Recognized equality and diversity are principles of intercultural education

Opinion | by Edwin Hoffman

February 8, 2022 † Edwin Hoffman responds to a ScienceGuide article on fear of speaking among students of a collectivist culture. “Such an approach to cultural differences is cultural and misleading because it generalizes and stereotypes,” he writes. He then explains how inclusive intercultural education can be designed towards recognized equality and recognized diversity. Here, teachers play an important role.

“A person’s culture of origin cannot be the frame of reference for the interpretation of a person’s behaviors and beliefs,” writes Edwin Hoffman. Photo: Maastricht University.

“Teachers should take into account the fear of speaking to students from collectivist culture,” ScienceGuide reported. As if it were a special discovery, the article mentions a Japanese study with an outdated, useless result. It has long been known that students – regardless of background – have a fear of speaking when they have to speak in a foreign language. Teachers, even from an individualistic culture, can also know this about themselves when speaking a foreign language in a group.

So nothing special, except that the Japanese researchers have now discovered that the fear of speaking in public mainly affects students from a collectivist culture, where community and harmony play a big role, people avoid conflicts and confrontations, do not express themselves in a group and education. thus takes place in an environment of silence. In an individualistic culture, on the other hand, the person as a unique individual is central, teachers encourage students to make themselves heard and confrontation and open discussion of conflicts promotes students’ learning. Conclusion: teachers from an individualistic culture should take into account the fear of talking about students from collectivist cultures, ie the national cultures of countries that score low on one of Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, namely individualism.


Such an approach to cultural differences is cultural and misleading because it generalizes and stereotypes. Students are reduced to their national-cultural identity, and the reason for the differences that arise can only be found in their culture of origin. Other factors that may play a role are not considered. For example, teachers see the students as directly and exclusively as Japanese, who are afraid to speak English because of their collectivist culture of origin. This leads to shyness towards action among teachers who wonder, ‘What can I do if it’s culture?’

The following case description of a mentor meeting is an example of such culturalization. The teacher focuses on the person’s national cultural identity (disregards, among other things, being a student, being a woman, being physically limited, age). The cause of the problem is sought immediately and only in the student’s culture of origin, thus giving her a justification for her position that – it seems; read her relief – can not and need not change. Eventually, the teacher generalizes the problem to all foreign students and thus faces a major dilemma.

Case description and learning questions from a teacher to a workshop Intercultural communication:

‘A Chinese student is in our second year of Human Resource Management. She has a mild physical disability. The student has a problem with self-assertion: she is quiet and withdrawn in class, has difficulty participating in discussions, expressing her opinion, and questioning fellow students. She’s not happy about this. I talked to her about it and asked if the lack of self-confidence has anything to do with her cultural background. The student answered in the affirmative and relieved. She added that it is impossible for her to be confident at home. Now I am faced with a dilemma: on the one hand, we find self-confidence important in education, on the other hand, self-confidence comes into conflict with this student’s culture and perhaps with all other foreign students. How can I solve this dilemma? ‘

Multi-collectivity, multiculturalism and multiple identities

Culturalization inhibits open communication between teachers and students. A person’s culture of origin cannot be a frame of reference for the interpretation of a person’s behavior and views. Nor can people be reduced to their national identity. Every person is part of many social groups or collectives, each of which is to a greater or lesser degree characterized by a culture. Culture here is the meaning of a collective’s habits: behavioral repertoire, language, knowledge, rituals, traditions, values ​​and norms. Think of families, generations, religious groups, regions, cities, cities, online communities and educational institutions – all with their own culture.

So there is not only a national culture; there are as many cultures as there are collectives. A person can derive an identity from any collective. Each person is thus characterized by multi-collectivity, multiculturalism and a multiple identity. For example, someone identifies as a woman, student, mother, believer, daughter, partner, influencer, and vegetarian. Above all, it is important to realize that people process the cultural offerings in their lives in their own individual way. It is true that it is possible from the collectives to which people belong to deduce what cultural habits, behaviors and ways of thinking they may be familiar with, but what someone makes out of it, what ideas, views and practices the person himself gets out of of the. , remains completely open (Rathje 2009: 12).

