Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Multicultural Encounters at School

By Catherine Waite

By Eurobas (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsLast week I attended an informal seminar event about multiculturalism and youth, and it got me thinking about the issues and debates that surround these topics. For example, a quick internet search about multiculturalism and education will provide you with a whole range of results: positive and negative; old and new; expected and unexpected. The search results include articles written for teachers about how to benefit from teaching in multicultural classrooms and how learning experiences can be enhanced in an environment where pupils have a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. However, searches will also yield websites reporting the opposing argument about the detrimental effects on a child’s learning when they are in a class with others from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
The relationship between learning and multiculturalism also translates into policy debates which are evident in the search results, notably in relation to the funding implications of migrant children who are entering the state education system. This issue has recently been highlighted in a report in the Guardian surrounding the notion of Education Tourists and the right of illegal immigrants to have access to education.

Following this search I went on to look at where academics and specifically geographers have contributed to these debates and I came across a new article by Helen Wilson on parental encounters in relation to multiculturalism in primary schools. This work provides an alternative approach to considering the impacts of multiculturalism beyond the classroom. Wilson highlights the importance of intercultural dialogues that extend from the school environment and into the wider community, notably amongst the parents of the school pupils. This work recognises the significance of parental interaction at primary schools where more involvement by parents is demanded than in secondary schools, where previous research has been conducted in this field. Responsibilities for young children increase the opportunity for and the necessity of parental encounters with multiculturalism and these often occur in a repeated and routine manner. These encounters represent a new form of social learning and help challenge what are deemed to acceptable forms of intolerance towards difference. This demonstrates how geographical research is providing a fresh look at contemporary issues including encounters with multiculturalism and the impacts it can have in schools and wider society.

books_iconWilson, H.F. 2013 Multicultural learning: parental encounters with difference in a Birmingham primary school Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers DOI: 10.1111/tran.12015

60-world2Immigration: The cost for schools BBC News

60-world2Teaching in multicultural classrooms: tips, challenges and opportunities The Guardian

60-world2Ministers planning immigration crackdown on ‘education tourists’ The Guardian

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