Teachers Not Equipped for Multicultural Classrooms
22 March 2017 at 12:02 pm
The next generation of Australian teachers are not “culturally competent” or equipped to work in multicultural classrooms, according to a new Western Australian study.
The PhD research by teaching graduate Jesse Williams looked at the university preparation of student teachers – via learning competencies as well as social attitudes – to confidently teach in multicultural and diverse classrooms.
Williams’s research, undertaken at Edith Cowan University, found that while “student teachers (in their third and fourth years) believe they do have the skills to teach in culturally diverse classrooms, their attitudes towards cultural differences appear to contradict their beliefs and suggest they are not ready to be in a classroom”.
“The research findings suggest that many [students] that are currently studying are expressing negative attitudes to statements about race and culture,” Williams told Pro Bono News.
“The [study] came about because what I found was that a lot of the graduates coming through the university here were moving into classrooms which had a high rate of students from culturally diverse backgrounds. And interacting with those students… they felt like they had… only learnt one aspect of teaching and that there was a whole other area that hadn’t really been touched on and so that prompted me to look into it.”
Williams said the current teacher training approach was too generic.
“I started out by interviewing some pre-service teachers to get a feel of what their curriculum and their experience had been like and from those interviews what I was sensing was that there was a focus on learning about Indigenous culture and Indigenous students but apart from that it was meant to be a one-size-fits all,” he said.
“What we got back from that was that the pre-service teachers believed they were competent in terms of whether they can spot potential issues in resources and materials, they can adjust the marking criteria to adapt to suit student needs… They believed they were competent in all those areas.
“However, there was an attitude section through [the study] that focused around things like ‘if the parents of the student cannot speak English should I have to meet with them?’ or ‘should we be taking more refugees into Australia?’ and on those attitudes that’s where the division really happened.
“For some of them it was fifty-fifty – 50 per cent said that those statements were abhorrent and of course we should meet with parents and meet them through an interpreter and others said” ‘No way it’s not my job to have to deal with people who can’t speak English.’
“It was completely split and in stark contrast to what the results of the actual competencies were where 90 per cent said: ‘Yes I can do all this.’ The problem with that is that if these are your attitudes going into a classroom it’s a concern as to what your attitudes are going to be towards your students and is that going to affect your teaching.
“It was third and fourth year [student teachers] – young people around 22 to 23 and right up to mature age students. The oldest being around 50. The majority were around 24 to 30 age group which is fairly common for third and fourth year teacher trainers.”
Williams said he wasn’t surprised by the research findings but rather “disheartened”.
“It was disheartening to see that some people held these attitudes. Surprised? Not really because what I have also heard from teachers that have graduated [is that] their education experience wasn’t complete enough,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a sudden shift. I think it has been an ongoing shift. I think we have been failing for quite a few years now and… with the rise of social media we can access these [divisive] views more readily.”
Williams said his study had made several recommendations.
“I want to look into this deeper and see what we can do to change it,” he said.
“My recommendations are to start looking at experiential learning at university. Submersing pre-service teachers into other cultures so that they can experience it, learn about it, appreciate it. Hearing more refugee stories and things like that and developing that greater sense of empathy and understanding on the world that is different to our own. Expand people’s world views a little bit more.
“I want to work specifically with universities to see where the gaps are in this and where we can tangibly do to change it.
“It is the duty of teachers to constantly promote acceptance and compassion in all aspects of life – especially in times with serious racism and political division occurring.
“These negative attitudes lead to further questions about whether we can be confident that students from culturally or ethnically diverse backgrounds are having positive interactions with teachers.”
Williams said the completed study is expected to be published by the end of the year.