What is cultural diversity and why is it important in class?

“The key to community is acceptance, in fact, the celebration of our individual and cultural differences. It is also the key to world peace.” 
-M. Scott Peck 

Cultural diversity, made up of two words culture and diversity, to understand the union, let us understand them individually. Culture refers to the beliefs, values, behaviour and norms of a society. Whereas diversity refers to the quality which makes a class unique inclusive of colour, language, ethnicity, socio-economic status or cultural background but just not limited to these. 

Thus, cultural diversity is the quality of multiculturalism which is defined as a system of beliefs and practices that respects the presence of all diverse groups in society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural inequalities, and supports and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural setting which allows all within the institution or society. In other words, it can be defined as the presence of a variety of cultural groups within a society. With the inclusion of people from diverse backgrounds, it also involves accepting and encouraging the knowledge, talents and practices to fully accept, comfort and support the differences in society. 

An Example of this was recently seen on the internet. When the issue was raised that the Internet has been a predominantly English- language medium because nearly 56% of Web content is in English, 

but 75% of the world’s population does not speak English. Many countries took concerted action for the promotion of multilingualism and also for the promotion and preservation of cultural diversity. Internet is used by large parts of society, it cannot be limited to the English-speaking elite nations of the world so multilingualism here is directly proportionate to its usability and growth. 

There are some challenges faced by cultural diversity even today, some of them are: - 

- Unheard voices of some cultures: People from countries like Japan who are quieter may feel uncomfortable speaking up or sharing ideas. 

- Negative cultural stereotypes still prevail due to which interaction between different cultural teams become difficult and make them less inclined to work together. 

- With diverse culture comes language barriers so at times understanding professional communication becomes difficult. With verbal communication, nonverbal communication also plays a major role which includes gesturing, physical distance and greetings. 

- Different cultures have different working style and professional etiquettes, these differences at times create hurdles in productivity. This includes different approaches to dealing with conflicts, the varied meaning of discipline etc. 

Cultural diversity in class 

In an educational institution, a classroom is a space where students learn, it may be a classroom for kids or adults. A classroom has students from a different religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender and linguistic setups. So the classroom will have students who display different ways of behaving, learning habits, communication skills etc. This diversity needs acceptance and encouragement to help them grow to withhold their roots. Diversity will continue growing around the world, so it’s essential to prepare students for adapting to the evolving world and appreciate the differences as a quality rather than a defect. 

Culture is really important as it is so deeply ingrained in students, that tone of voice, facial expressions and body language can very well depict the varied culture. Cross-culture dissonance is very common in a space with varied culture, an example of this was when a girl in a school called her teacher ma’am and her parents were called for her usage of this word, this depicts the difference in the etiquettes due to difference in cultural backgrounds. 

Cross-cultural dissonance may also occur when the method of teaching is different from what students were used to. For example, in some setups students are expected to listen to everything first and then as doubts. Whereas in others an interactive class is appreciated. These types of conflicts in learning behaviours can be difficult for students to adapt, but the teacher may believe that the student is inattentive or not interested. Similarly, when the teacher’s instructions conflict with the student’s expectations, a student may take it as the teacher as uncaring or insensitive. 

Managing diversity in the classroom 

Managing cultural diversity in the classroom is important as it plays a major role in student’s growth and maintaining a healthy relationship between teacher and student. Here are some steps as to how this can be done. 

- Making sure that a student feels that the classroom does not snatch away his culture rather than he should feel that it is helping him to preserve it and this can be done only when the teacher starts knowing about their students, their needs. This interest of a teacher in knowing about their student can encourage the students in opening up and establishing trust and allow a teacher to form a bond. Once a student feels comfortable with the teacher the chances that he/she becomes comfortable in accepting things and mingling with peers also increases. Communication can become the core of an inclusive classroom. 

- Teachers should appreciate students to learn more about their culture and find ways to solve problems taking the help of such research. This can prove to be an amazing assignment. Students can even give presentations on how their culture uplift them, what they learn from it and how they embrace it. This will help peers in understanding each other’s culture and also help them to be respectful of each other. This is a mature way to help out diminish the cultural inequalities or dissonance. 

- Giving students freedom and flexibility can ease the work as most life experiences that help us are our own rather than a story we heard. So instead of a strict, rigid environment in the class, a more friendly approach can lessen the effort and serve the purpose. 

Benefits of cultural diversity 

- Diverse perspectives inspire creativity and give birth to innovation. The heterogeneous group of people prove to be more effective at the time of problem-solving due to diverse capabilities. 

- We become compassionate about others when we talk to them with an aim of understanding. Hatred makes us resentful whereas compassion helps us become stronger. 

- Knowing people from different backgrounds gives us the opportunity for growth and deeper understanding. 

- Diversity adds on to quality by increasing the scope of coverage and the paths that can be followed to achieve a goal. Variety is always appreciated. 

Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity - Robert Alan

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Blog Post written by:
Vrinda Mishra
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