22 SES 03 D, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
As a reaction to dramatic demographic developments that increased the cultural, religous and linguistic diversity of the population in many European countries, instutions for higher education are challenged to reconsider their curricula, instruction methods and teaching strategies. The importance of more inclusive education is increasingly stressed to meet the needs of the studentpopulation that is characterized in a broad sense by diversity. Moreover, in the context of globalization and citizenship in culturally diverse societies, it obviously is important that institutions for higher education prepare all graduates to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes to function effectively as professionals and citizens in a diverse society.
Studies in social and human sciences in some Dutch institutions for higher education saw themselves confronted with a specific challenge in this context: the need to improve education in what we call ‘craftsmanship in cultural diversity’. Several national empirical studies showed that institutions that provide pedagogic support and care for youth and families are less accessible to migrant families and their children compared to clients with Dutch origins. Moreover, the help these institutions offer proved to be less effective for the situations and questions of clients from a minority background. One of the reasons is that professionals in the field of family and youth support and care are not sufficiently equipped to serve clients from diverse social, cultural or religious backgrounds. They lack relevant knowledge, attitudes and skills to professionally behave in a diversity sensitive fashion. At best they acquire these competences in the field, with trial and error. According to an inventory among Dutch institutes of higher education, diversity is only sparsely dealt with and not structurally embedded in the curricula of pedagogic and care disciplines.
In recent years, institutes for higher education with a diverse student population showed a large amount of initiatives to improve the inclusive character of their studies and to provide education that prepares for ‘craftmanship in diversity’. As a result, attention for diversity is included in some mission statements and educational strategies of institutes for higher education and mainly in several projects, stimulated by the Dutch Ministry of Education that financially supported initiatives to improve education for minority students. Strikingly, most efforts in this area concern projects related to ‘student support’ that are organised besides the curricula. Efforts that involve the primary process of teaching and learning are still rare to be found.
A reason for this might be that curriculum change aimed at providing inclusive education and improving students’ preparation for craftmanship in cultural diversity, is complex because of the many different levels and stakeholders it involves. It touches and requires the involvement of every part of the educational system, such as teachers and learners, subject departments, exam boards and institutional management. In addition, personal convictions, associations and emotions of these different stakeholders regarding cultural diversity play a crucial role, moreover because these are not always well-reflected or expressed openly.
In this paper we take a closer look at the process and results of a curriculum redesign of the bachelor study pedagogical sciences of a Dutch University, VU University Amsterdam, which is nationally known for its high numbers of non-western migrant students. We formulated the following research questions:
- what adaptations were required in order to embed cultural diversity in the curriculum?
- how did the process of embedding diversity in the bachelor pedagogical sciences evolve?
- what are benefits and possible risks of the applied approach, considering its results?
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