Diversity is onething we have in common

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Diversity is inevitable, particularly as society becomes more globalised. For many years creating a diverse, inclusive environment has been the aim of many people coming from different walks of life. Globalisation affects everything about our life including the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the food we eat, the jobs we do and the environment we live in (Oxfam 2003 as cited in Inizjamed, 2007).

'One size fits all' was never the answer to the need of a quality education for all, and the wide range of diversity in schools presents both a challenge and an opportunity to all teachers. As Wiggins (1992) argues "we will not successfully restructure schools to be effective until we stop seeing diversity in students as a problem" (as cited in Villa, 2000).

Education is "the instrument both of the all-round development of the human person and of that person's participation in social life" (UNESCO, 2006). This implies that education should be conceptualised not only in a school setting, but taking in consideration both non formal and informal education. A fluid building is thus the new era, where students use the whole school as a classrom whilst teachers promote this through their curricular work (Norlund, 2003, p.5). Ferguson (1995) noted that in order to be a meaningful change there needs to be a joint effort to reinvent school to accomodate all the dimensions of the human diversity.

Keeping this idea in mind, the following literature review delves into diversity particularly focusing on academic, physical and cultural diversity. The 'EkoSkola' committee will be used as a setting to explore inclusive practices within the school community.

2.2 Inclusion and Diversity in School

An inclusive educator believes that each child has a potential to learn and make worthwhile educational progress. However, still today, one of the most difficult obstacles in society is its discriminatory attitude to the education and learning of diverse students (UNESCO, 2005). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF, 1989) stresses the right of education for students by stating that "the education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential" (p.9)

Along the years a number of initiatives stressed and tried to respond to the need for a quality education for all children. The 'Education for All' (EFA) movement was created in the 1990s around a set of international policies, mainly coordinated by UNESCO (1990), focusing on increasing access to, and participation within education across the world. It was given impetus by two major international conferences held in Jomtien in 1990, and Dakar in 2000 (Ainscow, Booth & Tyson, 2006). According to Booth and Ainscow (2000) inclusion involves viewing difference in the students as a resource to help teachers support learning, rather than being a problem that needs to be overcome.

Furthermore, The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on special needs education adopted in Spain in 1994 puts forward the fundamental right of education for all students. "Every child has a fundamental right to education, and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning" (p.3) and, "every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs." (UNESCO, 1994, p.3). Changes put forward to create an inclusive environment will not merely benefit those children that are marginalised but all children, parents and to a larger extent the outer community ( Bangkok, 2004), yet still one of the greatest challenges in inclusion is the merging of special education students in mainstream classes (Booth & Ainscow 1998).

The Salamanca Conference, (UNESCO Bangkok, 1994) proposed the start of a policy or law document regarding effective inclusive measures for all children to succeed. This meant a change in the mentality and everyday routine especially in schools. In order to do this, the engagement of local entities including a number of NGO's is needed.

Amongst the many important points that emerged during the conference, the need for teacher training was emphasized. If teachers are to cater for diversity in their classroom, then they need to be given the tools and skills to use in class to create a serene and welcoming environment for all students to succeed. The Treaty of Maastricht (1993) also stressed the celebration of diversity in the EU, in fact Article 128 states that the community is to contribute to the working together of the states that are members, while respecting their original nationality and regional diversities.

The local National Minimum Curriculum: Creating the Future Together (Ministry of Education, Malta, 1999) is focused on the inclusion of all students to succeed in school. In particular Principle 2: Respect for Diversity discusses the fact that diversity should not only be recognised but celebrated. Students from all walks of life should feel welcome and catered for if we want to use the full potential of all the students.

Through the years a number of other policy documents have been issued by the Ministry of Education to further enhance inclusion in schools. The Creating Inclusive Schools (Ministry of Education, 2002) and furthermore the Implementation Plan for this policy designed by the National Curriculum Council ( NCC, 2002), both give concrete guidelines for the inclusive measures that need to be operating in the schools.

This document, looks at a holistic approach and discusses three major inclusive dimensions, namely school cultures, policies and practices (Booth and Ainscow, 2002 ). This implies that inclusion needs to be present at all levels of education, at managerial level but also at classroom level. However, presently we are faced with two contrasting situations that are still causing discriminations in our educational system. On the positive note there are a number of policy documents that favour inclusive and respect all childrens' diversity while at the same time we continue to witness several instances of school exclusion and failure by a substantial number of children in Europe (EC, 2011).

This poses the question whether theory and practice are truly working together and whether the educational system is trying as much as possible to provide a quality education for all students. The next sections will focus on academic, cultural and physical diversity in the school. Even though diversity implies much more for the purpose of the research these three will be the major focus.

