Today, in schools and colleges around the whole word, there are many intercultural programs which support the idea of international understanding and the exchange of knowledge, experience, and attitudes. Some people, like Oliver Goldsmith or Walter Lewis, share their own interpretations of international understanding and explain it as the ability of people to behave properly irrespectively to their own nationalities and become the members not only of a State but of the World (Swastik n.d.). Globalisation and interdependence predetermine different aspects of human life, and education is the field where appropriate competence is integral for students and teachers (Portera 2017). People want to learn their opportunities and investigate their academic chances in a short period of time.
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Multiculturalism is a frequently used term in the academic field in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This country has already opened its doors to many different cultures, languages, and people from different parts of the world. In Sharjah, there are many schools which support the ideas of multicultural education. Students and the academic staff are ready to share their traditions and cultural norms with all people. However, some students admit that they do not know what international understanding actually means, and teachers do not find it necessary to discuss the peculiarities of multiculturalism in education.
There are many students who do not understand how they can use the ideas of multiculturalism in their education, and there are teachers who are not confident in their readiness to cooperate with students and discuss their intercultural education. Still, multiculturalism is an opportunity for students to improve their skills and discover their chances in education and the choice of their future jobs or even the places of living.
At the same time, Sharjah students and teachers have to understand that their schools and colleges are preferred by students from different countries, and they have to demonstrate their high level of knowledge of intercultural education. The exchange of information, mutual knowledge, respect to traditions and religion are the aspects that have to be understood and properly demonstrated. The main problem is the inability to estimate the level of teachers’ and students’ knowledge of intercultural education and its usage.
The goal of this project is to discuss the peculiar features of multiculturalism and its role in the field of education. Intercultural education is the main topic for consideration. The level of awareness of Sharjah students and teachers cannot be defined as high, and the task is to investigate the field and discover the main challenges.
The investigation of students’ knowledge about multiculturalism and its relation to the field of education should help to clarify if students are ready to use the available opportunities and if teachers have enough knowledge and skills to improve students’ understanding of multicultural and intercultural education. After all research questions are answered, and the main definitions are given, it is expected to evaluate the impact of intercultural education on students and teachers.
In this project, there are several research questions to be answered. Still, there is one main research question that identifies the direction of the work:
- Why is intercultural education worth attention among modern Sharjah students?
The answer to this question includes the analysis of the concept of multiculturalism and the outcomes of multicultural and intercultural education of Arab students and teachers.
There are several additional research questions to be answered:
- What is multiculturalism in the field of education?
- What do students know about intercultural education?
- Do students understand how to use their intercultural education opportunities?
- What are the outcomes of intercultural and multicultural education for Sharjah students?
This project is significant as it discusses the development of the UAE academic field in terms of intercultural education. Students and teachers have to cooperate in order to improve their international understanding, deal with their fears, and live together in cultural harmony. Not all teachers are able to identify their weakness or a poor level of knowledge. This project synthesises the qualities and skills that should be gained by teachers and correspond to students’ expectations and investigates the opportunities for students that can be developed through academic programs under the conditions offered by Sharjah schools.
It is necessary to understand that multiculturalism should not be regarded as a challenge for students. Multiculturalism is one of the results of such process of globalisation. It is an opportunity for many students that cannot be neglected. Sharjah students are the citizens of the UAE, the country where the development of international relations and culture play an important role. Nowadays, in the classrooms of Sharjah schools, it is possible to find a diverse student population. Sharjah students have to learn how to live in a multicultural society and open the UAE to other citizens. Racism and prejudice should not challenge foreigners, and Arab students should not be challenged by the progress of students of different cultures.
Importance of Education in the UAE
In the UAE, citizens pay much attention to the role of education in their lives (Wilkins 2010). The founder of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, said that the creation generations with educated and trained people could be identified as the greatest contribution to country’s wealth (Embassy of the United Arab Emirates 2011). The development of the country means the development of all its fields.
The UAE has already demonstrated great success in the development of international relations and business affairs in various directions. For example, the investigation of Arthur et al. (2012) shows that quality education remains to be a critical factor in entrepreneurship of the countries at different stages of their economic development because of the possibility to develop numerous skills, including creative thinking, teamwork, financing, management, and risk identification. In the modern UAE, the participation of women is almost similar to the level of male participation in higher education. The progress of the country is evident: 54% of male literary and 31% of female literacy in 1975 in comparison to 90% of both genders’ literacy today (Embassy of the United Arab Emirates 2011).
Education is the field where people develop their research and share their thoughts about its development and improvement. Such determinants as socio-economic status, generations, and prior attainment matter and prove the importance of recognition education as one of the best opportunities for students to develop their skills (Matherly et al. 2017).
