Intercultural Education: A digest

Intercultural education is the name of a reforming tendency in educational practice, too broad and too diverse in aims to be called a movement, to respond to the cultural diversity produced by postwar immigration to Britain. It is part of a widespread international interest in the representation of ethnically diverse populations in education, but not all education responses to plurality are multicultural or intercultural.


Separate education for different linguistic, cultural, or racial groups is not multicultural education, which is a part of a wider interest in equality of opportunity. It is also known as ‘multicultural education’, ‘multi-ethnic education’ (particularly in the USA), and ‘inter-cultural education’, particularly in a European context.


The fact of cultural diversity in Britain has forced a reassessment of the relationship between education and culture. There have been reforming tendencies in educational practice to respond to the cultural diversity produced by post-war immigration to Britain. Multicultural education is part of a widespread international interest in the representation of ethnically diverse populations in education, however, not all educational responses to plurality are multicultural.


Educational recommendations range from attempted ameliorations of disadvantages with the aim of educational outcomes for individuals, to radical reconstructions of the curriculum and of the relationships between schools and their communities. This range is influenced by notions of the cultural determinations of self-image and of the proper content of education, including the nature of knowledge.


The classical tradition conceives of the development of the individual intellect as the chief purpose of education. In freeing the intellect from the ties of ignorance and prejudice, it serves the social purpose of promoting freedom and responsibility.


1. Truth can be difficult to find, but all explanations in all cultures are attempts to discover it.
2. The means for that search will have taken different routes in different places, but the circumstances in which beliefs arise are not the same as the beliefs themselves.
3. Since beliefs have this independent reference to the truth, they are shareable across cultures.


Multicultural education has always been motivated in part by the evidence of the propensity of human populations for racial hostility and xenophobia in society. It is an educational response to poor race relations which works to raise the consciousness of both aggressor and victim. Multicultural education is concerned with the response education should make to cultural pluralism.


It is part of a reforming tendency which aims at promoting equality through educational change. Its particular characteristic lies in addressing diversity as a resource and strength rather than as a problem. A transcultural conceptual scheme in educational practice demonstrates that knowledge is the common property of all peoples.


In 1928, John Adams, Professor of Education at London University wrote “When education as such began to be recognized… as a subject in University curricula, it was only natural that lecturers in education should look out through world literature for great names wherewith to adorn their list of prescribed readings.”


Reconsideration of the place of culture in education had its first influence among children of Asian origin. AfroCaribbean communities were held to be culturally British and their language a debased form of English. Research into the alleged linguistic and subcultural causes of the under achievement of working class children reinforced the view that Afro-Caribbean children suffered because their language and way of life were educationally poverty stricken.


Brian Holmes (1920-1993); an educator who joined the Institute of Education, University of London in 1953 where he became Professor of Comparative Education from 1975-1985. This is to help inform a historical context within which we can understand how national education is organised.


This is a digest of the work of Philip Walkling, Professor and Dean of Education, Birmingham Polytechnic [Philip Walkling, Multicultural Education, Handbook of educationa ideas and practices, 1989, ISBN: 0415020611; pp 82 – 90]