3.1 Preschool Curriculum: What is curriculum in cultural and social contexts?





In this chapter we are going to learn about curriculum in cultural and social contexts. We shall start by looking at curriculum in social context and then look at the cultural contexts.


3.1 Examine  curriculum in cultural and social contexts.

Meaning of Culture

Culture is the sum total of a child’s or family’s ways of living. Their values or beliefs, language, patterns of thinking, appearance and behaviour it includes the set of rules that form a family’s behaviour and are passed or learned from one generation to the other. A multicultural curriculum is one which actual challenges, prejudice and stereotyping and presents an opportunity for the development of mutual respect, mutual sharing, and mutual understanding .It is crucial to establish an early education environment that establish children to make connections to their reality as well as the larger world, to develop positive self-esteem and to receive approval, recognition, and success. It is important to understand that exploring and implementing a multicultural anti-bias curriculum become a continuous journey of growth and change. Multicultural education is more than teaching information directly.  It means providing a classroom that includes materials depicting people from many different places doing many different things. It also encouraging children to think and talk like members of their own culture. It’s helping children like themselves just the way they are.

The language through which the school curriculum is communicated is not neutral and neither is the selected content of that curriculum. They are defined and shaped by historical and cultural processes and ideas and by a unique set of historical antecedents, which vary from country to country. Likewise there is no one ‘right’ way of teaching and learning – approaches to pedagogy are defined by social and cultural factors at specific points in time and vary from country to country.  The content of the curriculum, language and pedagogic approaches will affect the degree to which learners feel they can identify with what is being taught and the degree to which they feel ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’ in the learning process. Each learner is unique and will bring their own experiences, preferences and learning styles to the learning process.

The culture of a school is also influenced by the cultural understandings that the adults who work there bring with them. Pupils have to negotiate meaning and to accommodate new understandings in order to become effective learners. There are differences between school cultures in different countries. Children’s backgrounds and experiences will vary but they will impact on the their perceptions of themselves, on their sense of identity, on their sense of belonging and their ability to learn. Teachers cannot know about the home cultures of all the children they teach but they need to understand how the home culture may impact on the child’s ability to learn in the context of school and their classroom.

Teachers need to avoid making assumptions based on stereotypical views, be sensitive to different ideas, values and beliefs and seek information about pupils’ backgrounds and experiences. Moll refers to the ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll, 1992; Moll et al, 1992) that are contained in the communities of pupils and that are waiting to be drawn on to enhance children’s learning, bridging the gap between home and school and between pupils and their educators.

The debate between traditionalists and progressives over curriculum is essentially a debate on how best to prepare students to live in society. Differences of opinion about curriculum stem from deeper differences about the nature of learning, the nature of society, and the purpose of schools in a democracy. Traditionalists structure schools to prepare students for filling roles in society not for transforming it. They do not see that traditional approaches may contribute to maintaining the inequity and injustice that exist in our society. Progressives see society as needing improvement and the schools as serving the function of helping students become thinking citizens who can contribute to creating a more just society. John Dewey, the leading progressive educator of the century, wrote that “education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”


Reasons for Using the Local Culture in School Curriculum

  • Meets needs of hands-on, concrete, visual learners (and younger children).
  • Builds keen observation skills, and higher level thinking skills (comparing, contrasting, predicting, understanding cause/effect, understanding role of history in developing values, distinguishing between biblical and cultural values).
  • Teaches use of “primary” resources when doing research.
  • Motivates learning when studying something “real” and immediately useful in the setting.
  • Deepens understanding of concepts when experience/compare/contrast can better understand the abstract or less-experienced, when compared with concrete or experienced.
  • Helps adaptation to and appreciation of local situation.
  • Develops relationships with local people (shows respect and appreciation)
  • Builds communication skills (language, understanding).
  • Builds cross-cultural adaptation skills – knowing what to look for in cultures, understanding how things are different (not necessarily better/worse, or right/wrong) in different places appreciating different ways of doing things, learning to act respectfully in different settings.
  • Helps young people sort out own identity and better adapt to passport country when focus on and talk about differences between their experiences and those of passport country peers.
  • Makes young people more able to communicate with people from passport country when able to articulate how/why there are differences in their own values and opinions.
  • Prepares for effective cross-cultural ministries and/or international employment opportunities in future.