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Wilkins and Balakrishnan (2013) state that the improvements of the UAE education should begin with the analysis of student satisfaction and recognition of cultures, customers, traditions, and other social contexts as crucial factors in the development of transnational relations between students and teachers. Much attention is paid to the necessity of bilingual education as an opportunity to master several languages at the same time and choose colleges and university in regards to personal interests and preferences (Nour 2013).
Multiculturalism and Its Peculiarities
Regarding the importance of bilingual education and Arab students’ chances to study in different countries, as well as to accept the students from abroad, multiculturalism turns out to be a significant term in education (Raddawi & Meslem 2015). UNESCO is the organisation that offers one of the clearest and effective definitions of multiculturalism and its relation to society. As cited in Marshall (2014), UNESCO introduces the term of multiculturalism as the attempt to describe the culturally diverse nature of people that includes not only ethnic or national differences but also linguistic, religious, and socio-economic varieties. In education, multiculturalism is the opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of and about other cultures to promote acceptance and demonstrate tolerance to different people (Crichlow 2013).
The aims of multiculturalism are properly stated, and it is necessary to admit that its nature remains to be passive. It is not enough for students to support the idea of passive coexistence but to use a new sustainable way of living where the representatives of different cultural societies can develop dialogues, respect each other, and demonstrate their own achievements (Marshall 2014). Therefore, UNESCO offers the term interculturalism, and many educational institutions use the idea of intercultural education as the improvement of multicultural education where the development, understanding, and respect of others (Arslan & Rata 2013). Multiculturalism and interculturalism are not synonyms, and they have to be investigated separately.
Multicultural education gained popularity in the late 1970s and the early 1980s (Grant & Sleeter 2011). In the UAE, multicultural education has been in trend from the 2000s. Modern society has a multicultural nature. People want to develop their knowledge and investigate the experiences of different nations in order to learn something new, discover new opportunities, and be able to choose different approaches to the solution of the same problems. Multiculturalism is one of the main educational interventions in terms of which people demonstrate various pedagogical practices and the use of knowledge (Arslan & Rata 2013).
To become an effective tool for students and teachers, multicultural education has to respond to its five dimensions which are content integration, knowledge construction, equity pedagogy, prejudice reduction, and empowerment of school culture and social structure (Banks n.d.). Each dimension is the opportunity to understand how multicultural education can help people and what benefits students may gain with it. Content integration is the process when multicultural education begins (Banks n.d.).
Teachers have to investigate the peculiarities of other cultures and be ready to introduce them to all students. The second stage is knowledge construction when it is necessary for teachers to assist their students in understanding and investigating various cultural assumptions. Students should learn how to perceive multiculturalism, and what this term means (Banks n.d.). The next stage, equity pedagogy, provides teachers with the possibility to change their teaching methods and choose the most appropriate types of work with students involved in multicultural education. Prejudice reduction is also an important dimension because prejudice should not be a challenge for students in the classroom (Banks n.d.).
Finally, teachers should know how to empower school culture and social structure in the classroom. If students find it helpful and effective to work in groups, multicultural education should contain a number of teamwork activities. Support, communication, and listening are the main skills that have to be developed in terms of multiculturalism.
Intercultural Education in the UAE
Intercultural education in the UAE is another practice that is chosen by teachers and students of many Arab schools. Ari and Laron (2014) introduce this type of education as one of the key elements in the modern academic world. They believe that intercultural competence is the outcome that has to be achieved (Deardorff 2011). The consideration of the learning environment is an integral part of intercultural education.
Various dimensions of educational processes, school life, and even the ways of how decisions are made have to be analysed. UNESCO is the organisation that also determines the main peculiarities of international learning and its pillars of learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be (Delors 2013). For the UAE students, as well as for students from other countries, the ability to learn to know is the necessity to combine their general knowledge with their working abilities (Crabtree 2010). The ability to learn to do presupposes the necessity of competence at work and various real-life situations (Delors 2013).
When students start learning to live together, they have to develop their understanding of interdependence and respect. Finally, learning to be is the possibility to develop autonomous relations where judgments and responsibility are developed in an appropriate way.
Intercultural education is the possibility for students to take a fresh start and use dialogues as the means to find answers, ask questions, and demonstrate personal attitudes (Marshall 2014). Sometimes, it is complicated for students to accept something new and use it in ordinary settings. Therefore, the role of teachers is extremely important in the development of academic relations and taking the first steps in intercultural education.
Relations between Students and Teachers
In the UAE, the development of intercultural education leads to the increase of expatriate teachers. There are many expatriate and native teachers who have to cooperate with students and share their knowledge. In The National (2015), the editorial group identified the lack of awareness of cultural knowledge among expatriate teachers as one of the main problems in the field of education parents and the government are concerned about.
It is necessary to raise teachers’ awareness due to the provision of new training sessions and other ways with the help of which teachers can learn society and its needs. Today, the UAE is home to more than 200 nationalities, and students should learn how to become a part of them (The National 2015). Therefore, cultural awareness is the key to the relations that can be developed between teachers and students in classrooms.
