Schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, religion or culture. Classrooms are therefore more diverse, which has often been perceived as benefiting all students. However, classroom diversity can also raise several challenging issues within the classroom and create cultural barriers or learning disadvantages.
Cultural Awareness (Positive)
Students who learn in a diverse classroom are exposed to a variety of cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds and even sexual orientation. This can be a learning experiencing in itself, providing students with the opportunity to integrate and become more aware of other cultures. Cultural awareness can discourage negative attitudes (such as racism or sexism) as students will eventually become comfortable with each other despite their differences. Awareness also provides students with the knowledge to respect and show sensitivity to another culture.
Tolerance and Acceptance (Positive)
Students may initially feel uncomfortable when faced with a diverse student body on a daily basis. However, this discomfort often passes with time and students learn to work within a diverse classroom, helping them become tolerant, understand and accept other students despite differences. Classroom activities often require students to work in teams or groups and, in order to successfully complete a task, students must overcome all differences and value their team.
Knowledge of Language and Culture (Positive)
Students are faced with a diverse classroom on a daily basis and are learning about different cultures constantly. Curious students may ask questions to other students, perhaps about their religion or background, and may be encouraged to learn another language that interests them. Students form friendships within a diverse classroom and share their knowledge of their own culture with each other, adding an insight that textbooks cannot provide for students.
Cultural Identity (Negative)
Lessons often try to incorporate student culture at every given opportunity. However, if students from another country or with a rich cultural background are taught in another society or language, issues or subjects may not relate to them at all, particularly subjects such as history or social studies which mainly focus on the country the subject is taught in. When students are faced with lessons that are heavily focused on a foreign culture, they may lose their own sense of cultural identity, or feel isolated from their teaching environment as it does not relate to them.
Social Groups and Social Alienation (Negatives)
Social groups are formed on the basis of beliefs, values and common interests. Although students may integrate with each other, it is not uncommon for groups to be formed on the basis of similarities (i.e., religion, race or gender). This can be a particular problem for minority groups within a classroom, who may feel isolated from other students who form social groups based on similarities. When social groups are formed tensions can arise in the classroom, discouraging awareness and tolerance towards others.
Teaching Standards and Teacher Bias
Teaching methods are designed to reach all students in the classroom and deliver the same standards of education. However, this may not be achievable with a largely diverse classroom; a teacher may find it difficult to plan a lesson that relates to different cultures (as they may be faced with language barriers), different learning abilities or different religions. Lessons may unintentionally be insensitive towards a particular student or student group, and teachers may become unintentionally biased towards a particular group of students. Language barriers or learning difficulties can provoke stereotypes and create biased assumptions in teachers, such as believing a student to be less academically able if language is not as fluent as other students due to cultural differences.
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