Imagine a country where everyone speaks and writes the same language. A country with one religion, one ethnic group and common values, that and much more is what distinguishes multiculturalism from a homogenous environment. Today, most of the top notch educational institutions across the globe exercise multiculturalism along with multilingualism and believe that their systems are much more efficient as well as effective due to the these two factors put in place. On the other hand, some argue that being in a homogenous educational environment is the most appropriate in terms of curriculum, teachers, peers, friends, staff and language of instruction.
At the age of seven I was sent to a school that was considered to be much more multicultural than any other school in the United Arab Emirates, at least at that time. The International School of Choueifat is one of the leading schools in the country with branches in nearly all emirates. I have been doing all sorts of activities with students, teachers and peers from different regions of the world such as: The Middle East, United States/Canada, Europe and Asia. This experience has in fact broadened my knowledge and developed my personality to become what I am today, a student who speaks three languages, writes in two languages and is open minded in most if not all aspects of life. The concept of diversity begins as soon as one allows change to take place, thus, accepting differences and making space for diversity to prevail. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai once stated, "Man should always strive to leave the cage surrounding him." (Al Maktoum, n. d, p.8)
Some argue that a homogenous environment at schools and universities is what makes their educational systems unique or somewhat within a safety zone. They are threatened by the concept of diversity, perceiving it as a risk towards cultural identity and their mother tongue language. These types of institutions teach in one language, operate with a workforce coming from very closely related backgrounds and emphasize on the importance of unity rather than diversity. Most of the governmental schools in the U.A.E are considered to have a homogenous environment, were all students come from the same culture (Emirati's), a reasonable number of the teachers are Emirati's and the administrative authority is handled by local citizens as well.
In my opinion, only with a diverse educational environment can one truly develop the level of education for teachers, students and the institution as a whole yet always prioritizing the mother language. Diversity opens up doors to sophisticated discussions, deep critical thinking and numerous points of views of worldwide subjects. Furthermore, it boosts the quality of outcomes after graduation for a much more successful life filled with diverse knowledge, diverse experiences and diverse mental order. An example of diversity taking place in the U.A.E is mentioned by Alan Dessoff, an independent journalist in Bethesda, Maryland, stating that, Zayed University initiated eight global graduate courses with the University of Washington to offer students and teachers measureless experiences from other cultures educational structure. (Dessoff, 2009)
My experience as I have mentioned earlier was rather a different one. The language of instruction was mainly in English, while maintaining the Arabic language to preserve the cultural identity of the place. In terms of curriculum, my school involved elements from diverse sources to enhance the learning environment, therefore, allowing students to gain knowledge not only from the U.A.E but also from other developed and developing countries around the globe. Our teachers were from different backgrounds, teaching not only the required texts but going beyond by including their worldwide experiences to broaden our perspectives and awareness of global dilemmas. My peers and friends were from different countries around the world, each with a different story to share, a different idea to convey.
At The American University of Sharjah, I did not experience a cultural shock at all due to the diversified foundation I have been part of. Take our class as an example, taught by an Arab professor, educated at a worldwide level, teaching us her perspective on education, now how many factors do you think are influencing her opinion? Thoughts from her native country, thoughts from her educational experience or are the thoughts from the U.A.E? We students sit and listen to thoughts from various sources, isn't this what diverse education is all about? This is quite different from an Emirati who is taught by an Emirati, who always lived in the Emirates and who has only learned from local sources, what do you think his/her perspective of education is? In my opinion it would be rather narrow. Will this give the student a chance to broaden their scope of thoughts? I would doubt it. At AUS, the whole environment is diversified, curriculum, teachers and students. This allows students to learn from diversity and use it to their benefit to become independent learners and thinkers.
Overall, diversity had an extreme impact on the learning environment of my school and university, allowing me to grasp knowledge from a global perspective and hopefully sharing my knowledge even further to spread wisdom across multicultural societies. I certainly do not comprehend why some prefer to be in a homogeneous educational environment if in a diverse educational environment we find greater success. According to Kathy Davis, an associate professor at East Carolina University, "Everyone wants the same things out of life- health, love, success, happiness." (Davis, 2010)
- Davis,K..(2010). Physical Educators Must Address Diversity Now!Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance,81(2),4-5,14. Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Health Module. (Document ID:1959686331).
- Dessoff,A..(2009). Teaching THE World.International Educator,18(3),44-48,50,52,54,56. Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Academic Research Library. (Document ID:1711970481).
- His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. His Highness quotes. n. d. 2005. Pg. 8 of 8 Retrieved April 25, 2010 from http://www.sheikhmohammed.com/vgn-ext-templating/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2b44142042525110VgnVCM1000007064a8c0RCRD&QueryPage-page=8