Elementary School
Elementary School

The Multicultural Learning Environment in Elementary School: Importance and Challenges

Introduction

A combination of multiple factors has contributed to the diversification of culture in Europe and the United Kingdom. Thanks to technological, cultural, economic, and political shifts, people can move around the world and find a place to stay, which is suitable for them for various reasons. In the United Kingdom, classes have become increasingly multicultural, which creates various challenges for teachers and for other children. Elementary school is associated with high levels of stress among children who have to learn, communicate, and interact in an unfamiliar environment. In a multicultural environment, children also must learn how to navigate between different cultures, languages, and other people.

At the same time, teachers have added challenges and responsibilities since they lead away to academic and social achievements. The primary goal for the teachers in a multicultural environment is to unite students, teach them how to interact with unfamiliar people; however, it requires a high level of professionalism, awareness of specific learning techniques, and activities inside and outside of the classroom. It is a tremendous challenge for modern education. Taking into account that elementary and middle school are fundamental for the future development of personality, academic and professional success, an ability to function in a multicultural environment is essential.

Research Rationale

Elementary school exceeds its role as a part of educational establishment only. It serves as the first real place for children where they engage with others, works, cooperates, and communicate five or six days per week. Children are able to develop long-lasting relationships with classmates, teachers, and other employees at school. It is a significant step in the life of an individual to start going to school, as it correlates with personality development and the first experience with the real world. Unlike preschool educational institutions, elementary school is more open and multidimensional with a heavy emphasis on learning and socializing. A role of a teacher in elementary school is crucial because one has to interact with students outside of a teacher-student relationship, but also at a more interpersonal level. Therefore, a lot of students bond with their teachers and vice versa.

Young students experience a lot of stress during the first several weeks in a new environment. A multicultural environment adds more challenges for students, as they need to adapt to the existing environment. For some of the students, an elementary school can be the first place where they encounter a completely new and unfamiliar culture. Children are more open-minded compared to adults; they do not respond in an aggressive way; however, negative experiences can be present in a classroom. If children do not know how to navigate between different cultures, how to approach a particular person from a different ethnic background, there might be difficulties and misunderstanding. In order to prevent the potential issues and to minimize the number of stress-factors which might influence students, the position of a teacher is crucial.

The teacher in the multicultural environment has several roles; one is a mediator, an academic patron, and a friend. Recognizing potential difficulties for children, teachers must minimize tension between students from different cultures. They should promote union, cooperation, and teachers must prevent any negative effects coming from a multicultural environment. However, in order to be able to complete this objective, the teacher must use a specific set of theoretical and practical tools that are discussed in the research. Due to the fact that children are more friendly to others and have a more open-minded approach to education and life itself, it is easier to teach children how to live and work in a multicultural environment.

The significance of the study lies within the possibility to eliminate or minimize prejudices among students in elementary school. The majority of experiments and various studies analyze either positive or negative aspects of a multicultural environment exclusively. However, the multicultural environment is both an opportunity and a risk. It is a risk because there is no universal methodology on how to deal with a multicultural environment in elementary school. However, it is an opportunity for a community, and nation in general, to become better in the future. The research reveals the importance of the topic and how it correlates with education in general. Furthermore, the study explores how it is possible to overcome challenges in the multicultural class. It is beneficial not only for scientific purposes but also for parents or future parents who want to know more about this topic.

Aims and Objectives

The existing problems revolving around racism or any other form of discrimination are a result of unjust biases and destructive prejudices. Even though globalization has enabled foreigners to travel and work in the UK today like never before, there are social issues related to discrimination. The research analyses how exactly it is possible to teach children to be more tolerant and be able to interact with people despite their cultural background and what are the major obstacles for creating an effective multicultural environment in the elementary school. If the teacher and school are able to minimize the negative effects and boost the cooperation between children of different cultures, it is safe to assume that these students will be less prejudiced in adult life.

A primary objective for the research is to find risks and other factors which are associated with challenges in a multicultural environment. It is possible to analyze the core elements of the problem and resolve it by implementing a specific teaching technique, attitude, and encouragement from teachers to eliminate negative conditions in this environment. Additionally, it is also important to understand how multicultural environments influence the behaviour of students. By seeing the complexity of the matter, it might be possible to prepare teachers, parents, and students for the potential challenges and to cooperate for a better adaptation to the new environment.

Hypothesis

The multicultural environment is important because it helps to reduce any form of discrimination, and it helps to create unbiased connections among young students; however, it requires a tremendous amount of work by the teacher, who is an academic patron and a friend of children.

