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The following definitions are from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They provide an international context for intercultural understanding in education.

Developing an understanding of other people and an appreciation of interdependence ... in a spirit of respect for the values of pluralism, mutual understanding, peace and cultural diversity ... the learner needs to acquire knowledge, skills and values that contribute to a spirit of solidarity and co-operation among diverse individuals and groups in society.

Ref: UNESCO Guidelines on Intercultural Education 2006, p. 20

Intercultural competences are abilities to adeptly navigate complex environments marked by a growing diversity of peoples, cultures and lifestyles, in other terms, abilities to perform "effectively and appropriately when interacting with others who are linguistically and culturally different from oneself" (Fantini & Tirmizi, 2006). Schools are a central place to nurture such skills and abilities, as was underlined by UNESCO in a previous publication, Guidelines on Intercultural Education ... Nevertheless, given their relevance for social and political life, the scope of intercultural competences is much wider than formal education. They have to reach out to a new generation of cybercitizens, notably young men and women who have unimagined opportunities for global conversations.

Ref: UNESCO, Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework 2013, p. 5.


What Works 3 – section on ‘Educating for intercultural understanding’ (pp. 12-14)

Educating for intercultural understanding: International perspectives

A focus on the principles of intercultural understanding is not new. Giles, Pitkin and Ingram (1946) have detailed the goals, scope and purpose of what they termed 'intercultural education.' They turned their attention to issues associated with teacher preparation – both pre-service and in-service – in order to:

  1. best bring about improved relations between individuals and cultural groups
  2. gain respect for difference
  3. reduce prejudice.

In terms of pedagogic approaches, they asked: What types of learning activities have an effect upon attitudes, and do attitudes change due to some kind of emotional experience, or through critical analysis? (Giles, Pitkin & Ingram, 1946, p.43) 

Decades later, educators from around the world still grapple with the challenge of educating for intercultural understanding (UNESCO, 2006; see Perry & Southwell, 2011). Some of this challenge comes from a shift in terminology from 'multicultural education' to 'intercultural education' and the subsequent need to define what is meant by 'intercultural' (Coulby, 2006). 

A comprehensive review of the many dimensions of educating for intercultural understanding is provided by Perry and Southwell (2011), who present a review of relevant literature outlining different conceptual models of interculturality; that is, teaching and learning that highlights mutual respect for the richness of diversity and the equal value of all cultures (UNESCO, 2006; Pratas, 2010).

Intercultural understanding – here they cite the work of Hill (2006) who speaks about both the cognitive and affective domains of intercultural understanding. It includes knowledge of one's own culture and of the similarities and differences between cultures, although this knowledge is insufficient on its own. Positive attitudes such as empathy and respect for other cultures are also necessary. They include reference to the affective basis of intercultural sensitivity (Chen & Starosta, 2002). 

Intercultural competence – despite no singular definition, intercultural competence involves the ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people from other cultures. It generally refers to four dimensions of knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviours (see Bennett, 2004, 2008). 

Intercultural communication – this involves the ability to effectively and appropriately communicate with people from different cultures (Arasaratnam, 2009), characterised by interpersonal skills, team effectiveness, cultural uncertainty and cultural empathy (Matveev & Nelson, 2004). 

Work conducted by Bennett (2004, 2008) on models of intercultural competence and intercultural sensitivity has focused attention on the experiences that individuals have of difference. More ethno-centric orientations can be seen as ways of avoiding cultural difference and more ethno-relative views are 'ways of seeking difference, either by accepting its importance, by adapting perspectives, or integrating cultural difference into definitions of identity' (Bennett, 2004, p. 63). 

People who accept cultural difference retain a critical disposition towards difference and do not merely agree with the values and way of life central to another culture. Acceptance and finally integration of cultural difference is dependent upon knowledge, skills and competencies, including critical thinking, that allow individuals to expand their own worldview to include relevant constructs from other worldviews and to experience themselves as 'multicultural' (Bennett, 2004).

The importance of these ethno-relative stages of development in intercultural competence mirrors the ultimate goal of the United Nations for students in schools to be exposed to the dynamic concept of interculturality; that is, for them to understand that interculturality builds on multiculturalism and stems from intercultural exchange and dialogue at local, national, regional and international levels (UNESCO, 2006). 


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