Developing children’s skills of intercultural communication is so important. I recently had an impassioned discussion with a teacher acquaintance about this topic. We both are educators with an international set of experiences, and in that setting, intercultural communication is a daily occurrence. Why is it so important? One word. She said without a moment’s hesitation: “Peace.”
In the reality of a real school with really busy people, what would developing intercultural communication skills look like? I have some ideas based on my experiences of working as a primary teacher as well as researching the topic for my doctoral studies. But this time I won’t share these with you. Instead I turn to the expert experiencers of school for some answers. Research into children’s voices and the child perspective is becoming more prominent, and gives us adults, researchers and teachers many things to ponder about.
Research by Hajisoteriou and Angelides (2015) in Cyprus discussed how Cypriot and immigrant children (aged 11-12) viewed intercultural education:
– Culturally responsive classroom discussions. Discussions are had about students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as discussions combating prejudice and stereotyping, which are typically led by the teacher. Some students suggested that the teacher should give opportunities for children from minority cultures to tell about their emotions, in order to help classmates step into their shoes.
– Collaborative learning. The children saw collaborative learning as a platform students could mix and help each other to complete (academic) tasks.
– Language learning. The Cypriot children were concerned about the immigrant children’s language skills, which were holding back communication. Immigrant children, on the other hand, were worried about forgetting their native language.
Another study (Hzu, Jang & Watson, 2011) looked into children’s perceptions of an intercultural camp experience. The main theme that the eleven-year-olds brought up in the study was friendship. Friendships surpassed any intercultural boundaries and were maintained by many of the children after the camp experience was finished. In addition, the children felt they became more confident communicators, learned new cultural knowledge and gained an increased interest in global issues. The study’s quantitative measure did not show a statistically significant increase in intercultural communicative competence (ICC) for the children.
The research raises as many questions as it answers. As a teacher-researcher I return to the basic starting point for intercultural communication, which is an intercultural encounter. Finding ways to connect with others is the way forward. I would love to hear if you have any stories, ideas or research to share. Please comment below (you can do so without an account as well)!
Hajisoteriou, C. & Angelides, P. (2015) Listening to children’s voices on intercultural education policy and practice, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 28:1, 112-130.
Zhu, H., Jiang, Y. & Watson, J. (2011) Children’s perceptions of the impact of participation in an intercultural educational programme, Language and Intercultural Communication, 11:2, 142-160.
Primary School Teacher
Doctoral Student in Education
University of Eastern Finland