What contributes to diversity amongst learners?.
Classroom Diversity in Australia:
University/ College Classrooms:
The role of the teacher in a diverse learning setup.
Challenges faced in a diverse learning environment and Solutions:
Challenge 1: Curriculum that is silent towards diversity.
Challenge 2: Curriculum that reinforces dominant ideologies.
Challenge 3: Textbooks insensitive to language nuances and variations.
Challenge 4: Curriculum as a source of tension.
Challenge 5: Limited resources in prescribed textbooks.
Owing to inter-continent mobility and globalization, the modern-day classroom is far more diverse than classes of yesteryears. There are several challenges in teaching in a complex classroom with a highly diverse population. The most important aspect of teaching in a multicultural environment is to make students feel secure and confident. An inclusive environment where everybody feels comfortable and safe irrespective of their social-economic status, their cultural background must be created. A cultural policy that clearly defines discrimination against all students must be put in place and every teacher should bear this in mind. In the present work, the diversity of a classroom is first described followed by a discussion on various pedagogical challenges that would be faced in a diverse learning environment. Subsequently, some strategies to efficiently teach in a way that efficiently makes all the diverse learners reach their maximum potential are discussed the concluding summaries are drawn.
Globalization has led to a significant change in the demography is of almost every continent. This changing demography means a classroom that has students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Teaching in a multicultural classroom means that the teacher should concentrate and be aware of the diversity of the student population. The teacher must always bear in mind culture and heritage and several other contextual factors can and will affect academic performance. As a teaching practitioner, it is the responsibility of the practitioner to focus on the abilities that the diverse learners are capable of bringing to a formal education setting (Tomlinson, 2015). The social circumstances have a profound impact on the way the learners interact with each other, their environment, and also the way they respond to classroom activities. In the present work, various strategies that could be implemented to deal with diverse learners are presented.
The diversity of the students might include students from racially ethnically culturally linguistically backgrounds. Students from different socio-economic status students from minority communities, students with language delays, and/or other learning disabilities also be a part of the classroom (Carter & Darling-Hammond, 2016). The most common diversities which has to be noted in a classroom setup is multilingualism. In a classroom setup, all students are thought to be similar but most often they have a different first language and use English as a common tongue. Sometimes English is not the first language of the teacher as well (Liyanage, Walker, & Singh, 2015). An environment where students and teachers have different first languages is called a multilingual environment . Bilingual classroom setup is one, where the teacher uses two languages while teaching in the classroom. For example, most classrooms in Australia teach in English as well as in Aboriginal English, to ensure that everybody in the classroom understands the subject being taught. A multicultural environment is one, where numerous factors such as religious beliefs, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, etc. vary (Au, 2007).
Classrooms in Australia are well-known for their cultural diversity. Hammond who spearheaded multicultural diversity in Australian education has stated that “In Australia, as in most Western countries student populations in many large urban schools are diverse. In cities such as Sydney, student profiles include up to 80-90% of students for whom English is a second or an additional language. the students may be drawn from 30 or more linguistic, cultural backgrounds and from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.” (Hammond, 2009). The age-wise classroom diversity in Australian classrooms is presented below.
Australian vocational education and training classrooms have the world's most diversified student population in terms of the student background. Australian classrooms have around 4.7 % of indigenous students and 15.3% of students came from non-English speaking countries (Crossman & Cameron, 2014; Hoeckel, Field, Justesen, & Kim, 2009).
Having such diverse classrooms employee that the learners will be at different stages of learning. Some students would have completed their K+2 education in a formal academic setup while others would have received little or no formal education at all. Some students would have been to school continuously while others would have quit formal education several years before. Similarly, the number of foreign national students who join Australian universities for graduate and post-graduate studies has significantly raised over the past years. The global exchange of students also contributes to foreign national students in colleges and universities.
At the school level, the diversity of an average school classroom environment in Australia is common and has been reported. Approximately 10% of the students are children with special needs and more than 10% of the children speak another language apart from English which is used as a medium of instruction. Almost 30 to 40% of the students come from economically challenged homes and 10% of the children of immigrant parents. most of the places at least 5% of the children are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Irrespective of the family background all the children are benefited by coming to school but only 50% of the schools have reported containing a policy against discrimination based on culture, socio-economic status, or ethnic background. The figure below shows the diversity of a lower secondary classroom in Australia, in comparison with the rest of the countries in OECD is shown below (ACER, 2019).
Figure 1 Multicultural Diversity in Australian Classrooms at Lower primary schools (ACER, 2019)
The Australian council for educational research also called the ACER has reported in 2019 that Australian lower secondary school classrooms have a very diverse and challenging classroom then and many other countries. They have also reported that Australian teachers are very responsive to the challenges that are encountered in a diverse classroom and confident in providing role model leadership in a classroom environment that is multicultural (Carter & Darling-Hammond, 2016; Tatto, 1996). Further, the teacher should be capable of coming up with creative ideas and measures that not only managers the diversity but also use it as a leverage to create awareness about the impact of multiculturalism and cultural diversity.
