Intercultural Education: A Social Education Process

For a society to become really intercultural, every social group must be able to live in conditions of equality regardless of their culture, lifestyle or origin. This means reconsidering not only how we interact with cultures which seem strange to our own, but also how we interact with minorities such as homosexuals or people with disabilities who face many forms of intolerance and discrimination. Numerous forces - social, economic, political - have to be combined to bring about such a society. Intercultural education is one of the main tools we have nowadays to help us take advantage of the opportunities offered by multicultural societies.

The general target of intercultural education has to be favouring and reinforcing the basis of mutual relationships, between different societies and different majority or minority cultural groups.

This target means:

• to see that diversity is rooted in equality and does not become a justification for marginalisation

• to make an effort to recognise different cultural identities and to promote respect for minorities

• to resolve conflicting interests peacefully.

This general target supposes that intercultural education must take place within society as a whole. It is impossible to dream of an intercultural society working only with one of the involved parts, that is, only with minority groups or only with majority groups.

The needs of majorities and minorities are different but interlinked.

In the case of most minority groups, especially when they are the result of immigration processes, their first need is to develop a series of abilities and knowledge. Without the ability to communicate in a commonly understood language, for example, it is difficult if not impossible to survive in society. In the case of majority groups, their first needs are to start looking beyond accepted norms, to question customary ways of thought - especially negative stereotypes and prejudices - in relation to minority groups. It is necessary for us all to gain an understanding of the role played by power relations in society and, here, their effect on intercultural relationships.

These different needs, logically, have different objectives. In the case of social majority groups, the targets of intercultural education are:

• to further an understanding of the reality of an interdependent world and encourage action coherent with that reality

• to go beyond negative prejudices and ethnic stereotypes

• to favour a positive evaluation of difference and diversity

• to search for and highlight similarities

• to generate positive attitudes and habits of behaviour towards people from other societies and cultures

• to translate the principles of solidarity and civil courage into action

In the case of minority groups, the targets of intercultural education include all of the above plus learning to live within mainstream society without losing their own cultural identity.

Young people: an essential resource for intercultural education.

Although intercultural education must take place within society as a whole, there is little doubt that intercultural education is centered on the system of relations of children and young people. We justify this priority because they will be, to a great extent, the future citizens of intercultural societies. They are also an important channel of communication to adults and can help their elder relations, for example, to see the necessity for change. ­Having said that it is clear that there are also important messages here for adult education.

Intercultural education with children and young people works in two major ways:

• to help them gain the capacity to recognise inequality, injustice, racism, stereo­types and prejudices

• to give them the knowledge and the abilities which will help them to ­challenge and to try to change these mechanisms whenever they have to face them in society

Educational approaches both within and outside schools are tremendously important. How we refer to these approaches depends a lot on context. And it is also "true" that one can find more formal methods in out-of-school education, (a lecture, an input, written exercises…) just as more informal methods can also be found in schools, (working in project groups, using the local environment…). When we wrote this Education Pack in 1994-95, we were used to differentiate between formal and informal education - it was relatively rare to talk of "non-formal education/learning". The debate has moved on, to the extent that the European Youth Forum recently issued a policy paper called "Youth organisations as non-formal educators - recognising our role" (November 2003). Informal education is now more often referred to when talking about non-planned learning situations: in the family, on a bus, talking with friends. Still, for this Internet edition we have chosen to leave the terminology as it was. You might find it refreshing!

Challenges facing educational systems today and the need for complementarity between formal and non-formal education are outlined in the Compass chapter on Education.

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