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Issues Of Cultural Influences On Learning Education Essay

Inclusion and participation are essential to human dignity and to the enjoyment and exercise of human rights. In today’s diverse society, inclusion should be recognised and implemented wherever possible, especially within the field of education this is reflected in the development of strategies that seek to bring about a genuine equalisation of opportunity and children need to be educated alongside their peers. (UNESCO Salamanca statement, World Conference on Special Needs, 1994: 11). The topic chosen as the main focus of this paper is “Using Language to Include and Exclude and the Issues of Cultural Influences on Learning” and this concept will be explored in the context of a childcare centre learning environment and to discuss some of the issues encountered during my observation at Kanooka Child care centre.

Inclusion in child care services reflects the acceptance in society of the principles of social justice - that children of all ability levels and cultural and ethnic backgrounds have the same intrinsic value and are entitled to the same opportunities for participation, acceptance and belonging in child care (Pelican Chidcare Group, 2006, p. 28) In my observations, I noticed that inclusive teaching was administered during play situations, a setting in which the teacher believed has “strong cognitive and social learning potential because they provide natural opportunities for children to use language in developing an understanding about their world.” It comes as no surprise that language is a significant factor in social play scenarios in which children take on the gender roles of others. During one of the sessions that I was observing, the students were engaging in free play and there was an instance where two young girls and a boy were playing ‘shopping’, the boy was pushing around a mini shopping trolley, with a doll inside and little girl would stand next to him while the other girl was being service cashier. It is during these social play scenarios in which children take on the gender roles of others. In the context of play, language is used as children negotiate the scene and learn to cooperate with each other (Bluiette, 2009) It is the means by which children manipulate and extend the play scenarios, as well as construct gender schemes. Attending to the language children use during play may offer hope for helping children develop more androgynous ways of thinking and interacting (Frawley, 2005). Children have been shown to acquire gender knowledge and stereotypes at a young age, and teachers will have no easy task in erasing these deeply held ideas. Today’s teachers need a toolkit of effective strategies for intervening in the play of young children. During play, the teacher should help young children recognize the limitations of exclusive language and develop the skills of inclusive language considering language plays an important role in the way in which gender is represented in our society and it should be observed how a child’s use of language during play can reveal much about his or her notion of gender (Holmes & Meyerhoff, 2003, p.236). During another play session, a male student was heard saying to another female student that “only boys can play with trucks” whereby the teacher responded with, “in our classroom boys and girls can play with trucks.” It is important that teachers are attentive and listen for these uses of exclusive or inclusive language as children playfully interact with each other. This scenario illustrates the appropriate examples of inclusive language versus stereotypic language.

Another issue that will be further analysed is the issues of cultural influences on learning .Firstly, how can we define ‘culture’? Clifford Geertz (1973) has described culture as “a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitude toward life” (pg. 89). Another definition explains that culture is what peoples “must know in order to act as they do, make the things they make, and interpret their experience in the distinctive way they do” (Quinn & Holland, 1987, p.4). In these definitions, it suggests that those specific instances of behaviour that an individual displays are attributable to their cultures and that it is their understanding of a situation (based on prior experiences) that governs their understanding of what is appropriate in a given context.

Culture is the basis of what people ‘take for granted’ or what they notice about others but is largely invisible to them. The invisibility of culture in educational settings can have unintended consequences. Despite the best of intentions, teachers and students might be unaware that what they say, do or teach in the classroom could seem strange or offensive to others. Sometimes doing what seems ‘normal’ means unintentionally excluding others from participating fully. A common observation when assisting people from alternate cultures is some people’s reluctance to ask questions. There are many reasons contributing to the hesitancy to speak freely. Some people might not understand the need to ask, or may feel uncomfortable in doing so because they believe it is rude or because they lack the confidence to use English publicly. Others may have difficulty asking because in their culture they are accustomed to being told everything on a ‘need to know’ basis. They may assume they have been given all the information they require, and therefore will not ask for more. Cultures vary with regard to their tolerance of silence and where silence is appropriate in conversation. In a PEEL article by Wen Hua Chen (1999), he explores the learning behaviour of Chinese student’s and supports this idea in suggesting that attitudes to knowledge and behaviour are influenced by cultural differences. His article suggest that the most significant influence in is the nature of the education system, and the rules that have imposed by teachers within the classrooms and the method they have employed to teach students. His article points out that Chinese students’ attitude in classrooms are more passive than those displayed by Australian students, explaining that the reason for this is due to the cultural shock they experience when entering a classroom that is quite different to what they have been exposed to within their home country. Chen also makes comparisons with the students interaction in classrooms (or lactkof it) due to what they have been taught and believe to be appropriate behaviour within classrooms. Chen has suggested that the reason for Chinese student showing little participation within classroom is due to their traditions embodying different attitudes during interactions with an authority figure. Students from more formal educational cultures, where status differences related to age or educational qualifications are important, might be uncomfortable in addressing teaching staff by their given names. A compromise can be for students a teachers title and given name e.g., ‘Professor Smith’, ‘Dr White’.

