By Fayezah Iqbal
In simple words, multiculturalism connotes a concordant coexistence of various cultures which does result in social inclusion. My own experience as an Indian citizen testifies to this fact.
When it comes to strengthening and valorising the future of education, multiculturalism is a critical tool. Here I would mainly focus on the school education in the formative years of every student that plays a monumental role in shaping their intellect, leaning, and individuality as a social being.
There can be possibly three broad ways and aspects of studying the effect of multiculturalism in the entire ambit of school education. First, the composite and diverse character of students in any given class of any school; second, a study material about various cultures in the curriculum catering impartially to the ethos and uniqueness of every culture and creed; third, the unprejudiced, veracious, and yet responsible approach of teachers in both treating a diverse group of students and teaching historically sensitive issues.
Additionally, a healthy and amicable ambience among culturally dissimilar students is seen as the first manifestation of tolerance towards multiculturalism. The onus of this lies hugely on the teachers and then on parents and is a testing phase for teachers to materialize the pluralistic values imparted in class.
Once these core concerns are paid utmost heed to, multiculturalism would inevitably enrich education and enhance a culture of highly involved and conscientious learners sensitive and thoughtful of the numerous distinctions.
Lastly, frequent impromptu or planned debates, discussions and dialogue among students of unrelated cultures on all required topics, including the politically relevant ones, would substantively help bridging the cultural gaps and dispelling undue biases and apprehensions of one for the other.
Social inclusion cannot be achieved by multiculturalism alone, but it does act as a fertile ground and natural medium to enable it.
Multiculturalism and education are mutually beneficial to each other. Education as an institution exhorts its pupils to stand by its one of the many glorious credentials of upholding the discrete units of what constitutes an amalgam called heritage and culture. On the other side, multiculturalism endows education with the possibilities of corrective and intermittent intervention of syllabi material adequately and proportionately representing and asserting numerous cultures and civilizations.
It would be easier to substantiate this with an example of English medium CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) board affiliated private schools in India, where trained teachers cater to a batch of children of educationally inclined and growth desirous parents. These children get ample chance to begin with a sound and culturally diverse base or even a neutral ground, studying in English medium (still not a mother tongue or even a second language in many Indian families) offsetting any linguistic discrimination or in other words, not advantaging any class or religion majorly.
Contrarily, some of regional language medium schools like Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi or Assamese medium also work in their own way in preserving and promoting their own culture, while simultaneously ensuring composite character of the country. It verily binds a group of students as one cohesive force, by a common linguistic cultural force, regardless of religion. The only need is for teachers to realize the potential of their existing cultural reservoir and direct their energy consciously in achieving cultural syncretism. For which, they would have to ensure a holistic approach by working out a curriculum for sufficient representation and expression of various ethnicities. In addition, their periodic interstate schools’ meet also blur the fixed lines of single culture and introduce them to the multiplicity.
Disputatious and excess glorification of certain ethnicities and cultures or under-valuation and misrepresentation of others, especially during the Freedom struggle of India, in the Social Studies books should be avoided, thus preventing the skewed notions of patriotism and nation.
Food which is a constant source of provocation and fury is also undeniably the most primitive and fundamental thing over which humans around the world have bonded or diverged. It can thus be also used to galvanise understanding and acceptance of distinctiveness in schools. For instance, hosting a monthly food festival, inviting and letting open the popular delicacies of various cultures, regions, tribes present in the class and allowing voluntary, mirthful and easy exchange of these dishes and experiences for children, their parents and teachers could be a novel and natural way to let the children explore and appreciate the diversity and greater assimilation beyond the classroom interactions. This would need added efforts by teachers along with the willing and tactful involvement of parents.
These are just few dimensions in which the existing multiculturalism at school could be reworked for enabling social inclusion at the first but most significant point of social scale.
Multiculturalism has existed in our country for centuries, bestowing a unique heritage, culture, and populace. But the tide of time has swept with it many earlier notions and practices of togetherness to merely existing together. This has produced an acute sense of otherness to the linguistic and religious minorities and various ethnicities.
Fayezah Iqbal is currently pursuing Ph.D. from Patna University. She completed Masters in Spanish from JNU, New Delhi. In her research, she is interested in exploring the lesser revealed aspects of history through the lens of historical fiction that could open avenues for reconsidering and rethinking about the current politico-social narratives. She has been contributing articles regularly to magazines, both print and online.
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