Civic and Intercultural Education: A Means for Community Development and Attitude Change

 Oana Nestian Sandu, Global Education MagazineOana Nestian Sandu

Intercultural Institute of Timisoara, Romania

e-mail: oana.nestian@intercultural.ro, oana.nestian@gmail.com

web: www.intercultural.ro

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Abstract: Our societies are going through a process of continuous transformation. The challenges and opportunities of diversity and globalization can only be addressed if civic education and intercultural education are inter-related. More often than not, there is a lack of coherence between educational practices based on these approaches. Moreover, even if the principles and methods of civic and intercultural education are used for international as well as local development, very seldom their impact is measured through the means of scientific research. In this study, a methodology of civic and intercultural education was piloted and its impact was measured regarding teachers and students’ attitudes towards Roma. We measured the acculturation orientations and stereotypes of teachers and students involved in a civic and intercultural program. The results show that there are changes in both teachers and students attitudes towards Roma.

Key words: civic education, intercultural education, Roma, teachers, students, stereotypes, acculturation orientations.

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Introduction

The main paradigm of this article states the indivisible link between civic education and intercultural education. Civic education without intercultural education risks to ignore an important part of society, to simplify the reality and miss to address issues related to specificities of different groups, as well as challenges and opportunities of diversity. Intercultural education without civic education may run into two biases: either the approach in which diversity has to be “dealt with”, or the approach in which the intercultural aspects are taken into account, but only on the surface, without in-depth analysis of social and political context and without significant contribution to social transformation. This perspective demands us first of all to recognize that reality is plural, complex and dynamic and that interaction is an integral part of all lives and cultures. It leads to ensuring mutual respect and development of communities that support each other and eliminating relationships based on domination and rejection. In the words of Peter Lauritzen it sounds like this: “He who reduces political language to difference only will come out as an individualist and social Darwinist, he who does the same with regard to equality will end up as collectivist. It is only by keeping the concepts of difference and equality in balance that one can speak of a fair and just society.” (Ohana & Rothemund, 2008, p.138).

Diversity is not a new phenomenon, but the perspectives on diversity, the interpretations and practices in this area represent a continuous challenge. Diversity as a concept is widely used in daily life and political discourses. The current perspective on diversity shifted from celebration, appreciation or management of diversity to inclusion and development of an intercultural society. This perspective moves beyond celebration of diversity and organization of “folkloric events” to the creation of sustainable frameworks for affirming cultural identity in all aspects of life, as well as equal opportunities for personal development and contribution to the society in its entirety.

There is still a wide spread tendency to use culture in political discourses for the purpose of exclusion policies (Titley & Lentin, 2008). A real impact of civic and intercultural education implies “moving away from a focus on individual (identity) difference/s towards a focus on finding, through principled intercultural discourse, consensus for social action to redress injustice and inequality in the multicultural society” (Ohana & Otten, 2012).

The Intercultural Institute of Timisoara1 has piloted over the years a series of methods aiming at developing teachers and students’ intercultural competence and motivation for participation in local decision-making processes, as well as the development of a nuanced and fair understanding of Roma issues and contribution to their social development. Roma minority is one of the 20 recognized national minorities in Romania, one of the most disadvantaged and discriminated against. Romania is the European country with the biggest Roma population and a wide diversity of communities, some maintaining a traditional life style, others being almost completely assimilated, some having a socio-economic status similar to that of the majority population, while most of them are living in extreme poverty (Rus, 2008).

A series of public policies are implemented in different areas of life, in order to ensure equal access of Roma people to education and employment, but very little is done in order to change the negative attitudes of the majority population towards Roma. Several studies realized at national level show the existence of high levels of negative attitudes, even if there are some improvements over the years.

A civic and intercultural education program

This study makes an analysis of the impact of a civic and intercultural education methodology requiring students to analyze the situation of the Roma community at local revel and formulate a public policy proposal related to an issue affecting members of Roma communities.

