The need for cultural awareness at the K-12 level is now more important than ever

Ameerah Alafailakawi, Staff Writer

Every day constant anxiety lurks in your shadows as you walk the halls in a school where you are alienated and misunderstood and all your classes are spoken in a foreign tongue and your differences make you stand out like a sore thumb. 

This experience, which I went through after first moving to the United States, is shared by many minority immigrant students. Immigrant students are only a small portion of a growing number of culturally diverse students. This brings the need for a more personalized curriculum that is more tailored for different cultural needs.  

Diversity is what helps push us forward. Whether it is a genetic variation that helps a population survive or a fresh and unique perspective to help in the workforce, diversity is the infrastructure to any successful and functioning society. Every year classrooms are becoming more and more diverse, so having a society that not only understands but also helps encourage and nurture these differences is what will help us move into the future. 

Diversity consists of many elements, culture being one of them. When people think of the word culture they may think of certain holidays, a language someone speaks, or different kinds of food, but culture is a lot more than that. Culture is one of the pillars in supporting the foundation of our identity. It not only influences how we interact with the world but also how we perceive it.

Incorporating different cultures into the curriculum to spread awareness and educate is of the utmost importance because learning can be affected by diversity. Different languages could become barriers for immigrant students and different religions can affect students’ behaviors and perceptions. 

Over 50% of all students in today’s classrooms have some form of diversity that impacts the way they learn, meaning that in the US alone over 26 million students are affected. Making the shift to a more fundamentally different model that supports a personalized learning approach that addresses the growing diversity is an increasingly important issue for the education system to tackle. Fostering inclusion and awareness not only helps students with different backgrounds succeed, but also helps prepare all students to thrive once out of school in our exponentially diverse world. 

In fact, a lack of diversity in the classroom can have detrimental effects on minority students. It creates an environment that causes them to feel isolated, which increases their chances of becoming bully-victims. That can lead students to experience negative emotional, academic, social, physical and mental health issues that could lead to suicide attempts. Creating learning environments that encourage, accept and celebrate students’ differences is crucial to their education and protection.

Teachers, administrators and all educators should be aware of different kinds of cultures and backgrounds so they don’t neglect major aspects of a student’s identity. Having that understanding will allow them to create both a curriculum and an environment where differences are accepted and understood, which will help give students a sense of identity. It will also increase empathy among students as they will be able to create a more personal connection with diverse cultures. This will help prevent potential future prejudices from developing because by having that personal connection they will also be more aware of the experiences that different cultures may face. Other benefits that students will experience are open-mindedness, an overall feeling of unity and preparation for future workplaces.

To ensure the richness of education for all, students should not be treated as if they are all the same. Students don’t all start in the same place and all have different needs, so while equality aims for fairness, it does not work that effectively anymore. To reach that goal of equal richness and quality of education we need to provide every learner with what they need to be successful. 

Strategies of implementing and fostering cultural awareness can be done in many ways through different technologies and teaching strategies such as demonstrating an interest in diversity, practicing cultural sensitivity, respecting and acknowledging differences, and maintaining consistent communication. 

In order to put forth this change, it must be guided by the educators and community, supported by the administrators and networks that extend educators’ capacity to teach, aligned with the different interests and abilities of the learners, and informed by the research findings from the learning sciences.