One of the greatest leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela, once said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This compelling statement is especially relevant today as globalization and the rapid growth of technology has broken down the world's borders, making learning accessible to almost anyone, at any time and at any place. In their article on inclusiveness and Information Communications Technology (ICT) in education, Heemskerk & al (2005) remark that “ICT applications are substituting existing learning tools, but they are also being used to promote a new kind of learning in which teachers support and coach students' learning processes instead of merely transmitting knowledge to them” (Heemskerk & al, 2005,p.1).
While the integration of ICT tools such as the use of online educational websites in today's classrooms has expanded and made learning significantly accessible to many, it is necessary that teachers reflect upon the content of the knowledge being transmitted. More specifically they need to reflect on the importance of using pedagogical content, which will engage all students regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
- Does the content provide a balanced representation of individuals at the intersection of race, class, gender and social class?
- Do we see a balanced representation of different cultural backgrounds that go beyond the stereotypical roles associated to them?
- Does our teaching approach offer perspectives, ideas and opinions that are “multicultural, non-sexist and respectful of different social classes” (Heemskerk & al, 2005, p.4).
For example, if we are using web-based pedagogical tools to teach a history, social studies or geography class on Africa, will we be teaching it through an Eurocentric lens where Africa is represented as a homogenous exotic wonderland filled with war, famine and poverty? Alternatively, can we also transmit a more grounded and diverse standpoint of Africa’s history and present reality. In this video, created by the United States based organization, Teaching Tolerance, education experts Jackie Jordan Irvine, Geneva Gay, and Kris Gutierrez indicate how to make culturally relevant pedagogy a reality in your classroom.
Teaching Tolerance. (2010). Introduction to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.
As educators, it is our duty to reflect critically on the content we choose because this content will dictate whether students feel engaged or marginalised in a classroom. By avoiding stereotypical imagery of individuals and including the voices of multiple cultures, be it in science, history or math education, we create avenues for constructive and real multicultural pedagogy. Schmid (2007) defines multicultural education as a tool to “decrease race, ethnicity, class and gender divisions by helping all students attain the knowledge, attitudes and skills that they need in order to become active citizens in a democratic society and participate in social change”(Schmid, 2007, p.2). If we are to use technology as educators to bring about social change and promote critical thinking, it is necessary that regardless of our subjects, we cultivate culturally responsive pedagogy which “recognizes and utilizes the students' culture and language in instruction, and ultimately respects the students' personal and community identities” (Richards & al, 2006, p.3).
In this exceptional Tedtalk video below, Chimamanda Adichie, an award-winning female Nigerian author shares her experience as a child growing up in Nigeria, educated in a Western schooling system, to illustrate the danger of reducing “other” cultures to only one story rather than recognizing we all have been overlapping, multiple stories. She explains that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not they are untrue, but incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Adichie, 2009).
Adichie, C.(2009).The Danger of a Single Story.
If we are to avoid stereotypes, judgements and biases towards cultures that are not our own, it is important for the individuals of these cultures to have agency on how they represent themselves. Web-based resources such as websites and videos have the potential of creating classroom cultures where all students “regardless of their cultural and linguistic background, are welcomed and supported and provided with the best opportunity to learn” (Richards & al, 2007, p1).
The Science Genius Project
Dr. Christopher Emdin, an assistant professor of science education and director of secondary school initiatives at the Urban Science Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote a book entitled “Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation.” In this book, he discusses the importance of making science education relevant and engaging to urban high-school students, particularly in the Bronx, where African-American and Latino students make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body (Leland, 2012). Through the Science Genius Project, which started in 2012, Dr.Emdin has been able to teach science using hip-hop in 10 New York City public schools, with the goal of changing “the way city teachers relate to minority students, drawing not just on hip-hop’s rhymes, but also on its social practices and values” (Leland, 2012).
The following YouTube video “Urban Science for the Hip-Hop Generation” clearly illustrates the pedagogical approach adopted by Dr.Emdin in the science classroom and the feelings of belonging, and inclusion students feel when participating in his class. As he argues, it is necessary that we welcome students in the classroom just the way they are and that “if you don’t bring youth culture in a classroom, you exist in a space where you’re only putting in an established culture. And an established culture necessarily alienates someone” (Emdin, 2012). According to Emdin, the history of science is extremely Euro-Centric and in turn alienates the knowledge of a diversity of individuals. To engage students in science education, it is necessary that teachers also adapt to youth culture so that students may truly feel that they can become a part of the history of science and contribute to its evolution.
Emdin, Christopher. (2012). Urban Science for the Hip-Hop Generation.
Aboriginal Science Education in Québec
According to the Secrétariat aux Affaires Autochtones in Québec, there are 11 distinct Aboriginal Nations, which account for a total of 2% of Québec’s population. Although the lack of representation of Aboriginal peoples within the Québec Education system as a whole would require another article, it is, nevertheless, important to highlight the initiatives taking place to promote Aboriginal science education to kindergarten, middle-school and high-school students in the province. The Québec Aboriginal Science and Engineering Association (QASEA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is "to promote sciences and engineering to Aboriginal youth attending school in First Nations and Inuit Communities in Quebec. QASEA achieves its mission through the Québec Aboriginal Science Fair Program (QASF)" (QASEA, 2014). The Science Fair exists since 1998 and is directed towards all First Nations and Inuit students throughout Québec. Gilbert Whiteduck, founder of the QASF explains that this fair is a way to create avenues for students to learn science through different lenses, from traditional to contemporary angles, so as to make science education pertinent to a wide variety of students and more importantly to nurture Aboriginal student's talents in the field of science (Quebec Aboriginal Science Fair, 2012).
Quebec Aboriginal Science Fair. (2012, Decembe 2nd). A Solution for Us.
In conclusion, teachers have the opportunity to have a rich diversity of students in their classrooms, however, tailoring to the multitude of needs and cultures within the classroom seems to pose a great challenge to many. In a multicultural country like Canada, creating avenues for education to reflect this diversity is a pressing issue, one which lies in the hands of educational institutions and teachers. ICT learning tools, such as the Internet and videos have the potential to expose the diversity of stories that make up our world, if they are chosen conscientiously. Using culturally sensitive pedagogy is a means to surpass stereotypes in a multicultural society still rampant with racial, gender, and cultural discriminations. The use of the Internet and videos has the potential to promote an inclusive culture in the classroom by allowing students to relate to the learning material or to create their own stories, which fosters critical thinking, and in turn reduces stereotypes and discrimination.
Heemskerk, I. Brink, A. Volman, M.,&Dam, G.(2005). Inclusiveness and ICT in education: a focus on gender, ethnicity and social class. Journal of Computer Assister Learning, 21, 1-16.
Richards, H.V., Brown, A.E.,& Forde, T.B. Addressing Diversity in Schools: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.Teaching Exceptional Children,39(3),64-68.
Schmid, E.C. (2009). Enhancing perfomance knowledge and self-esteem in classroom language learning: The potential of the ACTIVote component of interactive whiteboard technology. System, 35 (2007) 119-133.