While perusing through social media platforms I came across a tweet that asked us to share inclusion tactics in their thread. I ventured forth ideas on how we cater to diversity in my school such as celebrating a variety of festivals and occasions such as International Mother Language Day. I was surprised to see a response that requested me to explain what I meant by ‘catering’ to diversity. To me, this appeared to be a loaded question as I speculated whether I had used an inappropriate term or not put my viewpoint across eloquently. Upon further introspection, I concluded that working in a school in India is entirely different from anywhere else in the world. You must be a part of the system to understand the intricacies we are faced with daily.
While I concur that diversity and equity are a part of every classroom around the world, a classroom in India is a melting pot of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and communities. We have students from various states, religions and ethnic backgrounds that have rich histories that play an essential part in their present. While studying classrooms all over the world, it struck me that we typically try to include every culture to be as one. In my experience as an educator in a school that follows the International Baccalaureate, rather than forcing everyone to zoom into the same lens it is more important to celebrate the differences in our philosophy. We do not always have to be one big happy family, it’s alright to disagree as long as we come together at the end of the day.
Diversity in an Indian classroom implies that there are usually more than seven dialects spoken within the four walls of the teaching space at any given point in time. There are children of contrasting faiths and religions that have different beliefs and festivals. While I imagine that this could be the case in many classrooms, the Indian subcontinent is vast, and anyone who has traversed its lengths will know that people from one end of the country may have a completely different subsystem of values than a person from the opposing end. So how do we ‘cater’ to these differences in a classroom? We need to appreciate and encourage every philosophy, dialect, and religion to preserve the heritage of every child. Rather than make them all conform to standards we believe to be the norm, they must learn to live together despite their differences and realize that the world is a much bigger place than their own backyard.
We do this by confirming that our school library is well supplied, not only with English books, but books of every dialect spoken by the children of the school as well as books in international languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish. We survey the diversity in our classroom and put in recommendations to the librarian as soon as we get a new admission from a different background. Learners appreciate that their heritage is being welcomed and respected. The feeling of comfort when a child picks up a book in their mother tongue is a sentiment that is much cherished and looked forward to, especially when a child enrolls in a new school, afraid of whether he will be accepted into the fabric of school society.
In our school, we also make certain that we have multilingual signs so that every child feels safe in his or her learning environment. The solace of reading a sign with ease rather than struggling with a new language allows the learners to avoid the pressures and pitfalls of having to grasp a language not familiar to them.
Every week, we ask students to teach their peers and facilitators common phrases from their mother tongue. This endeavour is met with much enthusiasm from our young learners as they are excited to pick up a new language as well as bond with their mates from different states or countries. By following this practice, I have also become well versed with languages such as Punjabi, Urdu, Italian, French and many more. My students are undoubtedly much quicker at absorbing new languages so I can only guess how many new words and phrases they must have learned over the last year!
Commemorating festivals belonging to every faith establishes an air of healthy curiosity and urges learners to understand traditions they were not aware of earlier. Even our meals in the cafeteria include cuisines from around the country as well as the globe so that young ones experiment with unique flavours.
Honouring diversity begins with the small things that we do daily and recognizing that others may do them differently. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I frequently hear that Indian hospitality is the best in the world and that our citizens are the friendliest you will ever meet.
In conclusion, I do feel that we need to ‘cater’ to diversity rather than presuming everyone will get along if you put them in a room together. It’s better to have a space that has flourishing cultures with an aura of acceptance rather than one where each person leaves their ethnicity at the door.
What do you do to encourage or ‘cater’ to diversity in your classroom? Leave a comment below and tell me more!