Literature Review - Multicultural Barriers

The difficulties we initially face when we consider any scenario involving Multicultural learning partially come about due to the fact that no one can enter into a scenario without also being part of a culture themselves (Whitfield, Klug and Whitney, 2007). This means that even in culture will commonalities, there is a potential for misunderstanding because of assumptions and minor cultural differences. Guirdham explains these assumptions and differences can be related to the factors that provide meaning to a communication.
In high- context cultures (HCCs), people rely heavily on the overall situation to interpret messages and so the messages which are explicitly spoken can be elliptical; in low-context cultures (LCCs) people rely more on the explicit verbal content of messages (Guirdham, 1999).

As with personal assumptions, assumptions about other cultures or stereotyping can be a barrier to the multicultural learning environment. Yet it can also be a tool for taking a generalised approach in how a teacher can communicate to an individual in a group. Stereotyping is just another word for overgeneralization (Scollon and Scollon, 2001), Scollon and Scollon argue that the difference is that stereotyping carries with it and ideological position, this is to say that they are not only used to apply to the group but are also taken to have some exaggerated negative or positive value. The negative aspect they go on to explain is that stereotyping limits understanding of human behaviour and intercultural discourse because they limit the view of the individuals in a group to one or two significant dimensions. Scollon and Scollon describe this in relation to communication stating that there is a risk to status and esteem of both people involved in any scenario. Guirdham relates to this in his research regarding discrimination in a similar light to the negative aspects of stereotyping and in losing face stated by Scollon and Scollon. Guirdham comments that this behaviour creates a barrier to communication with not only with the victims but to all individuals who observe and condemn it (Guirdham, 1999). Some educators may choose to identify these biases as a starting point however and use them to create a more justice orientated thinking as the expectation of discrimination is already there with the teacher (Miretzky, 2010). Does this in itself create a stereotype thought, as on one side the teacher may be being prepared to deal with discrimination yet in preparing for it has set precedence for it to exist?

In a study by Molesevich and Stefanou in 2010 on the perspective of a group of Spanish-speaking students and how their cultural relationships with school personnel, affected their attitudes and insights about education. Eight Hispanic high school students were participants in a qualitative research where they answered questions about their educational experiences, specifically their relationships with teachers and educational support resources, educational opportunities, and degree of cultural awareness at school (Molesevich and Stefanou, 2010). This a particularly relevant example as due to the select criteria needed a small sample size is used in the research, this is similar to the needs of our research as we will be looking at subject matter experts and a potentially small sample size. The study recognises the limitation of the small sample size group however and explains that further analysis and research may resolve further or even different data.

In identifying the barriers Whitfield, Klug and Whitney in their research that there may be a disconnect between the cultural values and identities of the teacher and those of the class. The research states that the challenge for educators, particularly in western nations, is to understand the complexity of educational dynamics in multicultural classrooms, to examine their own experiences with multicultural groups especially regarding culture, race, ethnicity and social class (Whitfield, Klug and Whitney, 2007). Although this study is aimed at understanding and developing interpersonal communication skills the focus is more on identifying cultural mismatches between student and teacher rather than overcoming them. The most notable aspect of this study however is the noted tendency towards favourable attitudes about diversity yet an unfavourable view towards needing to meet a student’s unique needs. This view can lead to a contrast between willingness for a multicultural learning scenario but a lack of desire to cater to each individual in the class which relates back to the multicultural definitions of acceptance of culture being the basis of the multicultural learning scenario.

In identifying the barriers to education though we need to consider the possibility that some differences may be irreconcilable. Whitfield, Klug and Whitney consider that there may be a lack of willingness or even ability on the part of the teacher to cater to each individual student in a learning scenario. In Ramaekers’ article in on multicultural education he clearly states that it is a case that some differences are irreconcilable, but claims the challenge for a curriculum in multicultural education is to give the other culture a place without placing it (Ramaekers, 2010). Again this provides the view that it is not necessarily about catering or adjusting a teachers approach to the class but rather that it is best to accept the variety of cultures and understand the constraints and limits of teachers own cultural background in a classroom setting.

This is further supported but the research of Schwieger, Gros & Barberan who refer to the current multicultural scenarios for learning as a marketplace of both contrasting and coexisting ideas and cultures (Schwieger, Gros & Barberan, 2010). They go on to say that this change is in both educator and learner, and will allow educational institutions to become forums where remarkable ideas emerge and intersect from the variety or approaches from the participants if individuality is encouraged. The concern initially was that all with a mono-cultural background that it could be a hindrance and even a source of insecurity in delivery of the training yet in practice it was found to be an invaluable component in creating an interactive, learning experience for both educator and learner. This has been identified by other studies as a benefit especially in the question and answer format in a classroom to promote communication and discussion (Gagliardi, 1996).

An article by Parrish and Linder-VanBerschot presents cultural differences in the cultural dimensions of learning framework, which goes about describing a set of eight cultural parameters regarding social relationships, epistemological beliefs and temporal perceptions, illustrating their variability as they might be exhibited in educational scenarios (Parrish, Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). While no attempt is made in the article to classify cultures according to these dimensions they do provide substantial demonstration of how specific national and regional cultures vary.

In single cross-cultural instances, in which instruction is being designed for a culturally homogeneous set of students but from a culture different than that of the instructional provider, accommodation should include as much adaptation as possible based on the cultural analysis, without compromising the fidelity of the content and underlying necessary instructional principles (Parrish, Linder- VanBerschot, 2010).
The article instead chooses to stress the spectrums of variability rather than the generalized differences between cultures. The focus of the article is to consider accommodation as a means to reach the class on a common ground and even go so far as to say that the offering of alternatives is perceived primarily to be the best method of accommodation of a multicultural group.

What we can see from the current literature is that the culture that can impact the training is not just that of the participants themselves, but of the trainer too. Stereotyping can work both ways and is not necessarily a negative aspect to be involved in training if appropriately used. They can in fact bring a closer relationship and understanding between student and teacher. The important element to consider is that they should not be used in a negative light with negative connotations as this can reflect badly on both the individual targeted and the trainer themselves. When we consider the barriers to multicultural training we need to look at both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.