The Erasmus+KA122-short-term project for mobility of learners and staff in school education ”High quality education in rural community for the integration of SEN and struggling children in school and pre-school mass education”, no. 2021-1-RO01-KA122-SCH-000015645, gave me the opportunity to travel in Malta between 29th of June and 3rd of July at a training regarding the project theme, ”Diversity in education”. I want to develop in my article the challenges of diversity in education, from my point of view are very important from each teacher to know and to apply to class every day.
Proficiency in the language of instruction is a fundamental determinant of successful education outcomes. Language skills, such as listening, reading, writing are essential for most learning processes and for interaction with teachers and peers. Migrant kindergarten childrens who do not master the language of instruction are at a significant disadvantage in kindergartens. At the same time, those migrant childrens who do speak the language of instruction at home are about half a year behind their native peers . This means that there is about half a grade level difference between migrants who do and do not speak the language of instruction at home.
Language development and cognitive development are interconnected, and language learning seems to work best when learners use language for meaningful purposes. It is therefore essential to ensure that language classes are closely connected to the mainstream curriculum. One way to integrate language and academic learning is to develop content-area curricula for second language learning.
In almost all OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, there is recognition that schools should implement measures to recognise the increasing cultural diversity of their students. Policies and practices that take into account the ethnic and cultural differences between students are broadly referred to as “intercultural” or “multicultural” education. While these terms are used differently across OECD countries, there is broad agreement in the literature that for intercultural education to be successfully implemented institutional, changes must be made. These include changes in the curriculum and teaching materials; the expectations, attitudes and behaviours of teachers, and the goals and culture of the school.
The study and correction of bias in curricula and textbooks is one of the earliest and most predominant aspects of intercultural education. Monocultural curricula and course content may create or reinforce feelings of isolation and exclusion when migrant groups are marginalised or presented negatively or inaccurately. Many countries have made efforts to rethink and transform traditionally monocultural curricula, textbooks and teaching materials to include perspectives, examples and information from a variety of cultures and groups. Course content and teaching materials are only a small part of children’s experience at kindergarten.
Intercultural education is also mediated through the “hidden curriculum”, expressed in teacher expectations and attitudes to children learning. A consistent body of literature shows that low teacher expectations can have a devastating effect on children’s motivation and performance. In fact, experimental research has revealed that erroneous teacher expectations may become self-fulfilling prophecies, they may lead children to perform at levels consistent with those expectations. There is evidence that teacher expectations are formed partially on the basis of race, ethnicity and social class, which may lead to unintended and unacknowledged biases in teacher behaviour. A consistent body of research indicates that teachers are likely to have lower expectations and less positive evaluations of students who do not share their ethnic/ racial characteristics.
Teaching kindergarten children from a wide range of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds with different experiences and socio-economic backgrounds takes a complex set of skills that many teachers may not have through formal training. The provision of teacher training needs to be updated and adapted, so that teachers can mobilise the knowledge and skills necessary to provide effective instruction for all students.
Most OECD countries now have requirements for teacher training institutes to include topics associated with intercultural education in initial teacher training. However, institutions for initial teacher education are at least partially free to determine their own curriculum; and generally they are not provided with any clear instructions as to how they should implement intercultural training.
In-service training can be a way of helping teachers develop the skills necessary to take their students’ diversity into account. However, teachers in most countries have no obligation to undertake professional development related to intercultural education. Previous OECD studies recommended the introduction of a minimum requirement for teachers to undertake professional development in this domain, linking participation to promotion or recertification. In a few countries, national guidelines are beginning to point to the importance of ongoing professional development in intercultural education.
The close relationship between family background and children’s outcomes is well-established. Children’s interaction with their parents is one of the mechanisms through which this relationship operates. Parents may not only provide direct support in terms of after-school tutoring, learning materials and homework supervision; they may also communicate certain values and expectations about education through their interactions with their children.
In some countries, programmes to strengthen the links between school and home are now high on education policy agendas. This effect seems to work in two main forms: parental involvement at home, including discussion about school, homework supervision and reading with children; and parental involvement at school, including contact with teachers, attendance of events and volunteering at school activities. However, while parental involvement matters for all children, immigrant parents, especially those with lower SES (socioeconomic status), seem to be less involved than native-born parents. While migrant parents often have high aspirations for their children, they may face multiple barriers to involvement in school, such as language difficulties, weak knowledge in school subjects, or lack of time and/or money to invest in their children’s education. They may also feel alienated and unwelcome in a foreign kindergarten environment.
These findings have important implications for policy. Initiatives to boost parental involvement need to address the complex set of factors likely to inhibit parental support in migrant families. Kindergartens need to find ways of communication that appeal to parents with different levels of education, language skills and understanding of the kindergarten system. They need to build parents’ capacity in supporting their children while at the same time training teachers to interact with parents effectively.