Reflections on policy and practice in multicultural education in Cyprus.

Author:Angelides, Panayiotis
 
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Abstract: Contemporary Cyprus society is no longer homogeneous. Increasingly, Cypriots have contact with people of different cultures. The same happens in schools in Cyprus. In this article, through an ethnographic study, we investigate what happens today in Cyprus regarding the education of international and repatriated students. Analyzing the case study of a primary school class and two vignettes we try to clarify the status quo in the first part of the article. In the second part we attempt to answer the question: 'Is our educational system a melting pot of every alien civilization and a kettle of cultural assimilation that perpetuates biases, cliches, racist behaviors and cultivates the idea that the different has no place among us?' Using naturalistic models of research, we developed the case of a girl from Iran who studies in a primary school in Cyprus. Through the analysis of two other vignettes, we attempt to answer the above question and at the same time to present a critical view of the situation of multicultural education in Cyprus presenting its prospects for the future. Our article, it is hoped, will give stimulus for possible changes and reforms within the Cyprus educational system. In such a way, the Cypriot system will be able to initiate progressive international developments in the area of multicultural education.

Introduction

Over the last two decades various social theorists have been engaged in discussions regarding the phenomenon of globalization and how it impacts different aspects of the society and education in particular (e.g., Burbules & Torres, 2000; Mason, 1998). Globalization is defined as 'the process by which the peoples and nations of the world are increasingly drawn together into a single entity (Porter, 1999, p. 53). This new condition seems to have an impact on the society of Cyprus. Until recently the society of Cyprus was relatively homogeneous. However, over the last few years there has been a continuous amplification of its multicultural character. A short walk in the old "within-the-walls" town of Nicosia (the capital of Cyprus) will convince anybody about the reality of this recent amplification. During the last decade a significant number of international workers and housekeepers from Asia, entertainment artists from the former eastern bloc, as well as repatriates from the former Soviet Union have been added to existing social groups. ('Repatriate' is used throughout this article to refer to the resettling of people from the Greek diaspora back into Greek culture, in this instance settling in Cyprus.) So there is an increasing number of Cypriots who come in contact with people having different cultures. According to a recent report during the year 2003 there were 43.426 (5.8% of the population) legal workers in Cyprus and it was estimated that another 40.000 workers worked illegally (Department of Social Insurance and Police Records, 2004). Through this contact, there is an obvious need for symbiotic and synergetic relationships among these divergent groups and individuals.

The growing multicultural character of Cypriot society has raised previously unencountered problems that the government has had difficulties in dealing with. Through reading the newspapers and following the different TV documentaries, we very often confront problems arising from intercultural misunderstanding and conflict. Also, we see in the mass media various people who are desperately asking for understanding, respect for and tolerance of their ethnic or cultural difference. For example, in Cypriot newspapers, a series of articles has been published that create emotions of fear and hate against the 'bad foreigners' who came to Cyprus to get our jobs, and they are also blamed for the crime increase of late (Tharros, 1998; Pissas, 1998; Romanos, 1998). There has been a reaction to the above articles emanating from the 'Foreigners Support Movement'. Their accusations, from time to time, talk about a parastate (or unofficial policy) with exploitation of foreigners, official violence, employers that ill treat their workers, and the connivance of employers with state services (i.e., Department for Foreigners) to exploit and manipulate workers, psychological and sexual harassment, and other treatment unbefitting of Cypriot society (Foreigners; Support Movement, 2000a; 2000b).

All these have had an effect on education. The mass admission of international children to our schools has been a major reason for the emergence of serious problems: extreme nationalism, racist behaviors, the marginalization of these children, and aggressive behaviors toward them. According to a recent report during the academic year 2003-2004 in Cyprus primary schools attended 3248 (or 5.5% of the student population) international students (Panagi, 2004). Although the amplification of multiculturalism in Cyprus has not yet reached the proportions that are observed in other European countries, it has brought to the full blaze of publicity the role of education and pedagogy for people toward a peaceful symbiosis, collaboration, and mutual acceptance within the boundaries of a multicultural society. Education with its role of shaping people has a major responsibility for the future citizen of Cyprus, one who will be able to respond to the needs of the new era of globalization ostensibly founded on intercultural understanding and symbiosis.

The above state of affairs has prompted the following questions:

* What is happening in our schools regarding the education of international students, and students who have repatriated back to Cyprus from other countries?

* How are these students treated by their teachers, given that they are not prepared to fit into the mainstream educational process?

* What is the role of the Ministry of Education and Culture in this situation?

These three questions constituted our agenda at the beginning of our research project. As the project moved on a new question, the fourth, as we will see in detail later, emerged:

* Is our educational system a melting pot of every alien civilization and a kettle of cultural assimilation that perpetuates biases, cliches, racists behaviors and cultivates the idea that the different has no place among us?

In the first part of this paper we will attempt to begin answering the first three questions by analyzing the case study of a classroom in a primary school. Using our answers as a stimulus, we will present suggestions for change and reform to the educational system of Cyprus. We will also present ideas for improving the existing practices, and for more effective involvement in the teaching and learning of international students who seem to be marginalized. First, we will consider briefly the term 'multicultural education,' and then we will analyze concisely the methodological background of our research. After this we will develop two vignettes through which we will investigate the existing situation regarding the education of international students in our schools. Using these vignettes as a stimulus, we will discuss the role of the Ministry of Education and Culture in this state of affairs.

In the second part of the paper, we present two more vignettes and through their analysis we will attempt to give an answer to the fourth question. At the same time, problems and perspectives of multicultural education in Cyprus will be presented. To conclude, we will make some recommendations for the future of multicultural education in Cyprus in order to forge a multicultural education ethos in the country.

While this study refers to a Cypriot context, from which we bring forward our experience and reflect on it, we also point to some patterns of practice that might encourage and assist those in other countries who have similar challenges. It is hoped that our efforts here may assist our international colleagues to reflect on their own ways and contexts with some new points of view.

Before proceeding further, however, it would be perhaps interesting to see how this project came about, how our involvement in Cyprus developed, and in a sense, what gave rise to this opportunity for research in the first place.

The principal investigator of the project (PA) was an elementary school teacher, and then with doctoral studies in inclusive education, moved into academia. As a teacher he had many experiences of the policy and practice of multicultural education in Cyprus.

The second member of the research team (TS) was also a teacher who was doing her Masters in Education under the principal investigator's supervision. She was particularly interested in antiracist education and in the equal-rights movement. Discussing together possibilities for her dissertation, and trying to find a common denominator of their interests (inclusive education, antiracism, equal rights) they decided to focus on multicultural education. At the same time they decided to go for a bigger research project on this issue because in Cyprus there were no studies that investigated multicultural education in-depth.

When the project began they asked the help of the third member of the team (JL) who is specialist in intercultural studies and communication, and multicultural education. His work has been in the combined topic areas of culture, behavior and intercultural communication, and in globalization and lingua franca, plus multicultural education. He has experience in education from several countries: Cyprus, England, Germany, Croatia and Australia, and as an educational consultant and trainer, has been on many missions to North Africa, the Persian Gulf, Europe, the United States, and the Middle East.

Multicultural Education

The field of multicultural education is vast and intersects, among other fields, with international education, globalization, critical pedagogy, and cultural studies (see Banks, 1976; Giroux, 1991; Nieto, 1992; Sleeter & Grant, 1987). Multicultural education has to do with the relations...

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