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In today’s increasingly diverse and interconnected world, intercultural competence has become an essential skill for students and educators alike. Intercultural competence refers to the ability to effectively communicate and interact with individuals from different cultures, and it encompasses a range of skills, attitudes, and knowledge.

In the classroom, developing intercultural competence is particularly important, as students come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, especially here at The Global College..

In this blog post, we talk to our IB Psychology and TOK teacher to explore what intercultural competence means in the classroom context and why it’s essential for students and educators to develop this skill.

Why is it important to encourage diversity in the classroom?

Diversity in the classroom isn’t just about students coming from different countries. There are so many more types of diversity that exist, such as learning style, cultural experiences – even with students who all come from the same country, different languages, and religions.

Encouraging diversity is important for both students and us as teachers. At the start, when we first walk into the classroom, everyone has their own experiences. It’s important to ensure every student feels comfortable in the learning environment and that teachers can adapt to every individual. The key for promoting diversity is respect. If we can encourage respect, students will be open to hearing different viewpoints and ideas and share their own experience. The classroom is then a more enriching experience and everyone benefits.

What are the types of cultural diversity that exist in the classroom?

Looking at the most obvious ones, when you go into the classroom, you can hear different languages being spoken, but there are not just visible differences.  As you walk around the school and see students working on different projects, you realise there are loads of different learning styles and approaches.

Many of the students at The Global College have lived abroad, often in many different countries, so they bring with them a wealth of experiences to contribute to the diversity of the class. Some don’t even identify with one nationality or another, but various ones.

The learning style is also a really interesting one too. I have students who prefer to express themselves verbally, others opt for more visual approaches.  As a teacher, the challenge is to present topics in a way that everyone can benefit from and makes everyone feel welcome.

What can be done to promote diversity and cultural awareness in an educational setting?

While it can be a challenge, the benefits of promoting diversity and cultural awareness far outweigh it. The first thing to do is show the students you are interested in the variety of cultures and experiences that exist in the classroom. Once they see you want to know more about who they are and how they like to learn, they’ll often respond in a positive way and feel comfortable.

In terms of presenting topics and how students respond, we have so many options available now.  When I ask questions or set tasks, students don’t need to write down the answer- they can be as creative as they like and with what they are comfortable with. Some will record a podcast, for example. Others might make a video, create via ‘acting’ etc. They key is being able to relate the content to their styles and strategies.

It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in the past couple of decades in terms of recognising different learning styles. Simply memorising the course content just doesn’t work anymore. Allowing students to feel comfortable and express themselves in their own way leads to greater achievement and satisfaction.

Why is a multicultural environment important for students?

At university and beyond, students will travel abroad and live in different countries. As a result, they’ll be exposed to a whole host of cultural experiences as they go. It’s vital, therefore, that promoting intercultural competence and awareness is done as soon as possible, and that’s why it’s key at The Global College.

There are many other reasons why a multicultural environment is important too. There are plenty of studies that show it fosters creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking. It allows you to consider things in a new light and challenge pre-existing beliefs.