Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 36, No. 4, 445–463, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a multicultural education course and its efforts to provide pre-service teachers with knowledge about and experience with issues related to diversity and multicultural education. In particular, this study sought to compare pre-service teachers’ entry and exit point knowledge in a multicultural education course.
A total of 38 students were recruited from a multicultural education course at an urban university in southwestern Finland during the autumn semester of the 2011–2012 academic year.
The study involved a mixed method approach. Data were gathered through the use of a survey, pretest and posttest, journals, reflections, final evaluations and focus groups.
The findings indicate that pre-service teachers made gains in knowledge after taking the course, which led to restructuring of their cognitive models. Further, pre-service teachers felt they were more competent and prepared to teach students from minority backgrounds.
The findings suggest that pre-service teachers’ understanding of issues related to multicultural education increased significantly after taking a course in multicultural education. This study revealed that these pre-service teachers had a clear vision and were optimistic and confident about their ability to teach diverse groups of students.
This study found that the increment in knowledge observed in pre-service teachers after the course was attributed in part to particular teaching strategies used in the course. Data from all sources suggested that students felt the multiple methods employed by the professor, especially the opportunity to reflect on their learning, accounted for their knowledge gains. Students cited the interactive strategies used during the lectures as extremely useful. The interactions between the different aspects of the course and how this facilitated students’ learning is the subject of separate analysis. The main contribution of this study is the finding that offering a multicultural education course in teacher education programmes can serve an important function in building teachers’ awareness and knowledge about cultural diversity.
Another important finding relates to cognitive change or restructuring. A close examination of the final reflections, learning journals and focus group discussions of a subset of three students revealed that cognitive restructuring had occurred in all of these students after taking the course. The present study suggests that the entire sample had restructured their diversity schema (most conspicuous from students’ final reflections and focus group discussions), although the level of change varied across students. Furthermore, there were several occasions when students demonstrated awareness of inconsistencies in their current schema; this, according to the literature, is a necessary step for those kinds of change that require old beliefs to be deserted and replaced with a different conceptual structure.
The data provide evidence that these pre-service teachers’ beliefs about their preparedness to teach minority students had evolved. They felt more confident, enthusiastic and optimistic about teaching children from diverse backgrounds after taking this multicultural education course. This was especially evident in descriptions of how their thinking had evolved over the semester. Their self-reports revealed that they became more aware of their ignorance about diversity and multicultural education after exposure. Following the course, however, students took on the view that multicultural education was multifaceted and that one did not need to make any special effort to ‘fit in’ this diverse material; rather, it was a pervasive attitude that could be incorporated into the normal curriculum.
Overall, the benefits of this experience resided in knowledge growth, and these prospective teachers viewed this new knowledge as a tool of empowerment which they could use to positively invest in the lives of their students.
The data suggest that as a result of taking a course in multicultural education, preservice teachers’ awareness of issues related to multicultural education increased, mediated by a process of self-reflection. Further, the increase in knowledge was linked to cognitive restructuring of students’ diversity schema. Nearly all of these prospective teachers believed they were capable of teaching minority students after taking the course.
Several implications for teacher education are highlighted by the present study. Of particular importance is that the manner in which issues of power, privilege and difference are addressed is as important as the topics themselves.
A critical aspect of the course was the emphasis on self-reflection, dialogue and action, rather than simply engaging in study of the theory of multiculturalism. In addition, each and every student, regardless of background, was encouraged to consider the notions of power and privilege in relation to their own lives. They were made aware that the work of multicultural education is work that each and every teacher and faculty member must engage in.
This study indicated that rather than planning the content and the frequency at which multicultural education courses are taught, teacher education programmes should focus more attention on how to teach such courses. The outcome of this study suggests that more than attendance is needed if pre-service teachers’ prejudices and misunderstandings can be changed into more informed and realistic perspectives. It is thus recommended that courses be organised interactively to encourage critical social perspectives while providing opportunities for field experiences and reflection on all aspects of the coursework. Prospective teachers should be immersed into multiple cultural perspectives, particularly those of marginalized groups, to help them gain first-hand information that will challenge societal and preconceived stereotypes about people who are different from themselves.
In conclusion, these findings are important because throughout Europe there is a critical need for teacher education programmes and teacher educators to incorporate multicultural perspectives into teacher preparation. This is especially true in nations like Finland where multiculturalism is still a new, albeit growing, phenomenon. Such changes would be timely and in the right direction, since perceived challenges related to the teaching of immigrant populations are likely to increase rather than decline in the future.