Teachers should focus on continuously improving their language proficiency and their pedagogical knowledge to ensure high-quality standards of teaching (Tomlinson et al., 2003; Whitaker & Valtierra, 2018). They should focus on developing their professional skills and competencies to empower them to enhance their students' learning in a diverse multicultural space (Santoro, 2009).
The primary challenges of diversity in classrooms are presented below:
One of the biggest challenges in teaching in multicultural setup is a curriculum that turns a blind eye towards the diversity of the classroom. If a curriculum is silent towards acknowledging some cultures then it may lead to a situation where most children feel alienated. This may lead to poor academic performance because for a child to succeed he should be able to relate to classroom activities intuitively. If the curriculum appears alien to him the child's natural instincts to learn and curiosity comes down (Diallo & Maizonniaux, 2016).
The second challenge is that the policies or the curricula reinforce dominant ideologies. Younger Singh and Walker indicated that most Australian policies describing curricular frameworks describe ethnolinguistic categories very elaborately and such elaborate description can be counterproductive. These policies make teachers as observant and not us participants in the picture of a diverse culture. Emphasis on advantages of bilingualism and/or multilingualism in the teaching/learning process should be higher and this would integrate students from diverse backgrounds into to Western classroom-based educational system.
White ethics has been given undue importance in the Australian context and MacGill, 2016 points this out in his article and argues "for a critical examination of how the teaching/learning nexus is informed by and constrained within the paradigm of white effects of care in schooling in the Australian context". For instance, Aboriginal children tend not to look into the eyes of other people while speaking. A teacher should be understanding the conservative culture of the other end and ensure their participation and slowly make them overcome their hindrances to be in a group. While carrying out such a process the student should not feel that he/she is forced to move away from his/her native culture to adapt to something foreign.
When teachers become mere observants of diversity they lack empathy. They do not participate in how people from different backgrounds perceive and react to what is being taught, they can never become empathic. Such an approach is disastrous by making the marginalized voices unheard and left understood. The performance of the dominant Australian culture and white privileges alone can be experienced. This will lead to racial thoughts in the minds of students unconsciously, and the primary aim of creating an inclusive environment would fail.
Another big challenge in teaching a diverse classroom is that textbooks are insensitive to subtle language aspects such as dialogues and accents. While teaching foreign languages such as French sufficient importance is not given to two actions which are an integral part of everyday communication in that language. Societal needs are shaped by international migration and globalization. Extending such needs into pedagogical goals is necessary to make an inclusive curriculum. To do so the focus on comprehension exercises and accents must be more and lesser importance must be given to abstract rules of the language. This will increase the average learners’ interest in learning a foreign language while an exclusive grammar course often discourages them (Liyanage, Singh, & Walker, 2016; Liyanage et al., 2015).
Additionally, Falkert, 2016 identifies that teachers have a negative attitude towards non-standard patterns of speech. But it should be understood by the teachers that language keeps evolving deeply impacted by the native culture of the learner. Anglocentric teachers should be trained to overcome their prejudice because the opinions attitudes and beliefs of teachers are crucial to stimulate changes.
Next challenge is the curriculum itself. The curriculum often acts as a source of tension than as a solution to resolve tensions. The new Australian curriculum is elaborate well planned to be inclusive of learner diversity. It makes development of critical and creative thinking mandatory. Western educational systems predominantly have focused on such critical thinking for several years now. But in conservative cultures including the aboriginal culture, except facts as and such and are not ready to question or ask for proofs to substantiate facts. The notion to critique or interrogative previously mentioned facts or assumptions not be comfortable for people from conservative cultures. This leads to tensions instead of resolving them and hence cannot support a diverse learning environment brother II teachers play a crucial role inclusion and development of critical thinking in in classrooms with a lot of learner diversity (Diallo & Maizonniaux, 2016).
The last challenge is the limitation of curriculum and textbooks. Several studies indicate that highly restricted because they have to be systematically organized. But it is also shown that teachers should use complementing activity books and culturally oriented materials that are available online to teach in a multicultural setup (Chita-Tegmark, Gravel, Maria De Lourdes, Domings, & Rose, 2012; Hernández Finch, 2012). The inclusion of such an innovative mixture of online and offline activities would promote the overall learning curve of a diverse classroom (Gay, 2002; Hawley, 2010; Jordan, 2010).
In Australia, whether it is a vocational education and training classroom, University, or college classroom or a school classroom, the diversity of the learners is very evident. The situation necessitates that the teaching profession is scrutinized more to ensure better standards of equity and equality. Multilingualism or at least bilingualism has become an essential skill for a teacher these days. The Curriculum used should be inclusive of aspects about home culture as well as an international culture so that all the students every child is comfortable about his/ her roots. The Medium of instruction must be chosen to the national language(s), but the multilingual skills of the teacher should be appreciated. By emphasizing these components, the challenges in diverse learning environments can be met and successful teaching/learning nexus can be established.
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