2.2.1 Academic Diversity

Schools are institutions that unfortunately tend to target a stereotypic learning style that disadvantages students at boths ends of the ability spectrum. Nodding (1992) points out that unfortunately students are forced to study a particular narrow predifned curriculum that many times has no relation to their everyday life. Mainstream curricula focus on the average ability students, leading to low achievers and gifted students struggling in the classroom.

"Of the seven different ways we learn, schools focus on only two. Add the other five, and you increase the chances of success" (Campbell B., 1991, p. 12).

Gardner(1983), came up with the theory of multiple intelligences that claims that there is not just one intelligence, but a variety of intelligences varying in degree from one person and another. Gardner maintained that an I.Q test is not adequate in testing intelligence and proposed a set of multiple intelligences indicating the way students learn. These included the following categories: linguistic intelligence, ; logical-mathematical intelligence, ; spatial intelligence, ; bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, ; musical intelligence, ; interpersonal intelligence, ; intrapersonal intelligence; and naturalist intelligence. Campbell (1991) implies that in order for all students to be engaged there is a need for a change in lesson structure. However, many times, the rigid school system does not allow for students to fully use their multiple intelligences. That is why extra curricular activities, such as drama and sports are very important because they present students with an opportunity to express talents besides academic ones.

Another point that emerges from Gardner's multiple intelligence theory is that differentiated teaching and the use of different resources are of utmost importance if we want to engage all students in the classroom. Lessons need to be varied in such a way that students with different learning patterns can be motivated in one part or another of the lesson. It is up to the teacher to be creative and innovative and come up with ways of teaching that help all students be engaged with the lesson and understand the concepts being portrayed.

Another issue that has emerged recently is the idea of emotional intelligence and its role in the school routine. Salovey and Mayer have been the leading researchers on emotional intelligence since 1990. They define emotional intelligence as "the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions" (p.5)

Goleman (1996), identifies five domains in emotional intelligence

• Knowing your emotions.

• Managing your own emotions.

• Motivating yourself

• Recognising and understanding other people's emotions.

• Managing relationships

Many times academic ability discussions focus on how to include the low achievers and fortunately with new policies, the introduction of learning support assistants, Individual Educational Plans and much more, students are in fact being catered for in the mainstream school. However, no policies in Malta are available about gifted students, who unfortunately are, many times, not taken into account when talking about inclusion. Creativity, since the work of Guilford (1950 as cited in Eyre, 2000), has been seen by many psychologists as an essential aspect of giftedness. It is the component which differentiates between those who do well and those who do brilliantly. Unfortunately many times these students are not adequately catered for making them disaffectionate and unmotivated at school. Teachers should be equipped with the required knowledge to consider new possibilities and resources for reaching all students in the classroom (Ainscow, 1995) as more able students require planning and greater differentiation in the classroom.

Able pupils often glimpse an idea beyond what is being addressed in class, but need a little help or, as Vygotsy would term it "scaffolding" to enable them to move forward in their thinking. (as cited in Eyre, 2000). Scaffolding is a term associated with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978) whose major tenant is that teachers should facilitate knowledge and help students achieve the cognitive tasks that they can only do with help. This has been defined as the zone of proximal development, that is the skills students are able to aquire with help from their teachers. Teaching should be regarded as a two way process where students enrich the learning experience with their questions and innovative ideas and teachers can facilitate learning tasks that are attainable by students with guided help.

Ultimately, the use of differentiated teaching aids cooperative work in heterogenous small groups and individual instruction and gives the opportunity to teachers to create student centred learning experiences that focus on content, process and product. Moreover it provides an ongoing authentic assesment of students' skills, interests and learning styles (Tomlinson, 2005 as cited in Carpini & Delli & Carpini, 2006).

2.2.2 Cultural Diversity

'In a society that is increasingly becoming multi-cultural, the educational system should enable students to develop a sense of respect, co-operation, and solidarity among cultures' (Inizjamed, 2007).

Cultural diversity is a driving force of development, not only in respect of economic growth, but also as a means of leading a more fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life. ( UNESCO, 2010). Cultural diversity does not only encompass those individuals whose ethnic or cultural heritage originates in another country, but also those who have been socialised by different groups or else that have special educational and different learning styles. "These demographic, social, and economic trends have important implications for education" (Banks & Banks 2001) . Every aspect of their life affects how they learn and the way they will relate to their school life. Many children bring to school not only language, but also cultural ways of using language that differ from those of mainstream school culture (Heat, 1983; Zentella 1997 as cited in Bartolo et al, 2007).