Students who are non native speakers in any country can often feel excluded if the language used is foreign to them Educators need to ensure that when communicating ideas within the classroom, that they are using inclusive language, or any term used is universally understood, and that they should be taking into consideration the student’s diverse and multicultural backgrounds. Students who come from not English speaking backgrounds may not be familiar with the language or jargon that are used in certain disciplines, therefore it is vital that teachers introduce these technical terms to avoid students feeling lost or behind. This can be done by creating a chart of definitions that includes translations in languages appropriate to your staff and/or student groups. At my placement, during the children’s time for free play, the teacher would often walk around observing the learning progress of each student’s by asking students “how you doing” with their task. Some students responded with “I’m good” while others would describe what they were doing. In the example given above, some students have interpreted the teacher’s question as a greeting, which likely stems from “how are you”, while others have understood it as “what are you doing?’, these different interpretations of the teacher’s question indicates that they have not yet been exposed to the ‘variety’ of ways one can utter an interrogative question. From the example above, it is not the student’s level of competence in the English language that causes the misunderstanding, but rather the lack of background knowledge that may assist in achieving a successful communication between the participants. In this example, the teacher can avoid any misunderstand that if they intend to use Australian colloquial expressions, they should explain them.

This notion is supported in Chen’s article where he states that another key reason that affects Chinese students learning behaviour is “their ability to understand what is said to them and to be understood by those they speak to.” So therefore, in order for effective communication and interaction between students and teachers, educators need to be aware of the ‘linguistic conventions’ of the language interaction especially when participants do not share a common sociocultural background. Although it is impossible to understand every different culture’s practices and norms, having an open mind, respect and a positive regard for others is important.. As the example given above, maybe employing the conventional opener such as “what are you doing?” or “how are you?“ will achieve a clearer response. Cultures vary with regard to their tolerance of silence and where silence is appropriate in conversation. The believe that questioning or challenging an authority is incorrect conduct and impolite. In Australia, teachers are often encouraging their students to critically analyse issues, to present arguments in essays, invoke discussions among students and to “exert your influence and make a different”. Students are encouraged to ask questions and allowed to make mistakes, whereas Chinese culture does not encourage this sort of behaviour and asking questions in class is to offend the teaching method of their educator. Their tradition put a greater emphasis on similarities and does not encourage students to express their own opinions or ideas. Chen points out teachers have often questioned why Chinese students “sit there so attentively, so silently, so expectantly and so subtly apart from the rest of the class?” This issue was also addressed in EDF1304 Week 11 where the lecturer suggested that this may come from the idea that “many non-western cultures believe it is rude for students to ask questions”. As concluded in the lecture, educators need to take into account the existence of language barrier and understand that it is a common source that can greatly influence the effectiveness of classroom teaching, and the way in which learning occurs. By ensuring that the language used in the classrooms are not excluding students from different cultural backgrounds can achieve an education practice that values diversity, challenge and reject discrimination and support the democratic and equitable participation in schools and communities (Austin 1962).

Conclusion

Inclusivity in teaching methods is clearly a broad issue and we must be able to take into account not only diversity in the student body, but also the diversity in our teaching practice. Since teaching is a personal, social and continually developing profession, inclusivity must be incorporated to remain relevant to the wider society. We thereby are promoting liberal democratic values of tolerance, inclusivity and opportunity for all learners. While it is easy to agree with general principles of inclusive practice that embrace cultural diversity, knowing what to do to be ‘inclusive’ in practice can be complex. At the heart of the concept of inclusion is the requirement that attitudes and therefore practices change. Instead of expecting a student to ‘fit in’ to the usual teaching methods or routine and approaching with the notion of ‘one size fits all’, and therefore planning for diversity in teaching must also account for the reality that individuals do not all learn in the same way, and any group of students will include a variety of approaches to learning. Indeed the dilemma that arises from language barriers is complicated and causes a great deal of uneasiness in education, there is no universal solution or specific guidelines to follow when responding to ethnic, gender and cultural diversity in the classroom, However, by taking into consideration the diverse population of students, and the behaviour that is connected to their culture, educators can create a learning environment that supports and encourages positive social interaction among their students and achieve active engagement in learning. Teaching diverse learners requires monitoring student progress and responding to student input -- which might mean teaching differently, or helping students benefit from and see the value of the teaching strategies being used

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