Limitations

The previous studies lack information on the multicultural environment in its complexity. The majority of authors tend to focus on a single area or element of the multicultural environment. Therefore, these elements completely shape the study and image of the multicultural environment. Nevertheless, due to the accessibility of the various resources, the research is possible to delimitate. Different points of view provide valuable insight into each perspective; however, all of the studies focus on children’s safety and comfort. Therefore, a presented literature review analyzes all of the sources in the context of the importance of multicultural environment and complications caused by it.

Structure

The research proposal contains four chapters: introduction, literature review, research methodology, and conclusion. Except for conclusion, chapters contain several subtopics regarding the particular area of the research. The introduction provides background information to give a perspective of the current state of the multicultural environment in elementary school. It also contains the rationale and major objectives of the research. Limitations and a brief description of the structure are provided as well. A literature review has several subtopics that are described with supportive arguments from a list of cited sources. The research methodology chapter revolves around a chosen way of conducting the research and what are the expectations of the results.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

Multiculturalism and Pedagogy

There are several theoretical frameworks why multiculturalism is beneficial for the educational system and for the society in general. One of the most visible examples is a recognition of the minority’s contribution to society. There are conservative and liberal forces in education and in society. A new perspective and source of information coming from minorities are vital for both parties since the knowledge gives new insights into life in the country. Educational system benefits from multiculturalism by becoming more inclusive for all of the children, especially in elementary school (Abington-Pitre, 2015). A right to education is a fundamental human right. Taking into account how important education is today, the elementary school should be available to everyone, despite their cultural background, gender, or ethnicity. Therefore, by creating multicultural environments and methodologies for these environments, the educational system expands opportunities for children.

Existing Issues in Multicultural Classrooms

One of the major issues existing in a multicultural environment is a significant amount of differences which teachers have to consider to treat children in a fairway. Moreover, young students also should understand the differences between cultures, languages, values, or/and religions. These differences themselves are not obstacles. It is a natural distinction between two or more groups of people. Surely, it is essential for the multicultural environment to base relationships between teachers and students on values of equality (Davidovitch, 2012). However, it is necessary to acknowledge the differences which students have. In many cases, ignoring differences leads to an issue of generalization, which has various negative effects on students. Instead of generalizing the students and their values, it is necessary to recognize the differences between children (Yılmaz, 2016). The differences should not be an obstacle for children to unite and create bonds among them. The purpose of acknowledgement of these differences is to integrate them into a classroom. Both foreign and native children should adapt to a multicultural environment based on the mutual intention of goodwill and respect.

Another issue is the exclusion of a specific group of students, whether it is a group of native students or students from a different cultural background. Unfortunately, the issue largely depends on the teacher. For instance, some teachers might exclude a group of native children, focusing more on children from other cultures (Abdullah, 2009). The contrary situation is also possible when a group of students from foreign cultures is excluded. Both situations put enormous psychological and academic pressure on an excluded group of students. The worst scenario occurs when the excluded group is placed in an unfair position or has obvious disadvantages compared to other parties. It causes inequality and tends to cause negative prejudices against other cultures at a young age. The exclusion also gives one group of students a direct benefit and unfair advantage, which reduces challenges that expand the skills of the students.

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Additionally, teachers lack tools that are helpful in interacting with students who are different from the majority. Culture is fundamental to the development of personality. Even at a young age, children contain, respect, and support a specific set of values that have been incorporated by parents, family, friends, and the surrounding environment (Barajas, 2015). Some values can be significantly different from the habitual ones. For example, direct questioning of Chinese children might be considered aggressive and even shameful. Nevertheless, teachers do not have a reliable mechanism to resolve the issue. Instead, they might struggle with the difference in values among students (Yao, Buchanan, Chang, & Powell-Brown, 2009). Surely, teachers might adapt or create a separate approach for a particular student or a group of students, but it does not resolve the issue. It also challenges how students interact with each other because it creates a visible division.

A Role of a Teacher

As mentioned previously, the role of the teacher in a multicultural environment exceeds the traditional position of an academic mentor. First of all, in elementary school, relationships between young students and the first teacher are vital for the overall experience of the children. They should feel comfortable, safe, and protected; however, at the same time, friendly relationships should not be an obstacle for a teacher to evaluate the academic accomplishments of the student objectively (Causey & Haubert, 2016). The multicultural environment puts a list of additional duties on the teacher. The teacher must be a role model for young students. Taking into account, it is one of the few adults outside of the family whom the students encounter on almost a daily basis. Therefore, the teacher has a significant impact on students in elementary school. An exemplary type of teacher’s behaviour positively affects students and shows them exactly how to engage with people who are different without excluding or judging them.

