[EDLING:1379] Multicultural education for the disadvantaged

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Mar 27 14:19:20 UTC 2006

Forwarded from  edling at ccat.sas.upenn.edu

>>From The Jakarta Post


Multicultural education for the disadvantaged Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta

Indonesian schools contain a pretty heterogeneous mix of students, coming
from a wide variety of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and races. With this
heterogeneity, they are assumed to have different cognitive and affective
factors, self-esteem, curiosity, language facility and motivation for
achievement. It is those who come from minority cultures and languages
that are often put at a disadvantage. Arguably, the imposition of a
uniform language and culture, personal peculiarities, and the ideology of
underlying political motives is no longer germane in this post-modernist
era. With this in mind, developing multicultural educational programs for
those who are disadvantaged culturally is imperative.

It is often the case that culturally disadvantaged children are blamed for
the peculiarities and irregularities that they bring to the classroom. For
example, in a language class, teachers feel irritated with learners
(coming from certain cultural backgrounds like Javanese and Sundanese) who
mispronounce English words, use incorrect grammatical elements when
speaking and are disorganized in their writing. This being the case,
teachers erroneously develop the attitude that the phonological and
grammatical errors produced by the students are the result of their
cognitive deficiencies, at best, or a reflection of inadequate cognitive
development, at worst. This attitude disadvantages learners in
experiencing the new language they are learning.

A learner's erroneous use of language, which is often heavily influenced
by his language and culture, is often assumed to be a sign of the
impairment of his cognitive development. The crux of this point of view is
that the new language (target language) being learned is different from
the learner's native language, which must be inferior to the target
language, and since language is essential to cognition, an inferior
language must impair the cognitive development of those of speak it. This
is, of course, a fallacious assumption. Interference is a natural
phenomenon in language learning that refers to one language interfering
with another language. That is, when a learner attempts to learn another
language, his native language imposes on the language he is learning. The
same phenomenon occurs when a speaker of one dialect attempts to learn
another dialect of the same language.

Now, it is likely that the cognitive needs of learners from different
cultures are considerably different. Clearly, the errors produced by those
learning English, for example, can be a reflection of the way they use
their own language, not a sign of inadequate cognitive development. The
point is, difference does not equal cognitive impairment. It is time to
introduce what is called multicultural education, a type of education
program that attempts to compensate for the lack of understanding between
two learners coming from different cultural backgrounds. The urge to
promote multicultural education in the country should be taken as a
manifestation or realization of the national education curriculum, the
objective of which is to respect diverse cultural identities, traditions
and pluralism.

The categories of multicultural education programs can take many forms.
First, programs to provide supplementary experience based on the
assumption that differences between culturally disadvantaged children and
middle-class children are matters of degree. Second, programs to provide
academic preparatory experience based on the assumption that what
culturally deprived children mainly lack is familiarity with the academic
activities surrounding them. Third, programs to provide compensatory
experience sufficient to modify environmental effects based on the
assumption that culturally deprived children differ fundamentally from
middle-class children in self-concept, language, values and perceptual

The programs are of a great benefit and can help disadvantaged children
learn to know themselves through real-life activities surrounding them,
develop a positive self-image, develop problem-solving and
concept-formation ability, and enhance the development of language skills.
Maybe we must learn from the Western education model that applies these
kind of multicultural education programs. The success of applying these
program was proved by the Speech Improvement Project of the Curriculum
Office of the Philadelphia Board of Education in the U.S. Applying the
programs at all levels of Philadelphia's inner-city schools, this project
undertook a careful review of curriculum materials covering speech
activities or oral language development and learning for the

Using the curriculum formulated by the curriculum and special education
offices, the Philadelphia Board of Education incorporated several phases
or approaches to speech improvement in elementary grades, such as the
technique of teaching choral speaking to elementary school personnel,
presenting a speech program for the early elementary grades, developing
lesson plans, training teachers and appointing teachers of English as a
second language for children who spoke little or no English. The
employment of this approach indeed yielded a satisfactory result after
three years of testing and modification by the Philadelphia schools. Since
then it has served as a model program for other school systems, and has
enabled the program to be a strong leader in the field of language arts
curriculum for the culturally disadvantaged.

Due to its effectiveness in assisting the culturally disadvantaged in the
Philadelphia schools, it is worth trying this multicultural language
program here.

The writer is a lecturer in the School of Education at Atma Jaya University in
Jakarta. His published works can be viewed at

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list