The investigations by the editorial group of Gulf News (2015) show another important aspect of the relations between the UAE students and teachers that is teachers’ disposition about their knowledge and chosen teaching techniques. Disposition includes the development of trustful relations, the introduction of a caring and kind personality, and the choice of appropriate teaching skills (Gulf News 2015).
The success of intercultural education and the possibility to disclose its positive outcomes for students depend on teachers’ intentions to build relations with their students. In facts, students can hardly discover the worth of multiculturalism in education unless they are informed by their educators (Arslan & Rata 2013). Such steps as the engagement of students in a learning process, the promotion of social development and acceptable social behaviour, classroom management with open communication lines, and the consideration of future have to be recognised as a part of intercultural education (Gamboa 2016).
Challenges and Benefits for Students
Intercultural education has many benefits for students, as well as some pitfalls that have to be recognised (Shinnick 2013). In the UAE schools where intercultural education is supported, students can use the opportunities to obtain rich learning experiences and identify new cultural perspectives. Students can choose the countries they want to study in or, at least, to learn about, get used to a new language, and investigate the ways people speak (Moore-Jones 2015).
Another benefit of intercultural education of the UAE students is the possibility to compound language and content. Diallo (2014) confirms that English becomes the language of globalisation that is chosen for communication in the countries where English is not the main language. The UAE is one of such countries with a number of Western-trained teachers studying Arab students. Some students are not linguistically prepared for education offered in English (Moore-Jones 2015), and some students find it interesting and effective to develop their skills and improve their knowledge by means of bilingual education.
If multiculturalism is present in students’ education, it can affect their sense of identity and help to be recognised as the citizens of the world but not only as the citizens of the UAE (Moore-Jones 2015). Students learn how to use new values and filter information about new culture and national traditions using various textbooks, teaching methods, and epistemologies (Diallo 2014).
At the same time, certain pitfalls occur when students are involved in intercultural education. In addition to the inability to grasp all peculiarities of English as the second language for education, students experience stress and anxiety when they cannot find the solutions to their personal or educational problems (Moore-Jones 2015).
Teachers are under a threat of having the same problems because they have to be ready to work under new conditions, demonstrate confidence and a high level of knowledge, and support students to deal with their academic and personal challenges. Students have to understand that new educators can choose new teaching approaches and techniques, and they have to accept the rules regardless of their expectations. Some tensions and misunderstandings may occur, and it is necessary to know how to turn personal weaknesses in academic strengths.
To deal with challenges and enjoy the benefits of intercultural education, Lafraya (2011) suggests using the Iceberg Theory of Culture in terms of which there are two main areas, the known and the unknown. According to this theory, culture, as the main factor of education, may have a list of visible factors, including language, customs, traditions, ethnicity, and geographical origin, as well as a number of invisible elements that are used by people to introduce their values, behaviours, and opinions. Invisible elements are hard to predict (Lafraya 2011).
Therefore, culture remains to be a strong and dangerous element of education. It introduces the reasons for and the outcomes of what people learn, know, and what to do. Lafraya (2011) offers to interpret culture as a continuous programme in people’s minds that has its beginning as soon as a person is born, and its ending is hard to recognise because people are free to support each other and continue developing each others’ ideas through years. Culture is a complex issue (Cerimagic 2010). As soon as it is implied to the field of education, education turns out to be a complex topic as well. The Iceberg Theory is the tool with the help of which students and educators can prepare themselves for changes and develop expectations.
A phenomenological approach was developed regarding the latest improvements in the field of intercultural education, students’ perceptions, and teachers’ abilities. The researcher chose a mixed research to answer the main research question and clarify the worth of intercultural education among Sharjah students and the role of teachers in this type of education. A qualitative method was based on interviews as the main instrument, and a questionnaire was the instrument for gathering quantitative data. Secondary sources were used to support the development of questions and prove the correctness of answers.
Interviews were conducted with four Sharjah female teachers from one school via Skype. Date and time were discussed with the participants beforehand. The researcher used secondary data to get the necessary background for communication with teachers and improve knowledge of multiculturalism in education. Out of six Sharjah teachers, four teachers were appropriate for research due to their teaching experience (from three to ten years) and the knowledge of English.
They gave their answers to three open-ended and three close-ended questions about their knowledge of intercultural education, the techniques they used to teach students, and the changes they observed in students. The participants were informed about the necessity to record all interviews. They gave their written agreement. All interviews were conducted in English. Then, the interviews were transcribed so that the text could be read for the analysis.
The quantitative part of research included two questionnaires. Sharjah students aged between 15 and 17 years were invited to participate in the questionnaires. They were informed that their participation was not single. They had to answer ten questions first.