If we still had to believe in a mono cultural society then we would be forcing conformity to standard and thus denying the right for diversity. It is internationally recognised that when children experience a clash of home and school cultures, there is a great danger of discrimination (Bartolo et al, 2007). Everyone needs to be treated equally irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. Cross cultural management means that boys and girls can become the bridge between their different cultures for the present and future generations. Despite the steadily increasing number of culturally and linguistically diverse student population in schools, not all teacher education programs (TEP's) readily embrace multicultural education or culturally responsive teacher education pedagogy. (Gay, 2002 as cited in Kea, Whatley & Richards, 2006). As Bandura proposes in his Social Learning Theory, personal and meaningful behaviour of individuals change through socialisation. If children are exposed to different cultures from a young age, then it would not look so strange and they can learn to accept it even if mabe they do not agree with, leading to an enriching experience.

In cross cultural communication we understand that we have are currently faced with a manifestation of interculturality. Maalouf (2009 ) states "language has the capacity to remain the pillar of cultural identity". Language has always been the prime way of communication even in olden days. It is extremely important to decode the words, or no words said by different people in relation to their culture because these could mean the exact opposite. Even though there are a number of definitions and perspectives of cross cultural communication this needs to be considered as something dynamic, constantly changing, and so cannot be confined within boundaries.

Locally, a National Cultural Policy was drafted in 2010. The three main principles that the policy is drafted upon are:

-The empowerment of the public to participate in cultural activities.

-Enabling relationships among all stakeholders.

-Knowledge building and sharing through dissemination of best practices and reliable and valid information (Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport, 2010).

Also, the Steering Committee on Education (CD-ED) in 2002 was set up in order to make inter culture a major focus of the Council of Europe's development.

The project aims to raise awareness of decision-makers, educators and teachers about the implications of the religious dimension of intercultural education. It also seeks to draw their attention to examples of positive experiences and of new methods and approaches in intercultural education in general, in both curricular and extra-curricular activities. Thus the project will be innovative in its theory, yet with a practical hands-on approach.

In 2004, the project has become part of the programme "Building Stable and Cohesive Societies" of the Intergovernmental Programme of activities. (Council of Europe, 2004)

Amongst the many points that emerge in this document, there are a few which are quite relevant to schools. The first is the need to rethink the link between the role of education and the performance of culture. In fact the policy stresses the need to establish a formal educational setup aimed at tackling the lifelong learning needs of tomorrow's cultural and creative professionals. The policy also highlights the benefit of diversity and how cultural diversity can be an asset in the educational sector and thus be considered as a way of further promoting inclusion at all levels in school.

A cross cultural management system needs to be set up to grant students the source for a right, equal and participatory school life, where the aim of the school is to preserve the students' cultural identity. These actions need to be an on-going process and not just done once on rare occasions, the whole school and outer community needs to be involved and a detailed plan on how to go about it should be implemented with the help of everyone involved.

2.2.3 Physical Diversity

"Persons with disability are individuals who have some form of physical, psychological, intellectual, hearing, or visual impairment, and who on account of society not catering for their different needs, tend to experience socially constructed barriers which prevent them from enjoying equal opportunities with other, non-disabled citizens." (KNPD, 2000).

One way to look at impairment keeping the diverist perspective in mind is to regard the teacher as a tool to overcome barriers that are hindering their learning (Bartolo et al, 2007). If a student has a visual impairment then the teaching and learning has to be adapted to overcome the barrier of lack of vision by providing alternative ways of communication such as auditory or tactile media. However, teachers still have a responsibility for ensuring that they are making the accommodations and adaptations necessary to overcome different barriers to learning ( Smith et al , 2004 as cited in Bartolo et al, 2007).

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (UN, 2006) was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on 30 March 2007. This conference sets a new era, a paradigm shift in attitudes and approaches towards persons with a disability. It puts forward the idea that everyone has equal rights, and persons with a disability are capable of claiming these rights and making decision for their lives. Schools being an important part of the life of every individual are the first institutions that should offer an inclusive environment and to do so a change in mentality is requried (KNPD, 2000, p.3).

Physical disability may or may not affect a child's academic performance. Therefore, although no curriculum adaptations may be needed, there might be the need to modify performance requirements or implement adaptations to allow the student access to instructional materials. Children who are absent from school because of their medical conditions may require specific arrangements to their curricular work to accomodate for his particular needs. (Belson, n.d.).