The method was piloted at national level in 2011 in 11 schools, finalized with a public presentation at the Romanian Parliament and in 2012 at county level with 9 schools. The program takes place over a three months period in which teachers attend a training course and implement a project with their students. It is based on a methodology developed at international level in the CIVITAS Network, adapted to Romanian realities and developed by the Intercultural Institute of Timisoara in order to include the intercultural dimension.

The main activities implemented in the program by the students, under the coordination of their teacher, are: (1) analysis of the problems of the local Roma community; (2) selection of a problem for in-depth study by the class, a problem that can be solved through local public policies; (3) collecting information about the problem from various sources, including members of the Roma community, public institutions, NGOs, specialists, and analysis of possible solutions; (4) drafting a public policy that could solve the problem; (4) developing an action plan to influence public authorities to adopt the public policy proposed by the students; (5) organizing a showcase at local level in which students present their projects; (6) reflecting on the learning experience. Classes involved in the program are then invited to present their projects in a public event attended by public authorities and the media.

Prior to the implementation of the activities with students, teachers attend a blended learning training course which has the following objectives:

  • understanding of the way in which public institutions function, the decision-making procedures and the role of citizens in a democratic society;

  • development of intercultural sensitivity to understand the benefits and challenges of diversity, especially related to the fact that:

– ignoring cultural differences is not a solution;
– imposing an ethno-cultural belonging on someone is unacceptable;
– different ethno-cultural belongings do not necessarily imply visible differences;
– common ethno-cultural belongings do not necessarily imply homogeneity;
– not all cultural practices are acceptable in a human rights framework.

  • in-depth understanding of the situation of Roma communities in Romania;

  • learning to implement the program’s specific civic and intercultural methodology with students

This method is an answer to the need to offer students a framework to develop a thorough understanding of the situation of Roma communities, to overcome stereotypes and prejudices, which are too often present in the media, but also in the families. It addresses at the same time the need to stimulate the civic engagement and constructive attitudes based on democracy and human rights.

The impact of the program is evaluated both at teachers’ level, as well as at students’ level. Through a pretest-posttest methodology, the teachers and students’ stereotypes and attitudes towards the culturally different (respectively, Roma minority) are being assessed before and after they are involved in the program.

Attitudes towards Roma minority

Method and sample

A group of 33 teachers and 250 students, belonging mainly to the majority population participated in this study. About half of them participated in the civic and intercultural education program (experimental group), while the other half participated in a civic education program using a similar methodology but without intercultural component (control group). Through a pretest-posttest design, the teachers and students’ changes in orientations of acculturation and stereotypes towards Roma and Romanians were measured.

Instruments

Drawing on previous research by Berry, Bourhis et al. (1997) proposed the following acculturation orientations of majority members: integrationism, individualism, assimilationism, segregationism and exclusionism and developed a scale to measure these acculturation orientations. Basically these orientations of acculturation represent the combination of possible answers to the following two questions: (1) How acceptable it is for the majority population that the minority (Roma, in our case) maintain their culture?; (2) How acceptable it is for the majority population that the minority (Roma, in our case) adopt the culture of the majority population?

Integrationism,  Assimilationism,  Segregrationism, Exclusionism, Global Education Magazine

Integrationism refers to the valorisation of maintenance of certain aspect of minority identity and willingness to modify own institutional practices and certain aspects of majority culture to facilitate integration of minority groups. Assimilationism refers to desire to have minorities give up their cultural / identity characteristics in order to adopt the cultural/identity characteristics of majority. Segregationism represents tolerance for the minority culture/identity as long as they live separately, in specific neighbourhoods or regions and do not mix with majority population. Exclusionism means no tolerance for the minorities’ culture/identity and belief that certain groups can never assimilate within majority community. There is also another acculturation orientation which completely ignores cultural, religious, linguistic belonging, while focusing on personal characteristics.

The scale developed based on this model by Bourhis and Montreuil (2005) is not intended to categorize individuals as being integrationist, individualist, assimilationist, segregationist or exclusionist. This scale is intended to assess the extent to which individuals endorse each of the acculturation orientations, and this depending on the specific group being considered.