Apart from theoretical and practical knowledge, teachers also must learn more about other cultures, religions, and languages. Experiments suggest that teachers who have richer experience and knowledge about various cultures tend to operate within a multicultural environment better and with more confidence (Mashau, 2012). In other words, teachers who are familiar with other cultures help to create an effective and friendly environment for all children, despite their background. It requires a tremendous effort and natural curiosity for teachers to continue learning something new. Furthermore, students in elementary school are afraid of the new and unfamiliar world they encounter. It is a natural positive reaction from young students when someone knows something about their life, culture, language, or religion. Hence, teachers who know more have better chances of establishing friendly and credible relationships with the students.

At the same time, teachers must avoid being prejudiced at any cost. Biases in the classroom only strengthen negative stereotypes and unfair positions of some students. In addition to that, teachers with biased worldview tend to discourage students from different cultures from active participation in academic activities. Thus, teachers actually do not support young students and create an essential connection between them and education (Alsubaie, 2015). Furthermore, in unfriendly environments, students tend to learn worse compared to their classmates in an effective multicultural environment. Biased teachers also have lower expectations from students and do not engage in any form of friendly relationships with students. Children in elementary school are impressionable, and associations in childhood might have a lifelong effect on the experience of the individual. It is necessary to recognize how fragile the personalities of children are.

Political Issue

A lot of attention to the matter of multiculturalism originates from political processes in the country and from media (Alismail, 2016). As a result, the question has become more of a political tool for speculation instead of real concern (Hramiak, 2015). Some of the attention to diversity and multiculturalism are artificial and exist simply because of the public attention to the topic. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that education should not be involved with politics, especially with manipulation and speculation (Schoorman, 2014). There are already a lot of schools where children from different backgrounds study; therefore, the situation requires an immediate response.

It is better to focus not on senseless political debates but to explore real problems. There are children who want to study in a friendly environment, teachers who want to improve conditions for education, and concerned parents. In fact, there is not much time for society to spend on debates. It is somewhat more beneficial to take care of the growing generation of citizens and give them the best possible opportunities, which in turn will resolve an issue with multiculturalism and discrimination.

Adjustment

One of the simplest methods to help young students with adaptation is to make everything familiar to them. For instance, some cultures might have a different approach to interactions with other people, with the role of an adult, how to communicate with other people, and various other routine activities that are vital for education (Alismail, 2016). Teachers must make everyone feel comfortable and familiar with the basic processes, interactions, and hierarchy in elementary school. By doing so, the teacher gives an equal number of tools, so young students can understand each other and the teacher (Yamat, Fisher, & Rich, 2013). Having relatively the same pace and basic knowledge is beneficial, as it creates a fair environment for various cultures. The students do not feel as if they miss some important information.

Surely, some of the students might have a bigger problem of adaptation, especially bilingual students who have an accent or who speak on a mother tongue at home. For teachers, it is possible to pay attention to these students and give them more personalized tasks in order to reduce a language barrier; however, it is also necessary for teachers to cooperate with parents (de Meléndez & Beck, 2010). Some students might feel shy or ashamed of their accents, but it is necessary to prevent any humiliation from classmates. Teachers must also help students to become more proficient in the new language. With parental assistance and the teacher’s attention, it is possible to increase fluency in a language and make the student feel more comfortable.

Apart from that, teachers also should promote activities outside of the classroom, which unites students. Simple games and role-playing situations can help young students to prepare for the future life in middle school and outside of the school as well. As mentioned above, multiple times, the elementary school serves not only as an educational establishment but also the first real and significant encounter for children with the real world (Ojala, 2010). It is necessary for them to understand how to engage with people. Outside activities also must include school trips and extracurricular activities for children to feel comfortable inside a familiar group of classmates in new environments. New situations have a positive impact on young students as they learn not only something new in some discipline but also useful tips and behavioural patterns that are crucial for personality development.

Chapter Three: Research Methodology

Methodology

For the research, the most appropriate methodology is qualitative. The choice is based on existing studies that utilize qualitative methodology as well; hence, it is easier to use the same type of methods and tools to use the data. Furthermore, qualitative methodology gives more flexibility in regards to dynamic processes and situations. In other words, it is possible to see how multicultural environments and attitudes towards it have changed over the last decade and to be able to project future changes in this field. The qualitative methodology also gives the freedom to structuralize findings in a way that is the most appropriate for the research.

The study analyzes techniques and explored issues that relate to a multicultural environment. Findings and data of the published research provide a valuable theoretical and practical basis. The research focuses on the aspects which are beneficial to the students and teachers in the multicultural classroom. In order to create a multidimensional analysis of the topic, the research explores various pedagogical techniques and experiences in a multicultural environment, including both positive and negative ones. The critical evaluation of the published studies considers the reputability of authors and scientific journals, as well as the reliability of the data provided. At the same time, it is also possible to conduct a small experiment with young students from various cultural backgrounds and apply some of the simplest models of interaction in order to measure if it changes engagement among students.