Moreoever, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 1997 and amendments in 2004, stress that students with physical disabilities may qualify for special education services. When it comes to physical diversities, there needs to be a change both in the physical structure of the school as well as the lessons and activities. Different students will have individual needs and thus will need to be catered at in the best way possible. These include the following recommendations that were issued by the IDEA in 1997:

- Creating accessible learning environments for all students.

- Using assistive technology to help implement the lessons and make sure that all students are engaged during the lesson.

- Giving adequate training to teachers to be aware of new ideas that can be done to help implement inclusion of all students.

- Having a resource room in the school to be used when needed by students and teachers in the school.

- All statemented students should have an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) and this IEP needs to be implemented and not just written on paper.

Grangreco (2007), as cited in Bartolo et al (2007) suggested two main ways in which the curriculum can be adapted to facilitate the participation of students with significant disabilities. He expressed the idea of using multi level curricula where students share an activity while working towards outcomes within the same curriculum. Another issue that he pointed out was the overlapping curricula when students with disability and non-disability can participate in an activity together but the pursue learning outcomes from different curriculum areas including a number of non academic social skills.

2.3 Holistic Education as the way forward towards inclusion

Holistic education is based on the premise that every person finds his own identity and meaning to life through the interaction he or she makes with the outer community (Paths of Learning, 2011). Inclusion does not only entail including students in the mainstream classroom, but it also includes including students in all aspects of the school routine. The hidden curriculum provides an important opportunity for students to come in contact with different aspects that will surely be useful in their future lives. Holistic education has been linked also to the wider concerns with environmental and peace education. (Bartolo et al, 2007). Holistic education raises the big unending debates on the wider aims of education.

2.3.1 Eko Skola as part of the school routine

Environmental education and sustainable development should be at the top of the school agenda. Students are the future generation, the ones that will be responsible to help put forward sustainable practices. For this reason, many schools are now enrolling in EkoSkola as a way of promoting a whole school approach towards environmental education. The particular school where the research is set, is very active in 'EkoSkola' carrying out a number of initiatives and activities to promote environmental education and instill a sense of ownership to the students in the school.

'EkoSkola' is a committee organisation aimed at promoting environmental education and sustainable development in schools. Its main focus is student participation; in fact the committee is led by students who are elected by a democratic election. 'EkoSkola' was launched as a pilot project in the year 2002-2003. 'EkoSkola' is a whole school approach plan to environmental education that tries to weave the principles of environmental education with the school's policy. The 'EkoSkola' committee empowers individuals with the responsibility and the opportunities to bring about change ('EkoSkola' committee, n.d) . Participation and giving students the opportunity to put forward their ideas are an essential part of becoming a sustainable school, as well as a wa of reflecting values of inclusion, diversity, identity, equality, participation and rights (Humanities Education Centre, 2009) .

'EkoSkola' was launched in Malta in 2002, and is "proving its worth in providing students with the means for a holistic education that is not focused solely on the acquisition of knowledge, but on developing the whole person" (Inizjamed, 2007).

The 'EkoSkola' committee is responsible for the implementation of a 7 -step process towards achieving sustainability through a whole school approach. If successful in its endeavour, the school receives the Green fFlag - a prestigious international reward for quality.

The 7 steps are the following:

•The setting up of an EkoSkola Eco committee

•Environmental review

•Action plan

•Monitoring and evaluation

•Curricular work

•Informing and involving

•Eco code

All these steps follow each other and have to be carried out by the students within the committee. Teachers are only supervisors and should not impose decisions. Students need to discuss and come up with ideas that will later be shared to with the rest of the group.

2.3.2 Eko Skola as a committee setting

The aim of the study will be to focus on the effect that participating in the committee has on students. 'EkoSkola' has been found to help foster a sense of pride and ownership in all members that participate. Students are empowered to become responsible citizen and portray sustainable practices within the school and the outer community. Sustainable development is about looking after ourselves without damaging the earth in order to have a better world for future generations . ( Mater Bon Consilii School, 2008). No local policy document regulates the committee, however the school council legislation document can be of help as guidelines for the committee setup. It indicates the outer entities that can be involved for help, time frames, different roles essential for the smooth running of the committee and information regarding the decision making process amongst others. (School Council Legislation).

2.4 'EkoSkola' and its role in inclusion

One of the major strong points of 'EkoSkola' is that it is not an invasive programme imposing activities and structures. On the contrary, 'EkoSkola' can fit easily within the normal routine of the school helping in its development (Pace, 2007, Times of Malta) 'EkoSkola' infact provides an opportunity to implement Local Agenda 21. It increases awareness and commitment amongst schools and students (George Pullicino as cited in Inizjamed 2007). This research will focus on the role of the committee in inclusion and diversity. The research will shed light on whether the committee is helping, hindering or having no effect in the inclusion of students.