3.2 Analyze the concept of culturally responsive teaching and how it is validating in the context of education

Culturally Responsive Teaching is Validating

Gay (2000) defines culturally responsive teaching as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students.  Gay (2000) also describes culturally responsive teaching as having these characteristics:

  • It acknowledges the legitimacy of the cultural heritages of different ethnic groups, both as legacies that affect students’ dispositions, attitudes, and approaches to learning and as worthy content to be taught in the formal curriculum.
  • It builds bridges of meaningfulness between home and school experiences as well as between academic abstractions and lived socio-cultural realities.
  • It uses a wide variety of instructional strategies that are connected to different learning styles.
  • It teaches students to know and praise their own and each other’s cultural heritages.
  • It incorporates multicultural information, resources, and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools.

Using these characteristics to improve culturally responsive teaching would involve considerations to the classroom environment.  Literature in the classroom would reflect multiple ethnic perspectives and literary genres.  Math instruction would incorporate everyday-life concepts, such as economics, employment, consumer habits, of various ethnic groups.  In order to teach to the different learning styles of students, activities would reflect a variety of sensory opportunities-visual, auditory, tactile (Gay, 2000).

Ladson-Billings (1992) explains that culturally responsive teachers

  • Develop intellectual, social, emotional, and political learning by “using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”.
  • In a sense, culturally responsive teachers teach the whole child (Gay, 2000). 
  • Hollins (1996) adds that education designed specifically for students of color incorporates “culturally mediated cognition, culturally appropriate social situations for learning, and culturally valued knowledge in curriculum content” .
  • Culturally responsive teachers realize not only the importance of academic achievement, but also the maintaining of cultural identity and heritage (Gay, 2000).

Multidimensional culturally responsive teaching involves many things: curriculum content, learning context, classroom climate, student-teacher relationships, instructional techniques, and performance assessments.  Teachers from various disciplines (language arts, science, social studies, music) may collaborate in teaching a single cultural concept, such as protest. Students can also participate actively in their own performance evaluations (Gay, 2000).

Culturally responsive teaching enables students to be better human beings and more successful learners.  Empowerment can be described as academic competence, self-efficacy, and initiative.  Students must believe they can succeed in learning tasks and have motivation to persevere. Teachers must demonstrate ambitious and appropriate expectations and exhibit support for students in their efforts toward academic achievement.  This can be done through attribution retraining, providing resources and personal assistance, modeling positive self-efficacy beliefs, and celebrating individual and collective accomplishments (Gay, 2000).

Culturally responsive teaching means respecting the cultures and experiences of various groups and then uses these as resources for teaching and learning.  It appreciates the existing strengths and accomplishments of all students and develops them further in instruction.  Other ethnic groups of students prefer to study together in small groups.  More opportunities for them and other students to participate in cooperative learning can be provided in the classroom. Banks (1991) asserts that if education is to empower marginalized groups, it must be transformative.  Being transformative involves helping “students to develop the knowledge, skills, and values needed to become social critics who can make reflective decisions and implement their decisions in effective personal, social, political, and economic action”.

Culturally responsive teaching is liberating (Asante, 1991/1992; Au, 1993; Erickson, 1987; Gordon, 1993; Lipman, 1995; Pewewardy, 1994; Philips, 1983).  It guides students in understanding that no single version of “truth” is total and permanent.  It does not solely prescribe to mainstream ways of knowing.  Gay (2000) states that the validation, information, and pride it generates are both psychologically and intellectually liberating”. This freedom results in improved achievement of many kinds, including increased concentration on academic learning tasks. Other improved achievements can include: clear and insightful thinking; more caring, concerned, and humane interpersonal skills; better understanding of interconnections among individuals, local, national, ethnic, global, and human identities; and acceptance of knowledge as something to be continuously shared, critiqued, revised, and renewed (Chapman, 1994; M. Foster, 1995; Hollins, 1996; Hollins).




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