Kreps and Kunimoto sum it up nicely:Each individual is composed of a unique combination of different cultural orientations and influences, and each person belongs to many different cultural groups. It is important that we recognize the influence of many cultures on our lives. Based on our heritage and life experiences, we each develop our own idiosyncratic multicultural identity† (1994: 3)

An inclusive approach

Due to each person’s multi-collectivity, multiculturalism and multiple identity, cultural differences can arise in any communication – as well as in communication with someone from one’s own group (countrymen, family, group of friends, etc.). Cultural differences are not limited to communication with people of different origins. This consciousness normalizes communication with people of different origins; it makes it inclusive in a ‘normal’ interpersonal communication, in meetings between unique people. †Not cultures, but people meet(Hoffman & Verdooren, 2018).

An inclusive approach is based on two principles: recognized equality and recognized diversity. Recognized gender equality in higher education means that every student – regardless of background – is primarily seen and addressed as a student (and not as a foreigner, Japanese, Indo, Muslim, etc.). Recognized diversity means that one always takes as a starting point the students’ unique personal significance. Not by asking ‘How is your culture?’ or ‘How are you?’, but ‘What does it mean? you? ‘,’ How are you used to it? ‘,’ How do you see this problem? ‘,’ What is important to you? ‘ The latter questions are also useful when students cultivate themselves and say “This is how it is with us”, “In Japan we do it that way”, “This is my culture, my religion”; as well as the questions: ‘Help me understand what you mean by that’ or ‘What do you think about it?’

It also means that students and teachers cannot pretend that it is not them but ‘culture or’ religion ‘that are actors and responsible. All people have the universal capacity to be critical and judgmental of and distance themselves from the collectives and cultures to which they belong (Mecheril 2008: 31). People may still need to (further) develop this capacity and receive support in doing so, but at least they are not a conscious instrument of their cultures. Students are personally responsible, and they are responsible for their behavior and opinions, even when arguing for them in relation to their culture or religion. Teachers on their part let themselves be prosecuted by students and reflect and justify their behavior, views and expectations.

The teacher from the case description can approach the student inclusively and approach her as a student (not as a Chinese person). Together with her, he can investigate what ‘assertiveness’ means for her and for the education, and what the background is for her having difficulty asserting herself. In connection with the foregoing he may say that he understands that as daughter is perhaps not assertive at home, but her education as one student requests to develop this competence and to indicate what it should do. Thus, it is not an either-or choice, the student does not have to give up his family-cultural baggage, but can add ‘self-will’ in his education and learn to switch between the roles of ‘daughter’ and ‘student’ in his culture. family and education.

Conclusion and recommendation

There is no room for culturalisation in the education of international students and an inclusive approach, where the principles of the students’ recognized equality and the recognized diversity of students are leading. It is good for teachers to familiarize themselves with the education system in their students’ countries of origin so that they have an idea of ​​what habits, behaviors and ways of thinking students may be familiar with and know that their own educational vision, teacher role and methods are not for every student , be a matter of course. This can subsequently lead to reflection, reconsideration and adjustment of the education’s organization, content and design (interculturalization), among other things based on the students’ personal expectations, visions and competencies.

In any case, it is recommended that a teacher explain his or her own pedagogical vision, teacher role, didactics and expectations to the students and coordinate them with them. If necessary, students are supported to develop certain necessary competencies, and finally, there is a safe, inclusive climate where every student and every teacher feels recognized and free. Such an inclusive approach provides a broader perspective than a one-sided focus on culture and the individual problem of speaking fear in a foreign language.

Independent consultant / trainer / author in intercultural communication and diversity and external lecturer at Alpen Adria University of Klagenfurt, Austria.

Literature references

Hoffman E. & A. continue (2018). Diversity competence† Does not cultures but people Meet each other bussum: Coutinho.

Kreps, G. & EN Kunimoto (1994). Effective communication in multicultural healthcare settings† Thousand Oaks / London / New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Mecheril, P. (2013). “Competitiveness competence”. Educational action under immigration conditions. In: G. Auernheimer (Ed.) Intercultural Competence and Pedagogical Professionalism (S.15-37). Wiesbaden: Springer.

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