Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Don't treat foreign parents as oddities

By Chiou Shwe-wen 邱琡雯

The visibility of foreign brides in society is increasing. From the proliferation of Southeast Asian food stalls and restaurants to multicultural events on school campuses, they are becoming more conspicuous to the public.

According to the Taipei City Government's 2005 Taipei City Elementary School Multicultural Week Accomplishment Report, one of the approaches to the week-long event was to invite immigrant parents to introduce the life and culture of their native countries to their children's classmates. In this way, students could learn about the cuisine, folk songs, clothing, places of historic interest, games, festivals, basic greetings and so on of other countries, predominately Southeast Asian.

In fact, this kind of course design -- inviting immigrants to talk about their culture in junior-high and elementary schools -- was adopted long ago in developed countries.

According to a study I conducted of Asian female lecturers on ethnicity and culture in education for international understanding in Kawasaki, Japan, I found that this type of program is a common method for teaching people to understand and accept cultural differences.

This educational program was introduced in the 1950s by a Japan defeated in World War II in response to UNESCO's promotion of education for international understanding.

It was not until the 1980s and 1990s, however, that the program shifted its focus from training Japanese to participate in the international community to promoting coexistence with foreign residents in Japan.

As a result, teachers began to invite foreigners residing in Japan to introduce their home cultures, thus beginning from basic education to promote mutual understanding and respect for other cultures.

From the perspective of foreign lecturers on ethnicity and culture, education for international understanding should be based on the following conditions:

First, as subjects actively participating in a society, foreigners don't want to be treated by the host society as someone who is disadvantaged or always needing help, or to sing and dance in traditional costumes and be treated as picturesque oddities at a cultural event.

Second, classes should aim to deepen the understanding of other cultures, rather than being limited to introducing foreign cultures through exhibitions and performances. The experiences of foreign residents in Japan, good and bad -- such as discrimination -- should be discussed, as well as solutions to such issues.

The multicultural week program for Taipei schools is still in the pilot stage. The feedback from schools shows that some teachers believe that encouraging introverted immigrant parents to stand at a podium and talk about their native language and culture will help give them and their children a sense of honor and confidence.

Other teachers, however, complained that many activities were limited to classes with with children who had foreign parents, rather than being aimed at the whole school.

One concern is that junior or senior high school students from multicultural families may not want to acknowledge their backgrounds because they want to avoid being labeled or seen as different.

The question of how to incorporate multi-cultural education the basic curriculum of schools rather than arranging a single short-term annual activity and the question of how to effectively use foreign parents as an educational resource for teachers are issues that should be given thorough consideration.

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