Then, they visited three seminars about the peculiarities of intercultural education and the development of new opportunities. In the end, students had to answer similar questions and share their opinions and perceptions of the chosen topic. All questionnaires were sent via e-mail. 21 (15 females and 6 males) out of 50 students agreed to participate in research regarding the conditions and instructions offered. Students sent their answers via e-mail after they were provided with the guarantees that all their answers and information were anonymous, and confidentiality was promoted.
The transcripts of interviews and questionnaires were used in data analysis. They were re-read for several times to underline the insights of personal experience and knowledge. The identification of the common themes and main aspects was made manually by the researcher. Meaning units and themes were related to the research questions. It was necessary to find out what students knew about multicultural and intercultural education and if they were ready to use their knowledge and opportunities to improve their future. Interview transcripts helped to identify the main teaching techniques to support intercultural education and teachers’ perceptions of intercultural education and students’ chances.
The main limitation was the sample. Only female teachers participated in research. Besides, the number of students was relatively small for quantitative research. The environmental location, the schools of Sharjah only, was another limitation. The results of the study depended on the ability of the researcher to interpret the data gathered.
Discussion of Results
Communication with teachers helps to clarify that intercultural education was practised in some Sharjah schools during the last decade. Several expatriate teachers were hired to introduce new cultures and new working approaches to Arab students that proved the investigation developed by The National editorial team (2015). However, in comparison to the results obtained by the Gulf News researchers, Sharjah teachers underlined the importance of communication and the development of trustful relations between teachers.
Therefore, intercultural education is not only the way of how teachers cooperate with students but also the way of how teachers are involved in teamwork. The exchange of knowledge and the necessity to share personal experience can help Arab teachers discover new approaches and teaching perspectives. Besides, teachers may improve their perceptions of students’ needs and expectations. The main significance of interviews’ finding is the role of teachers’ teamwork.
Questionnaires help to discover what students know about multiculturalism and intercultural education and if they are able to differentiate the concepts. 19 out of 21 participants have already heard about multicultural and intercultural education. Still, all of them believed that there was no difference. Some students demonstrated their willingness to learn more and define their chances and academic opportunities. Four students stayed indifferent to the benefits of intercultural education.
The findings of questionnaires supported the ideas developed by Gulf News (2015), Arslan and Rata (2013), and Ari and Laron (2014) about the importance of trustful relations between students and teachers to promote positive outcomes of intercultural learning. Students want to be confident in the quality of support offered by their teachers. As soon as young people make a decision to be introduced or to accept a new culture in terms of their educational programs, they have to be provided with the guarantees from their teachers. Otherwise, they can hardly choose the option of multiculturalism.
Expected and Unexpected Findings
Regarding the role of the Iceberg Theory of Culture, it is possible to be ready for any type of finding in research. The discussions of culture and its role in education and the development of student-student or student-teacher relationships have to include the recognition of personal needs and expectations. Such themes and meaningful units as communication, knowledge exchange and support are expected in the study.
However, the recognition of the role of the relations developed between native and expatriate teachers was unexpected. Even students confirmed the worth of such relations in their education. They agreed with the fact that if teachers were able to develop good relations between each other, they can share their knowledge about students, save their time, and choose the most effective teaching approaches.
In general, the work done corresponds to the peculiar features of a phenomenological study. Several common topics were discovered during the literature review. Past studies and recommendations were used to create a basis for a future investigation. Intercultural education and the development of the multiculturalism concept are recognised as major topics for consideration among Arab students and teachers. On the one hand, it was proved that teachers were ready to use appropriate techniques and knowledge to get students prepared for such type of education and the discovery of the opportunities.
On the other hand, students demonstrated their intentions and willingness to improve their knowledge and learn more about the role of culture in education. Sharjah schools, as well as many other UAE schools, are ready to accept internationals students and teachers regardless of their social status, sex, or ethnicity. Intercultural education is a chance for a person to become a significant part of the world, but not only of one particular state.
In the following list, the major findings of the study are given:
- Many UAE students are aware of intercultural and multicultural types of educations. Still, they cannot recognise their main differences.
- Seminars and questionnaires show that Sharjah students are ready to use multiculturalism as one of the possible opportunities to improve their knowledge and academic skills.
- Teachers use different techniques to introduce intercultural educational programs.
- Students want to use their teachers’ support, help, and knowledge to succeed in intercultural education.
- Teachers have to develop professional and supportive relationships with each other as an opportunity to learn more about their students and choose appropriate working techniques.
Future Research Recommendations
It is suggested to develop same research in other UAE schools in order to gather the opinions of different students and teachers. It is necessary to clarify if a geographical location may be a significant factor in international education. Therefore, it is possible to invite teachers and students from other countries. Finally, sample improvement is required. Both, male and female teachers have to participate in interviews, and a large number of students should be invited to participate in questionnaires.
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