Out of class activities including extracurricular activities are initiatives which fulfill both the curricular programm but also acts as a way of socialising whilst working towards the same goal (Holland & Andre, 1987 as cited in Brown, n.d.).

Music, parental involvement and sports all have an influence on how children perform academically. The way children choose to spend their out of classroom time can have an affect on their school (Fujita, 2005). A considerable amount of research has examined the benefits of youth participation in extracurricular activities. Research (as cited in Brown, n.d.) has found that youth who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to:

• Have better grades (Marsh, 1992);

• Have higher standardized test scores (Gerber, 1996);

• Have higher educational attainment (Hanks & Eckland, 1976);

• Attend school more regularly (Mahoney & Cairns, 1997);

• Have higher self-concepts (Marsh, 1992)

(Brown, University of Nevada, n.d.)

Further research implies that youths who participate in activities learn important skills which help them in other aspects of their life, for example, teamwork, or leadership skills (Holland & Andre, 1987). Others have argued that just spending time participating in an extracurricular activity decreases the opportunity for a youth to be involved with problem behaviours (Carnegie, 1992, as cited in Brown, University of Nevada, n.d.).

For the purpose of the study academic, cultural and physical diversities will be taken in consideration knowing that they are not the only diversities found in a school, however in the particular school the researcher felt they were the three most important aspects that could be discussed.

2.4.1 Skills aquired in the committee

Even though the main aim behind the 'EkoSkola' programme is creating a sustainable environment, a number of hidden skills can be aquired in the process. Burgees (2011) mentions a number of skills that can be aquired through the participation in committee including:

Learning time management and prioritizing.

Getting involved in diverse activities.

Learning about long term commitments.

Making a contribution to the outer community.

Raising ones' self esteem.

Building solid relationships.

School leaving certificate.

(Burgess, 2011)

Within the committee, students increase their sense of responsability in the school community where other people's opinion are valued greatly (Sheffield City Council, 2011). Mosborough Primary school students participating in 'EkoSkola' were seen to have an improved behaviour as they developed an increased sense of belonging and pride in their school and local community. It was also seen to be providing an opportunity to use real local issues in order to carry out thematic teaching, increasing the level of student engagement during the lessons.

2.5 Parental Involvement

"In this complex world, it takes more than a good school to educate children. And it takes more than a good home. It takes these two major educational institutions working together." (Rich, D. as cited in University of Illinois)

The link between the school and the home is essential for students. It helps students adjust to the school environment and be less confused. Research relates, positive student achievement to parental involvement and participation in their children's education in a variety of ways both at home and in school. Activities could include simple tasks like superivising and monitoring homework, promoting school attendance and encouraging extra curricular involvement (Leah, n.d.). Parents could also be invited to volunteer in helping with these activities and outings.

When parents do not participate it could be the result of a number of external factors to them. These barriers need to be considered and overcome if schools are to promote parent participation including feeling unwelcome, not knowing how to contribute, having a low educational level and others ( Leah, n.d.).

Research also suggests students with parents who are involved in their school tend to have fewer behavioral problems and better academic performance, and are more likely to complete secondary school than students whose parents are not involved in their school.

2.6 Staff Involvement

A student who feels percieves the classroom as a serene environment will strive to work hard at school (Voekl, 1995). Building a serene and welcoming environment in the classroom is essential for student engagement as it increases participation in classroom activities.

Research indicates that academic achievement and students' behaviour are correlated with the quality of the teacher student relatioship. Davidson and Lang (1960 as cited in Killen 1998) reported that students who had a good relationship with their teachers had higher academic achievemnt and more producctive behaviour. Similarly, Morrison and Mc Intyre (1969 as cited in Killen 1998) reported "that 73 percent of the students in their study who were low achieving perceived their teachers as thinking poorly of them, but only 10 percent of high achievers held such beliefs."

In order to build this welcoming environment, student and teacher relationship needs to be nurtured holistically, looking at the student as a whole.

3. Conclusion

Changes in the educational system have been made through the years, school are becoming more heterogonous and this led to the creation of new policies to safeguard all the students in the school. However, the big question is, if is enough? Is theory being put into practice?

Even though so many changes have been done are they providing a serene and welcoming environment for all students to succeed and use their potential to the full.

The questions that will serve as guiding threads in the research include the following:

Is participating in the EkoSkola committee empowering students in their everyday life? To what extent?

Is there a relationship between participation in the committee and student diversity?

How does participation in the committee affect teacher - student, and parent - student relationship?