Multicultural education strives to help students understand the varied histories, traditions, values, and contributions of different cultural groups.
While multicultural education focused on culture, its intersectional focus often means teachers also apply the same inclusive approach to gender, ethnicity, race, SES demographics, disabilities, and sexual identity.
Multicultural education should not take place on one day per year, but rather, should be integrated into everyday lessons and behaviors in the classroom.
Multicultural Education Definition and Goals
The goal is for students to develop a more open, respectful, and tolerant perspective regarding others who are different from themselves.
Banks and Banks (2001) explain that:
“…the term multicultural education describes a wide variety of programs and practices related to educational equity, women, ethnic groups, language minorities, low-income groups, and people with disabilities” (p. 6).
The National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) offers a more comprehensive description of multicultural education as a:
“…philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents, such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations” (National Association of Multicultural Education, 2011).
Multicultural Education Examples
- Diverse cultural representation in texts: When Gabriella is looking for books about the family for her preschoolers, she tries to find ones that include illustrations of people from diverse backgrounds.
- Multiple viewpoints: Mrs. Abrhams is aware that there are multiple different cultural understandings of the one topic in her class, so she presents a variety of cultural perspectives for the class to discuss.
- Inclusive narratives: Dr. Jamison has students in her university drama course put on short plays that depict the traditional customs of various cultures who live in the area.
- Diverse role models: Each month, Mrs. Jones invites professionals to speak to her third-grade class about their careers. She always makes sure that she invites people from various ethnic backgrounds.
- Studying civil rights: Students in this social studies class work in small groups to design an infographic about the Civil Rights movement.
- Explicit cultural learning: Every month, a primary school holds a Culture Week festival. Students wear appropriate clothing, learn types of traditional dances, and the cafeteria serves food that is representative of that culture.
- Studying history: Mr. Gonzalez often shows documentaries that depict how different immigrant populations have struggled to gain acceptance in the USA over the last two-hundred-plus years.
- Overt dislpays of cultural diversity: Each wall in Mr. Mark’s first-grade classroom contains photos and display objects related to different ethnic groups.
- Anti-racism training: One school district has mandated that all high-school students take anti-racism training.
- Culturally sensitive teaching: Mrs. Jorgenson is aware that she has children in her class of varying cultural identities. Their cultures have different taboos and norms to her own. In order to promote a safe multicultural classroom, she chooses to respect and value her students’ cultural norms and is careful not to marginalize their viewpoints.
1. Study Abroad Exchange Programs
A study abroad exchange program is a cooperative agreement between two universities in different countries. Students from each university travel to the other to live and study. The course credits earned at the foreign university transfer to the students’ home university. Programs can last anywhere from a few weeks to an entire academic year.
Studying abroad is a great way to experience multicultural education. Instead of writing a short drama about a different culture, students hop on a plane and live in one.
Living every day in a foreign country for months is the kind of immersive experience that can be truly transforming. The experience can shake-up a person’s existing conceptions of the world and lead them down a path of personal discovery and growth.
Of course, culture shock is likely to occur, which may not always be pleasant, but is always educational. Most people go through stages of culture shock that end on a positive note.
2. Children’s Books
Implementing multicultural education at an early age gets young learners started on the right path. Young children are more open-minded and flexible in their understanding of the world. As we get older, we tend to become set in our ways and less pliable.
Reading books to children that have multicultural themes is one great way to introduce children to the concept of the world being a diverse place that contains people that look and talk differently from ourselves (see also: cultural pluralism).
Fortunately, there are a lot of children’s books available to teachers and parents. These books often have illustrations that depict people of different color and cultural backgrounds. Young learners might not yet be capable of understanding abstract concepts, so exposing them to concrete examples such as illustrations is a great first step.
Here are a few links to read aloud books for multicultural education.
- We All Sing with The Same Voice read aloud version and original Sesame Street version.
- We’re Different, We’re the Same read aloud.
- Diversity Makes Us Stronger read aloud.
3. Classroom Strategies for Fostering Diversity
There are many ways that teachers can foster diversity among students. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind involves an instructional approach such as a book or video that addresses diversity. Those are perfectly acceptable and effective. Here are a few additional strategies to consider.
The first step is for the teacher to get to know their students, where they come from, their history, and key values of their culture.
Group work will help break the ice for students that are new or unfamiliar with the culture of their new school. This gives students an opportunity to work towards a common goal and maybe form friendships.
Teachers need to lead by example and show cultural sensitivity. This includes speaking to all students from all backgrounds with respect and sincerity.
Involve families that are new to the country. Start with a get-to-know each-other meeting. Then, make a special effort to invite them to school functions. Let them know their child’s teacher is a culturally aware professional.