Ethics

A major ethical issue revolves around children in elementary school. These are young students aged 5-7 years who must not be harmed in any way. Furthermore, parents must provide their agreement for their children to participate in the experiment. Taking into account how impressionable young students are, the environment should be safe and comfortable for children. At the same time, to minimize stress-factors, parents can be present and monitor their children. Additionally, there should be one teacher and a supervisor who can observe the situation from an external perspective and prevent potential risks. However, the experiment cannot hurt physically, and educational material during the experiment is a part of the approved program and strategies for teachers.

Chapter Four: Conclusion

In conclusion, the multicultural environment in elementary school is a useful concept. It increases chances for children to enter education and start learning, despite their background or origin. Furthermore, it creates a comfortable atmosphere for teachers and students. It encourages cooperation and mutual respect. However, it is a complex matter with its own set of challenges, which largely depend on the teacher’s experience, knowledge, and skills. Teachers must support children in cooperation with their parents. By doing so, young students are able to learn better and in a more effective way. On a national scale, it is possible to reduce or eliminate discrimination of any form thanks to the multicultural environment in elementary school since young students are a growing generation that will eventually become adults.

References

Abdullah, A. (2009). Multicultural education in early childhood: Issues and challenges. Journal of International Cooperation in Education, 12(1), 159-175. Retrieved from https://home.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/cice/wp-content/uploads/publications/Journal12-1/12-1-11.pdf

Abington-Pitre, A. (2015). Where did we go wrong? Eight characteristics of multicultural schools. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 3(2), 99-103. doi: 10.13189/ujer.2015.030205

Alismail, H. (2016). Multicultural education: Teachers’ perceptions and preparation. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(11), 139-146. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1099450.pdf

Alsubaie, M. (2015). Examples of current issues in the multicultural classroom. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(10), 86-89. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1081654.pdf

Barajas, M. (2015). Pedagogical approaches to multicultural education within teacher preparation programs. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1735&context=dissertations

Causey, A., & Haubert, J. (2016). Incorporating multicultural education into teacher preparation programs. The Winthrop Mcnair Research Bulletin, 2. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.winthrop.edu/wmrb/vol2/iss1/3

Davidovitch, N. (2012). Educational challenges in a multicultural society: The case of Israel. Cross-Cultural Communication, 8(2). doi: 10.3968/j.ccc.1923670020120802.1445

de Meléndez, W., & Beck, V. (2010). Teaching young children in multicultural classrooms issues, concepts, and strategies. Cengage Learning. Retrieved from http://college.cengage.com/early_childhood_education/course360/diverse_learners_1111829462/ebook/demelendez_1428376984_ch02.pdf

Hramiak, A. (2015). Applying the framework for culturally responsive teaching to explore the adaptations that teach first beginning teachers use to meet the needs of their pupils in school. Cogent Education, 2. doi: 10.1080/2331186X.2015.1108950

Mashau, T. (2012). Multi-Cultural Education: Is education playing a role in acculturating different cultures in South Africa? American International Journal of Contemporary Research, 2(6). Retrieved from http://policyresearch.limpopo.gov.za/bitstream/handle/123456789/1134/Multi-Cultural%20Education.pdf?sequence=1

Ojala, M. (2010). Developing multicultural early childhood education in a Finnish context. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 4(1). Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/81795072.pdf

Schoorman, D. (2014). Why do we need a multicultural education? Reclaiming our roles as professionals in a democracy. Retrieved from http://www.fau.edu/education/facultystaff/committees/diversity/documents/why-do-we-need-multicultural-education.pdf

Yamat, H., Fisher, R., & Rich, S. (2013). Young Malaysian children’s silence in a multicultural classroom. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 103, 1337 – 1343. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.464

Yao, Y., Buchanan, D., Chang, I., & Powell-Brown, A. (2009). Different Drummers: International Perspectives on Multicultural Education. International Journal Of Multicultural Education, 11(2). Retrieved from https://eclass.upatras.gr/modules/document/file.php/PDE1346/INTERNATIONAL%20PERSPECTIVES%20ON%20MULTICULTURAL%20EDUCATION.pdf

Yılmaz, F. (2016). Multiculturalism and multicultural education: A case study of teacher candidates’ perceptions. Cogent Education, 3. doi: 10.1080/2331186X.2016.1172394

About Govind Dhiman 155 Articles
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