Most research about diversity in education focuses on children. Andrew McCoshan looks at whether its conclusions are relevant to adult learning.
One of the chief characteristics of the topic of diversity is, well, it's diversity! It can mean many different things depending on the context. For example, in adult learning it can mean language teaching for migrants from a single country or it can mean teaching basic mathematics to people from a vast number of different cultural backgrounds at the same time. In some countries, minority communities are comparatively new while in others they are long-established. For some adult educators, handling diversity is a new and pressing need. What can be done to support them?
Despite the diversity of diversity, key sources suggest that there is broad consensus about the general types of measures needed. Most sources seem to focus on the education of children, and while we have to be careful about translating ideas simplistically into adult learning, many insights appear to be relevant.
There seem to be three areas calling for action:
- The need for new teaching skills. Different communities are likely to have different needs in terms of teaching methods and materials, and this has led to a focus on more personalised learning and individual support. “Teachers should be capable of identifying different learning styles and [students’] needs and be equipped with the skills to adopt inclusive and student-focused methods". In addition, “intercultural" competences are needed. This concerns a set of skills and approaches which, in the words of the OECD Toolkit on Teaching for Diversity, will help educators to acknowledge, value and encourage diversity and create a more “culturally responsive" learning environment.
- The need for approaches that are adopted by an entire educational institution and not just individual teachers. There appears to be a consensus that institutions need to adopt inclusive approaches that involve everybody–leaders, teachers and administrative staff–in managing linguistic and cultural diversity.
- The need to equip educators with the skills to network with the wider community. This includes community groups as well as other professionals working locally such as in social care services. In some senses this is a logical extension of the whole-institution approaches advocated. It may mean, in some cases, the development of specific outreach programmes with the support of other agencies to encourage participation in learning.
Of course, here we are just scratching the surface of a very complicated subject. It is self-evident that putting these measures into practice requires considerable effort and coordination, and we don't know how well established these approaches are in adult learning.
Interestingly, the focus on the education of children means that while the importance of networking with parents has been emphasised, a relatively overlooked issue is how adult learning can help to meet the needs of those parents–and other adults–at the same time. Ideas of family and community learning should clearly be part of the solution here. Once again, this highlights the need for integrated approaches rooted in lifelong learning and not just action in the individual parts of education and training systems.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant, an Associate with the UK Higher Education Academy, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and a Member of the UK Education & Employers Taskforce Research Group.