Embracing Diversity in the Classroom


Embracing Diversity in the Classroom

Posted on: 21st June 2019
Emily Laurie
Senior Policy Adviser, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

This week the OECD launched the results of TALIS, the international survey that examines teaching and learning environments. The survey was undertaken in 2018 by 260,000 teachers from 48 countries. This is the third global survey of its kind, with the first two taking place in 2008 and 2013. Each time the poll expands in terms of numbers and geography. The 2018 results provide the most up-to-date and in-depth analysis on the experiences and realities of teachers working around the world. As such, the resulting report and data released by OECD are critical tools in informing the development of education systems and teacher recruitment and training worldwide.

As commonly quoted, “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. To address the global education challenges we face, we must listen and adapt systems and policies to align with the realities of teachers. From the learning crisis to the urgent need to foster global citizenship and prevent the rise of dangerous narratives and ideologies, teachers are both the conduits for warning and the opportunity for change.

Teacher preparedness to deal with diversity

The 2018 TALIS identified a new global trend – that teachers are struggling with teaching in diverse environments where the social and cultural composition of students includes differences in beliefs and practices. It was found that on average, across the OECD, 17-30 per cent of teachers teach in schools with a culturally or linguistically diverse student population.

When teachers completed their formal teacher education or training, only 26 per cent felt well or very well prepared for teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting.

Diversity and difference, if not dealt with sensitively, can be exasperated and entrenched, with young people embracing the idea of us versus them. This can mean young people are more susceptible to harmful and extreme beliefs about people from different cultures, ethnicities or religions. If young people are taught to embrace and navigate difference through discussion, critical thinking and an open mind, they will be building the foundation and skills to embrace inclusive ideas of global citizenship and tolerance, as well as getting the best possible chance to enter a globalised workforce.

Indeed, the TALIS report encourages teachers to see difference as an opportunity rather than a problem, noting that “From a reflective standpoint, teachers can treat diversity as an asset and a source of growth rather than a hindrance to student performance”It is critical that teachers model the behaviour they wish to see in their students.

Policy solutions that align with TALIS findings

Students need to learn an ever-changing set of skills to thrive in digital and globalised societies. This requires curriculum redesign, which in turn requires teacher training. The need for this policy change is noted in the OECD report accompanying the 2018 survey that was published this week.   

At the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, we are developing a set of global principles, in partnership with the education community and governments, which if adopted into education systems around the world will enable the promotion of global citizenship and the prevention of extremism. These principles will underpin the new ‘Generation Global Commitment’, which we are working towards launching in 2020. This will call on governments around the world to make education policy reforms that can support this approach.    

The need for these reforms, notably around pedagogy and teacher training, are highlighted by the new global teacher survey. The TALIS provides a strong foundation for why, within the current drafting of the Global Commitment, we are suggesting these two principles.

  • Progressive teaching: Education systems should prioritise the development and use of interactive teaching methods that encourage dialogue across cultures, critical thinking, ethical decision-making and gender equality, and reduce the use of rote learning.
  • Comprehensive approach: School reform should aim to change the dynamic of school environments through leadership that prioritises teacher training, professional development and the embedding of values of global citizenship into school culture and practice.

At the Institute we believe that to tackle extremism, efforts need to focus on the ideas and ideology behind the extremism, and that these efforts need to start at a young age. Tackling the development of divisive ideas and narratives in the classroom requires teachers who are informed and trained to deal with cultural, ethnic and religious differences among their students. The Institute’s Generation Global programme, which marks its 10-year anniversary this year and currently works in over 35 countries, equips teachers with the dialogue skills and resources that cultivate critical thinking and open-mindedness in young people. The 2018 TALIS show that, at present, very few teachers are able to do this.

Education systems are not providing the structure and support for teachers to do this. Teachers themselves are calling for support to be able to effectively navigate diversity and difference. There needs to be urgent action to address this across all education systems. That is why it is a central call within the upcoming Global Commitment and that is why we welcome and support the TALIS 2018. We urge Ministers of Education, and the global education community, to listen to the voices of the more than a quarter of a million teachers from around the world who are asking for these changes.

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