Strengthening any student’s sense of belonging in an educational institute can only serve to further equip them to succeed. For indigenous cultures around the world formal education has had no place in their history. Furthermore, educational institutes were developed to give people the skills and knowledge they would need in the world. Surely, these encompass an understanding of self, heritage and environment. An inclusion of local culture and heritage is therefore, essential in any educational institute. This paper introduces several strategies educational institutes can use to respond to the cultural needs of a student.
RESPONDING TO THE CULTURAL NEEDS OF A STUDENT
Most educational institutes around the world are founded on European models. In fact, in many countries it was the settlers, or conquerors that introduced formal education. Fast forward to today and we find education focusing on trying to improve the results of indigenous students. With such a turbulent history, is it any wonder that today’s indigenous students find difficulty engaging with educational institutes that are so foreign?
In order for indigenous students to succeed within the education system it is vital that students are able to develop a sense of belonging. This is well documented *****as being an essential human need. To develop belonging a student needs to find commonalities with their own life and living situation. They need to see similarity with their own context.
The inclusion of cultural practice within the education curriculum can develop this sense of belonging. For some students it will be the sense of familiarity that they respond to, for others it will be the age-old human desire to know where they come from that will attract them. Providing the opportunity for a student to know oneself and one’s heritage will ensure that student develops a strong sense of identity, leading to greater self-confidence.
References made during lessons to culture and heritage will serve to continuously enhance a student’s sense of belonging and it will provide a deeper meaning and understanding to the lessons.
Many countries around the world have developed new education institutes to overcome this. They range from total immersion pre-school and primary schools through to charter schools which work within the educational framework of the countries education body and teach cultural practice as part of their curriculum.
The focus has been on early childhood education through to secondary level. Results are already showing the many successes of these schools. The tertiary education sector appears to be struggling to find common ground with both culture and education in education. The approach universities take is to offer a qualification in a particular (or combined) aspect of cultural practice. This approach seems to create more separatism rather than belonging. But many tertiary education institutes, particularly those who offer technical training and/or apprenticeships are doing very little in this area. It is vital that these institutes begin to include cultural practice where appropriate as this age group were educated before the introduction of total immersion and charter schools.
The following paragraphs offer some solutions for these tertiary education institutes to ensure their indigenous students are catered for with a holistic, culturally inclusive curriculum.
Start by using language as a basis. This can be as simple as learning traditional greetings, naming objects, counting and learning songs. Culture and language go hand in hand, so when teaching language you must cover many aspects of the culture. Things like regional dialect, proverbs, place names and traditional greetings can all lead to robust discussions and learning about culture.
Language also gives a common ground among students. If everyone is learning it at the same time, no one student is disadvantaged or ahead than another. Learning a language involves utilizing all of the three main learning styles; visual, audio and kinesthetic further ensuring no one student is disadvantaged.
Integrated learning or integrated studies is another great way to include culture as part of tertiary education. Integrated studies involves bringing together traditionally separate area of curriculum so that students may make the connections between subject areas and apply all areas of knowledge to the topic or problem. Integrated learning is the ability to draw on a range of skills, viewpoints, contexts, situations and apply them to the current topic or problem. A partnership between the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Association of American Colleges and Universities created a “Statement on Integrative Learning,” which points out: “Integrative learning comes in many varieties: connecting skills and knowledge from multiple sources and experiences; applying theory to practice in various settings; utilizing diverse and even contradictory points of view; and, understanding issues and positions contextually.” (Huber, 2005)
In Hawaii, while visiting a charter school, I learned how integrated learning could be used successfully with culture. The students were studying traditional gardening (culture). As part of this topic they learned about the seasons and elements (science) measurement, volume and distance (maths) and the impact of the garden on society (social studies). Come harvest time, they learned how to cook what was harvested as well as the medicinal properties of some of the plants. Students experienced a range of learning modalities and drew on many different sources of knowledge for this single topic. Judging from the level of engagement and understanding of these students, I could see the success of this approach.
Indigenous cultures from all around the world have a strong connection to the land. Place based learning offers a way to explore this connection and make learning relevant. It is particularly effective if combined with integrated learning. Place based learning takes students out of the classroom to the site of actual learning. Instead of learning about something from watching a video or looking at a book students are immersed in the situation, able to use all their senses and form their own opinions through experience. A community project is a common form of place based learning and it is gaining popularity with environmental groups and projects.
Students work collaboratively with community, organisations, local elders and businesses sharing knowledge, skills and techniques. They learn the ecology of the place and the larger systems into which it fits and through these projects help shape their future environments. The sense of belonging, community and purpose that comes from this style of learning is enormous. It also encourages students to make a difference within their own communities.
Accessing the skills and stories of the wider community can be a simple way to include culture in the curriculum. A guest speaker from a local tribe can share valuable knowledge and students benefit from the traditional learning methods of storytelling. Being able to listen to the voice of experience bring meaning and context to learning. It also provides students with new and relevant role models. If a guest speaker is a family member the student benefits further from knowing their own heritage.
Family and community involvement can help support students through the challenges of studying. Knowing they have people around them encouraging them to succeed may positively influence their study habits and behaviour.
Teaching, management and support roles filled by indigenous people will provide further role models for students. Students see teachers who look like them and sound like them and so they can relate to them. It also subconsciously tells them they can be like them. Teachers who live and breathe the culture add a tangible depth to the material when they teach traditional and culture. Those in management and support roles can ensure the support structure, strategic direction and organisational goals align with a strong cultural practice curriculum.
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