We are very fortunate to have students from all over the world at GEMS World Academy (Singapore). We spoke to Vanessa Samuel, Primary Years Counsellor to find out why cultural awareness is important and how do we celebrate the diversity of our community.
At GEMS (Singapore), our student population comprises of 72 vibrant nationalities with no one dominant culture or background. When we often speak of culture in a school context, we often use terms ‘cultural’ and ‘linguistic diversity’. As educational practitioners, our daily lives revolve around working with children from various cultural backgrounds. Our aim is not only to provide students with a well-rounded education; we also strive to develop and nurture their intercultural understanding and respect for cultural diversity. With great pride, we can say that GEMS is a “melting pot of cultures” and we have developed a fascinating intercultural understanding within the school community.
The differences between the meaning of the words “intercultural” and “multicultural” are well explained as multicultural education uses learning about other cultures to produce acceptance, or at least tolerance, of these cultures. Intercultural education aims to go beyond passive coexistence, to achieve a developing and sustainable way of living together in multicultural societies through the creation of an understanding of, respect for and dialogue between the different cultural groups.
So how did we get here?
"We have several great examples of intercultural education with the many different cultural events that come to life in the form of celebration of festivals, Language and Cultural Week celebrations, and many others," says Vanessa. "Language and Cultural Week is one of our favourite and exciting events of the year. This is the time of the year when we all dress up in our national costumes (or national costumes we like), share our traditions and celebrate our diversity. It is an unforgettable experience and a great delight to watch our students share their languages, express their thoughts, talk about their cultural values and beliefs. As part of the Language and Cultural Week celebrations, we have had a chance to celebrate the Diwali Festival of Lights, and dress up in traditional Indian clothes. The school was decorated with colourful displays. Every class decorated their classroom and created beautiful rangoli displays exemplifying awareness and recognition of the nuances of another culture."
Why is it so important?
Developing cultural awareness is essential; however, cultural humility is a lifelong process of self-reflection. Cultural humility encourages a respectful attitude toward individuals of other cultures. It pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases, realize their own limitations about cultural knowledge, and look at cultural learning as a lifelong goal and process.
We genuinely believe that intercultural education develops the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need for securing a world which is more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable.