As the earth is becoming a global village due to rapid development in science and technology, people from different background are finding themselves living together. More than ever before, people from different culture and social background are living in the same environment, sharing schools, and other social facilities. This has brought about diversity in day to day activities of people. One such area of our lives, which has been affected by diversity, is education system, both in terms of students and teachers. This essay tries to look into aspects of diversity evidence in classroom set up. It will endeavour to establish what are these aspects, their importance in different classroom setup, and merits and the challenges of such diversity.
Firstly, classroom diversity is evident in ethnic composition of students and teachers in a classroom. Now, many classes are a composition of different ethnic groups. Even in relatively interior part of the globe, one will find students from different groups. Such ethnic diversities can help bridge ethnic harmony in a country. Students who undergo learning in such a setup will accustom to tolerate people of other originalities (Gay, 2002). This, in the long run, means a less intolerant society.
Another aspect of diversity in a classroom is one, based on social-economic background. Students who hail from different social and economic background find themselves sharing same classrooms in the course of their education. This help to diffuse the social class distinction among students. In so doing, the less privileged students feel a sense of integration to the society. On the other hand, students from affluent economic background appreciate that their colleagues are just as smart and intellectually endowed. They also become sensitive to other members of the society who are less privileged (Gay, 2002). This, in turn, helps eradicate prejudices among students.
Cultural diversity is another aspect of classroom diversity in education system. This is a result of immigration of people from rural to urban areas. It also occurs as a result of cross border movement as people seek new economic opportunities or seek asylums. This kind of diversity provides the greatest potent benefits to students as are the challenges. In this kind of mix, students come from different cultural background. Students get the opportunity to learn about other people’s cultures and beliefs, hence, inter-cultural exchange. This promotes tolerance betweens different cultures. Such students can gain the experience of understanding other cultures, which may benefit them later during their working life outside of their territories (Gay, 2002). This is a benefit in becoming a global citizen.
Religious diversity is a result of students confessing faith in different belief systems in a classroom. Many schools are not affiliated to any particular religion and, hence, many accommodate students from different religious background. Religious diversity is important in school since it creates religious tolerance among students. This especially true if a school in a predominately one religion area admit students from other faith. One religion belief may be the very opposite of the other. This has always caused religious conflict in many parts of the globe. If schools integrate student of different religions, this can help build harmony and understanding in the society (Gay, 2002).
Age difference is another aspect of classroom diversity. As the job market is becoming increasingly competitive, older people are going back to school to sharpen their skills and add new ones. In the classroom, they find relatively young students who are still in school. This diversity creates synergy in learning new ideas beyond the class curriculum. The older people can help guide the young in career choice and share with them job market experience (Gay, 2002). This helps the younger students make informed career choice decisions and selection of specialities in their courses. Age difference can lead to older and younger student being frowned upon. Accommodating this diversity can help student from different age group develop respect for one another. According to Gay (2002), older people respect young people for what they are able to achieve despite their age, and not see them as inexperienced ones, which should be ‘ruled’ by the older people. On the other hand, young people learn to respect and interact with older people in the society.
Gender composition is another aspect of diversity found in classrooms. Traditionally, gender has been classified as male and female. A third type represents ‘hermaphroditism’ that is the result of either biological traits or learnt behaviours. This is mainly manifested through preference dressing or behaviour style. This group can be discriminated by others as it is perceived not to ‘match the norm’ (Gay, 2002). Teachers and school administrator should be aware of this group vulnerability to avoid discrimination, especially in a rural school set up. According to Gay (2002), if students from ‘abnormal’ groups are accommodated, cases of gender discrimination can be eradicated. Also, students can learn to accommodate people of various sexual orientations.
Difference in physical and mental ability is another diversity, which can be found in classroom. Students who are mentally or physically challenged share the class with ‘normal’ students. This kind of diversity helps students who are challenged to feel a sense of normalcy by sharing same facilities with the other non-challenged students. This, in turn, boosts their self-esteem and makes them less pitiful of themselves (Downing, 2002). Physically challenged students will most likely choose a vocation, which in the ordinary setting would be a preserve of the ‘normal’ students. Moreover, students with special needs will get much help from the other students, especially in areas, where they are physically challenged. On the other hand, ordinary students become empathetic of others less endowed physically. This can also help such students develop interest in caring for physically challenged member of the community (Downing, 2002).
The benefits for student accruing from classroom diversity are so enormous. Many students from different backgrounds report that exposure to different cultures and experiences of others helped them to better understand points of view different from their own. In the 21st century, students, undergoing learning in educational system, which embraces diversity, will have an upper edge over their counter parts who attend homogeneous school (Gay, 2002). This, in turn, makes them globally competitive in the job market.
The importance of classroom diversity goes beyond individual student benefits. A good part of educational curriculum is developed through ‘consultation’ of students from different background (Gay, 2002). Many institutions of learning are integrating diversity in their vision and mission to attract students from different backgrounds and make them competitive regionally and globally. This has being informed by the fact that students from diverse backgrounds come with different gifts and talents (Gay, 2002).
The importance of diversity in education system has also impacted on society at large.
Studies show that minority of students thrive intellectually in a diverse learning set up. They grow intellectually, where long held beliefs and ideas are put in to challenge. They learn better in an environment, where they are confronted with people of diverse backgrounds (Gay, 2002). Social and racial barriers are continually diminishing as social integration and tolerance take roots. Socially, student who undergo schooling in heterogeneous community develop ability to understand ideas and feelings of others. According to Gay (2002), these students can later in life be able to live in a racially diverse environment. They can also easily make and maintain friendship with people from different races. Also, they can function better in an increasingly diverse workplace.
The benefits of multiculturalism in education do not benefit the minority group alone. For instance, studies of American Universities show that white students who had most experience with racial diversity interaction progress better both academically and socially. They score high grades on tests, requiring complex thinking, are more motivated and have higher intellectual self-confidence. They were also found to do better socially and make friends with people from different races easily (Gay, 2002). Such students can impact on the society significantly as agents of change, especially in territories, where racial and cultural prejudices are deep rooted.
The diversity in education system also contributes to distribution of skills in different geographical areas since labour is adaptable to different working environment. The distribution of skilled labour also spurs development in different parts of the globe. Cultural interchange also promotes ‘good’ cultures and discards ‘bad’ ones in the society. When people are exposed to people of different cultural backgrounds, they can intelligently question some of their cultural beliefs. This helps in developing a progressive global culture (Gay, 2002). The benefit of educational diversity to both individual and society is evident and will continue to play a critical role in education and development.
These benefits have prompted most universities in the U.S. to develop an affirmative action in their admissions. Apart from grade score, they look in to other diverse quality as race, religion and background origin. This is aimed at avoiding a heterogeneous student body. It also helps to enhance special skills and talents such as sports. Though grades play a crucial role for admission, more institutions of learning can adopt these policies to tap from the gains of diversity in schools. This will make universities live to their true meaning of universality.
Physical ability diversity in a classroom
Physically challenged students are those that suffer normal physical form. Example of this includes those who lack part of, or all of their limbs like hands and legs. They could also be mentally challenged. This could be as a result of defects at birth or suffered after birth through diseases or accidents. Such students need special attentions and facilities in their day to day life, including schooling. Many of these students need to attend special schools, which have special facilities and trainers for their learning. But there are physical and mental challenges, which, nevertheless, can be handled by mainstream schools with minimal or no specialities required. There are pros and cons in incorporating such students in mainstream schools.
One of the advantages of educating children with special needs in mainstream schools is the enhancement of their self-worth. By learning together with their ‘normal’ counterparts, these students feel a sense of equality and normalcy. This, in turn, enhances their acceptance of their conditions and these students feel they are as good as the other students. As it’s noted by Downing (2002), students with special needs are more likely to perform better in their academic and non-academic activities in a mainstream schools than if they were in special schools. This is because they tend to stretch their potential to match that of other ‘normal’ students (Downing, 2002). It’s also noted that children with special needs receive extra attention from their teachers than their counter part. Children with special needs who undergo education through mainstream schools integrate easily with the rest of the society at an early age. This is because they no longer view themselves as ‘abnormal’ since they have been used to diverse environment at school. They treat other members of society with respect and gain it back. This is unlike their counter parts that undergo education in special schools and normally confined together with students with similar conditions. They have a hard time integrating in the society since they are not used to cohabitate with people of diverse back ground (Downing, 2002).
The companionship of their friends and siblings is also not broken by school. Since from home these students live together with their siblings and neighbours, this bond is not broken by schooling. Their siblings and neighbours who may be ‘normal’ happen to share the same school with them, when they attend mainstream schools. Thus, their social life is not interrupted.
The ‘normal’ students also have an opportunity to learn how to live with physically challenged students (Downing, 2002). They understand their special needs and also gain from their special talents. This diversity is beneficial to both students with special needs and those who are ‘normal’.
Children with special physical needs have the opportunity to get assistance from other students in school. For example, a student who uses a wheelchair can get help from a colleague who is physically normal - there are more able hands to help. Strong friendships are established and maintained. Further, such gestures help enhance a sense of community responsibility by the students (Downing, 2002).
Teachers who teach children with diverse needs also gain invariable experience in dealing with different situations in their career. This results in boost in their teaching and learning styles. Students with physical needs have varying unique ways of learning. According to Downing (2002), this makes such teachers more competitive in the job market. Thus, the teacher has the opportunity to learn these diverse styles and needs of different students. Such teachers become even more resourceful to their students and community at large. They can be able to adapt to different situations and circumstances (Downing, 2002).
Since schools for physically needy children are in scarcity, especially in rural areas, mainstream schools can help bridge this shortage by admitting such children. This will enable many such student acquire education. In effect, these students will suffer less discrimination by the society. Also, conventionally, all students with special needs would always be considered for special schools. Some of these students would otherwise fit in a mainstream school. Special needs students don’t feel pulled out of the community (Downing, 2002)
Peer role models for academic, social and behavioural skills are enhanced. With diversity, it means there is a wide pool of ideas and role model to learn from. Both mainstream and special needs children possess various qualities and skills, which they can impact on one another.
Despite numerous potential advantages, students with special physical needs who attend mainstream schools can be subject to discrimination and prejudice. This can be either intended or un-intended discrimination. Intended discrimination can result from ‘normal’ students, making remarks, which are intended to demean them. Such comments make fun of their physical attributes. Such demeaning acts can extensively damage the special needs students’ self-worth (Downing, 2002). This, in turn, has a bearing on the academic performance of such students. According to Downing (2002), unintended discriminations results from activities in the school, which the physically challenged may be unable to participate in. This includes activities such as sports or other physical intensive activities they might be unable to partake. These cause psychological torment to such students.
The physically needy students require special care in their daily activities. This care may not be available in mainstream schools. Unless these schools have developed special care programs for these students, their daily life can be greatly challenged (Downing, 2002). Also, the curriculum in these schools might be bias towards ‘normal’ children group. This leaves the physically challenged children disadvantaged in learning process. The school physical and structural design may have not put in to consideration the physically needy children. This can inhibit movement and use of facilities (Downing, 2002). All these have bearing on academic performance.
Also, mainstream schools might be lacking teachers who are trained to cater for physically needy children. Most of these children require specialized attentions, which teachers in conventional school might lack. This makes it hard for talents enhancement in this lot. This is because the teachers may be using the same approach in teaching for both ‘normal’ and physically challenged students. It has been noted that this is a cause of low performance and morale in school for this children (Downing, 2002).
Since special needs children require special attention, teacher time is taken away from the other students in the inclusive classroom. This may cause other students to be left out by the teacher. Apart from denying others similar attention, this may cause resentment to the special needs children (Downing, 2002)
Teachers have to take more time, when planning lessons in order to adapt the lesson to students with special needs. More time to prepare for lessons means less time to impart the knowledge. This can be demoralizing to teachers, especially where there is low teacher student ratio. It can also affect the quality of material for lessons since the teacher has little time to dig deep in to the material (Downing, 2002)
To enrol children with special needs in mainstream school will continue to draw study interest and analysis. Both pros and cons should be analyzed carefully before an inclusive program in a learning institution is adopted. Before such a program is adopted there is a need of careful analysis of various questions, which ought to be answered. The school administration should put in place policies, which guide in this program. Such policies should address whether the school has the capacity skills for training children who have diverse physical needs (Downing, 2002). Sensitisation to the mainstream students on appropriate way to handle children with special needs should be paramount - abuse of people with disability is so hurtful to be ignored.
Facilities to support children with special needs should be available in a school. Such facilities like special teaching aids and tools should be provided to these children. No any research shows any retrogressive effects in including children with special needs with mainstream students so long as its appropriately implemented and necessary supports and services are provided (Downing, 2002). The benefits accruing from combining ‘able’ and ‘disabled’ children in the same classroom have far reaching benefits to both individual students and the society as a whole.
As the world is becoming smaller, so is the need for its citizen to be equipped with diverse knowledge on how to understand different people and their needs. This can be partly achieved through these programs. Thus, more and more mainstream schools will continue developing curriculum, which accommodates special needs children. Not all special needs children of course fit in mainstream system of school. Some acute cases will definitely require the need for special schools to take care of. Nevertheless, mild to moderate cases of special needs students will continue sharing classrooms with mainstream children now and in future.