In this study, along with the Host community acculturation scale, a list of attributes was used in order to measure the stereotypes of students and teachers towards Roma and Romanians.

Results

The analysis of the results in the pretest samples of teacher and students, both in the control and in the experimental group show a medium level of exclusionism, segregationism and assimilationism with a little bit higher results on individualism and integrationism. There were no significant differences between the experimental group and the control group in the pretest phase. At the same time, regarding the stereotypes, the entire sample associates significantly more negative attributes with Roma and more positive attributes with Romanians. These results are comparable with the results of various studies done at national level which show that the majority population has mainly negative attitudes towards Roma (Rus, 2008), validating therefore the sample used in this study.

The results show that there are significant changes in the acculturations orientations of teachers and students after their participation in the program, both compared to the situation before the program and to the control group.

Regarding changes in the orientations of acculturation, after the implementation of the civic and intercultural program teachers are less assimilationists and students are less individualists than before. The fact that teachers have lower scores on assimilationist orientation means they understood the importance of maintaining and affirming cultural identity and expect much less for Roma people give up their cultural identity in order to adopt the cultural identity of the majority community. This attitudinal change of teachers could have contributed to the attitudinal change of students. Not only are students less individualist, but there are also significant changes in relation specific areas of life.

Students have, after the implementation of the program, higher scores on the segregationist orientation regarding school activities, friends and neighborhood. They are also less exclusionist and less integrationist regarding school activities. Most of the statistical significant changes regarding students’ acculturation orientations are related to the domain of school activities, which means that their participation in the project and activities of the program had a direct impact on this dimension, without being extrapolated to the other dimensions. If the teachers are less assimilationists this means they understood the importance of cultural identity and focused on it. At the same time, students understood the importance of culture, but failed to understand the importance of dialogue.

There were no significant changes of the acculturation orientation in the control group in general, just on specific domains of life. These changes are in the sense of higher scores regarding segregationism and assimilationism in certain domains of life (for example: work, marriage, neighborhood, school activities and friends).

Therefore, even if the results show less changes in the acculturation orientation than initially expected, the fact that in the control group the changes were in the other direction (more segregationists and more assimilationists) leads us to believe that the course had an important contribution to the development of more positive attitudes of the majority community towards Roma community and that the need for this type of programs in even greater.

There are also significant changes regarding the stereotypes of teachers and students towards Roma and Romanians. A comparative analysis was made between teachers and students’ stereotypes of Roma and Romanians before and after the course. Before the course, teachers associated mainly positive attributes with Romanians (11 attributes associated statistically significant more with Romanians than with Roma) and mainly negative attributes with Roma (4 attributes associated statistically significant more with Roma than with Romanians). After the course they still associate positive attributes more with Romanians than with Roma (10 attributes associated statistically significant more with Romanians than with Roma), but they associate just 1 negative attribute statistically significant more with Roma than with Romanians. At the same time, the teachers in the control group continue to associate negative attributes with Roma even after the participation in the program (7 attributes associated statistically significant more with Roma than with Romanians). The changes in the students’ stereotypes were not so significant.

We also realized a comparative analysis of the students and teachers’ stereotypes towards Roma before and after the course, in order to have a more nuanced image of the results presented above. This analysis shows that there are changes in students’ stereotypes in the sense of associating certain negative attributes to a smaller extent with Roma after the course than before the course (there are statistically significant differences on 3 negative attributes) and certain positive attributes to a larger extent (there are statistically significant differences on 3 positive attributes). Even if there were no significant differences in the Roma-Romanian comparison, there are differences between the degree to which students associate attributes to Roma before and after the course. And this difference is in the sense of associating less negative and more positive attributes with Roma.

