As our communities become increasingly diverse, it is essential for schools to embrace multiculturalism. Students must be adaptable and be able to integrate into other environments and traditions, as well as being able to support those from different backgrounds who may be working in an area that has a very different culture to what they are used to. It is this flexibility and compassion that makes our students so special.
The Nuances of Culture
At OWIS, we recognise that there is more to culture than what can be observed outwardly. We think of culture in terms of an “iceberg” model, in which the majority of what constitutes culture is “below the waterline.” It’s more than what you can see on the surface and must be explored to be understood. Only a small percentage of culture – sometimes called the four F’s: food, festivals, flags and fashion – can be easily picked up on. About two-thirds of culture consists of the subtler aspects, such as perceptions of beauty, group decision-making patterns, problem-solving approaches, and body language. It can also be the case that families may follow a range of different aspects of varied cultures and traditions. Everyone has a culture and it influences how we see the world and the expectations we may have. It is important that students remain sensitive to differences and express an interest in learning more about others’ backgrounds.
While we hold school-wide festivals and assemblies, such as our UN Day event, to celebrate the outward symbols of culture, we’re committed to fostering an atmosphere of understanding and respect for the more nuanced elements of culture. Students need to learn that sometimes they may not see all aspects of their friends’ culture, for instance, regular prayer or traditional decoration in their home. This may also include opinions, beliefs and mother tongue. Students need more than just superficial exposure to other cultures to be able to live and work alongside their peers from different countries.
Promoting Multiculturalism At OWIS
Creating a diverse environment begins with our teachers. While our curriculum follows an international framework, our teachers come from diverse backgrounds. Many of them have also stayed in other countries, so they have an enriched cultural perspective. As they become immersed in the local culture of Singapore, they bring to the classroom their appreciation for that culture as well as their own. Like many of our students, they are also members of an expatriate culture. As such, they can be sensitive to the needs of individual students as they seek to find their own cultural identity.
Through their experiences with diversity, our teachers have become transcultural. Their understanding of culture as a whole transcends any individual culture. Our teachers provide a fantastic support system for any student who may feel out of their depth when they initially move to Singapore. They can give first-hand advice from their experiences and they can help to encourage students to explore the cultures around them. There will often be times when teachers and students have the same cultural experiences and will be able to work together to promote their traditions, for instance putting on presentations during festival times.
With no more than 30% of our students coming from a single nationality, we ensure that different cultures are represented equitably on campus. This means experiencing diversity becomes second nature to our students. Students have ample opportunities to experience diversity in an authentic context, preparing them to be critical thinkers and well-rounded citizens. It opens up their minds and teaches them to treat others with compassion and kindness
In the words of Sholeen and Jonathan C., who have children in Early Childhood and Primary, “We like the fact that the school is very multicultural and that our daughter comes home feeling valued. Teachers make her feel that her contribution and opinions matter. We also like that at OWIS children are taught that being part of a team and teamwork is just as important as personal advancement!”