgrounds, the study of ethnic and other cultural groups, the development of critical thinking skills, and a focus on human relations, into a curriculum that encourages diversity and equality (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004). With a similar meaning, diversity education is often used synonymously with multicultural education.
Brown (2007) explains that educators have continuously been encouraged to incorporate multicultural education techniques into their curriculums; however, the manner in which they have responded to the demographic shift (racial, cultural, linguistic) in student learners has not been sufficient. As a result, a growing need for an enhanced focus on intercultural student programs is necessary.
Intercultural programs, a form of multicultural and diversity education, are described as the proactive and action-oriented aspect of a phenomenon that teaches people to interact and communicate effectively and appropriately, with ethnic, racial, religious, cultural and other differences (Fantini, 2000). Intercultural programs, also referred to as intercultural education, teach people to respect, celebrate, recognize and appreciate diversity in all parts of human life. The learner is sensitized to the idea that people are different in many ways and these differences benefit the society at large (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, n.d.).
Intercultural programs are forms of education that promote equality and human rights, challenge unjust and discriminatory behavior, and support the values that equality has been built on. A blend of the teachings from multicultural education and anti-racist education approaches used worldwide from the 1960s to the 1990s, all make up intercultural education. For example, Ireland has had a long history of ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity. The way in which bilingualism in Gaeilge (Gaelic) and English has played a significant role in Irish life as well as in minority religious groups is proof of the impact (NCAA, n.d.).
The terms 'multicultural' and 'intercultural' have been used in recent years to describe the changes that have taken place in Irish society. 'Culture' has been the most commonly used term to describe the changes but both terms illustrate a place or environment in which more than one culture exists in a country. Multiculturalism or multicultural, describes a society where diverse cultures live next to one another but have little or no interaction. On the other hand, the term 'interculturalism' or 'intercultural,' refers to the belief that personal enrichment is enhanced when individuals come in contact with diverse cultures, engage one another and learn from one another (NCAA, n.d.).
Types of Intercultural Education
Intercultural programs are important for a number of reasons. First, service learning programs, for example, teach students to integrate community service experiences with instruction and reflection. These programs often encourage civic responsibility and strengthen an individual's respect for community, including international communities. Service learning programs, including study abroad programs, can be designed to be intercultural in nature and serve as a link to various cultural groups within the United States and abroad (Bennett & Salonen, 2007).
Second, intercultural programs are for all students despite race, gender, age, religion or country of origin. Intercultural education is a vital part of all students' educational experiences, whether they attend a school with a large population of minority students, or whether they attend a school which is predominately white. Despite these differences, because students live in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more diverse, all students need to take part in intercultural programs to prepare themselves for the future (NCAA, n.d).
Last, intercultural programs are important because they offer opportunities for dialogue. Dialogue and story telling are considered key components of intercultural education. In addition to educating students and challenging stereotypes and misconceptions, it is also important to equip them with intercultural competence through open dialogue (NCAA, n.d). Byram (1997) defines intercultural competence as understanding self and others, having the skills to interpret and relate to others, having the skills to discover and/or to interact with others, placing value in others' values, beliefs, and behaviors, and relativizing one's self. Instead of simply telling a student what is right or wrong about a situation, students should be encouraged to use all of these skills to express themselves and discuss their thoughts, fears, and perceptions (NCAA, n.d).
Theory has played an important role in the concept of intercultural programming. In fact, Intergroup theory can explain some of the difficulties experienced in intercultural programming. For example, Allport's Intergroup contact theory explains the process in which intercultural education and interactions take place. The theory posits that a specific type of setting must be created to encourage diverse groups to develop positive interactive relations. This setting should consist of four conditions:
• Cooperation between groups,
• Equal status,
• Common goals, and
• Support from authority figures in the program or institution in which the interaction takes place.
Less bias and a greater possibility for cross-group interactions have resulted when these conditions have been met, including a reduction in prejudices (Allport, 1956; Pettigrew & Troop, 2000).
Limited success with intercultural programs has been seen in schools, particularly secondary schools, due in part to their inability to meet the four Allport conditions. Most schools develop individualistic, competitive environments which decrease the friendliness, trust and candor necessary for members of diverse groups to interact around common goals (Johnson & Johnson, 2000). Status differences among students including in-group/out-groups designations keep students separate and unexposed to diverse others. These separations contribute to the difficulty students have with seeing each other as equals and limits intergroup contact (Hamm, Brown & Heck, 2005). Although schools make intentional efforts to promote intergroup understanding, they often fail due to bureaucratic control and staff's inexperience and discomfort in addressing diversity issues (Nieto, 1994; Yazedjian, 2003).
Successful Intercultural Programs
Intercultural programs structured in specific ways however, have the potential to foster positive cross-group relationships and understandings. Small youth programs that focus on group goals instead of individual accomplishments cause youth to build trust in one another (Larson, Hansen & Moneta, 2006; National Research Council, 2000). The smaller the program is in size, the more effective it tends to be. Youth are able to develop personal relationships with others different from themselves, and are able to begin to see one another as individuals (Pettigrew, 1998; Schofield, 1995).
Location is also key to the success of intercultural programs. Larson (2000) suggest that youth programs located outside of the school, in community settings, encourage youth to interact on an equal basis with little influence from the traditional school environment. High levels of psychological engagement are typically experienced in these settings, which tend to empower youth to be agents of change,...
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