Therefore we can state that participation in a training course and implementation of a civic intercultural program contributes to diminishing teachers and students’ negative stereotypes towards Roma. These changes represent important steps in the process of Roma inclusion and diminishing the negative perception of the majority population towards Roma. They bring an important contribution to the development of intercultural sensitivity. However, no significant differences were obtained on the integrationist orientation, even though, the purpose of the activities implicitly aimed at this and even though there were specific changes regarding the stereotypes, there were no radical improvements. These results prove, once again, that attitudinal changes need time, need a more holistic approach and continuous monitoring in order to overcome the obstacles in the development of intercultural competence. They are consistent with the result of a previous study done by the Intercultural Institute, using qualitative methods on participants in a project involving cooperation between Roma and non-Roma young people. In that study, after their participation in the program, non-Roma participants do not have necessarily an overall better attitude about Roma, but they have a more nuanced understanding of the situation and of the relationships between Roma and the rest of the society and are able to overcome stereotypes (Jivan et al., 2002).

Conclusions

The results of this research can offer relevant information for decision-making bodies regarding public policies in the field of education. For example, practices like the inclusion of information about Roma in the history manuals can lead to a decrease of exclusionism, but could also lead to an increase of segregationism and it is therefore important that they are accompanied by activities focused on dialogue, interaction and human rights based approaches.

At the same time, the results of this study show that punctual interventions aiming at increasing intercultural competence may have a positive impact, but a rather limited impact. In order to have a better understanding of the way in which acculturation orientations are changing through educational activities, it would be interested to evaluate the extent to which a whole school approach would have different results.

One of the limits of the study is the fact that the relation between the attitudes of teachers and those of students was not analysed. We believe that it is important to study this relation in future research in order to identify whether sole implementation of educational practices, regardless of teachers personal attitudes can contribute to the development of positive attitudes of students towards diversity or it is absolutely necessary that teachers attitudes be positive. In the first case, educational policies should focus on equipping teachers with educational tools to ensure and integrationist approach in education, while in the second case, the main step need to be the realisation of activities for the development of teachers’ intercultural competence.

Another limit of the study is the fact that teachers have voluntarily applied to participate in the program, having therefore an intrinsic motivation to participate and interest in the subject. Thus, we do not know to what extent the same results could be obtained with a group of teachers that are not interested in the subject. On the other hand, students’ participation was not voluntary, the activities of the project were mainly included in the school curriculum.

As much as there is a need for civic and intercultural education for community development and attitudinal change, there is also a need for research in order to identify best practices, to measure the impact of these practices and to ensure coherent, flexible and sustainable approaches for global education.

References:

Bourhis, R.Y. Moise, L., Perreault, S. & Senécal, S. (1997). Towards an interactive acculturation model: A social psychological approach. International Journal of Psychology, 32, 369-386.

Bourhis, R.Y. & Montreuil, A. (2005). Some methodological issues related to the Host Community Acculturation Scale (HCAS). Working Paper, LECRI, Département de Psychologie, Université du Québec à Montréal. Update: July 2005.

Jivan, A., Rus, C., Bota, O. (2002). Roma and Gadje in Periam and Satchinez. Timisoara. Intercultural Institute of Timisoara

Ohana, Y. & Rothemund, A. (2008). Eggs in a Pan. Speeches, Writings and Reflections by Peter Lauritzen. Council of Europe Publishing

Ohana, Y. & Otten, H. (2012). A New Intercultural Learning Concept for the European Youth Sector? In Ohana, Y. & Otten, H. (Eds.), Where Do You Stand? Intercultural Learning and Political Education in Contemporary Europe (pp. 183-240). Germany. VS Verlag für Sozialwiessenschaften

Rus, C. (2008). Roumanie: un système en évolution à la recherche de ses repères conceptuels . In Demeuse, M. Frandji, D., Greger, D., Rochex, J-Y. (Eds.), Les politiques d’éducation prioritaire en Europe (pp. 311-360). Lyon. Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique

Titley, G. Lentin, A. (Eds.). (2008). The politics of diversity in Europe. Strasbourg. Council of Europe Publishing

NOTES:

1 Intercultural Insitute of Timisoara is an NGO established in 1992 with activities in the field of intercultural education, education for democratic citizenship, human rights education, Roma inclusion, migration and international cooperation (www.intercultural.ro)

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This article was published on September 15th: International Day of Democracy, in Global Education Magazine.

 

 

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