4. Creating a Multicultural Kindergarten Classroom
Very young learners need to learn about multiculturalism through concrete strategies. Having abstract discussions about diversity is not going to work.
Teachers can introduce students to multicultural concepts early on by filling the classroom with objects that represent diversity. Creating a multicultural kindergarten classroom has never been easier.
Here are a few links to resources to get started.
Diversity Dolls: kindergarten age children love to play with dolls and figurines. Seeing others with varying skin tones and hair styles will help them be more accepting of people in real life.
Wall Posters: wall posters and border strips that show different cultures or depict people from different backgrounds helps create an immersive environment.
Toy Foods: food plays a central role in most cultures. Teachers can give their students an opportunity to play with food from Japan, Italy, and Mexico.
Games: This memory-matching game depicts people from a wide range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
5. Diversity Bingo
Bingo is a simple game that kids love to play. It can be especially useful for young learners because the rules are simple to follow, and the word “game” makes them instantly interested. It is also a very flexible activity that can be modified to suit many subjects.
Diversity Bingo teaches children about different cultures from around the world. The students can learn about different types of musical instruments, food, or clothing.
The first step is to create the bingo cards. You can do that in Word, or online. Then, search for different images of the objects you want the children to learn about, download and insert them on the bingo card. Make a set of larger cards that contain each image separately so you can show it to the class.
The kids will need something to place over the image on their cards, such as small plastic chips.
After the teacher shows a card and the kids put a chip on their cards, the teacher can then ask the class questions, such as what is the name of the object and what culture it belongs to.
Benefits of Multicultural Education
1. Promotes Personal Growth
When students learn about the customs, beliefs, and values of other cultures, it helps them grow on a personal level.
They become more well-rounded human beings by learning about the world that exists outside their native borders.
Students will also gain an understanding of how their own upbringing has shaped their personal values and beliefs.
This can lead to deeper insights into one’s own personality and character. The better a person understands themselves, the stronger they become, psychologically and socially.
2. Leads to Unique Solutions
Sometimes being aware of how things are done in another culture can show us how to solve problems at home.
Different countries may have different approaches to a particular problem that offer insights into how to solve those matters more effectively or more efficiently.
Often times we can get stuck into thinking that there is only one way to handle a situation. Multicultural education can open our minds to alternative perspectives. On occasion, that might actually lead to not seeing the matter as a problem at all, just a different way that does not have the impending negative outcomes that we once dreaded.
3. Inspires Cultural Convergence
When we learn about other cultures, an amazing thing can happen; we can integrate elements of that culture into our own.
The process works both ways of course. This type of cultural blending, where two cultures exchange ideas or traditions, makes each culture more dynamic and rich.
There are many examples of this in American culture, which is a very diverse nation.
The Irish immigrants brought great storytelling and drive to the U. S. The Italians brought great food and a passion that produces some of the greatest sports coaches in U. S. history.
Immigrants from south of the border have added to the cuisine and musical dynamics of the country that people enjoy daily.
Multicultural education makes a culture multidimensional.
See Also: Convergence Theory
4. Social advancement through education
When social scientists look back on history, they often find ways of thinking that we consider absurd today.
There are so many examples: the belief that women should not be allowed to vote; the practice of slavery; the notion that all students must learn the same way.
However, as we learn about different ethnic, gender, and racial groups, barriers are destroyed. Although the process is sometimes slow and painful, ultimately, progress is achieved.
As a result, society becomes more enlightened. This is the path that history reveals most cultures take as they evolve over time.
Multicultural education is essential for any society to evolve and be part of a modern globalized world. This means that teachers need to design and integrate lessons and activities that help students learn about different cultures.
When students understand the values and beliefs of other people, they become more tolerant and understanding. This is the basis for a peaceful society that is pluralistic and diverse.
Multicultural education can be implemented by incorporating books about diversity, creating an immersive classroom environment, or games that help teach about diversity and culture.
Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. (2001). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. 4th ed: John Wiley.
Erbaş, Y. (2018). The Pros, Cons and Necessity of Multicultural Education. Conference: X. Uluslararası Eğitim Araştırmaları Kongresi,150-165.
National Association of Multicultural Education (2011).
Definitions of multicultural education. (2023). Retrieved from https://www.nameorg.org/definitions_of_multicultural_e.php
Ogletree, Q., & Larke, P. J. (2010). Implementing multicultural practices in early childhood education. National Forum of Multicultural Issues Journal, 7(1), 1-9.
Ozturgut, O. (2011). Understanding multicultural education. Current Issues in Education, 14(2). 1-11.