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Interculturalism at the VU

Pál Nyíri

By Pál Nyiri I have recently received an email from the Onderwijscentrum VU (also known as the  Centre for Educational Training, Assessment and Research, or CETAR) announcing a training  called ‘intercultureel werken in het onderwijs’ (Working interculturally in education). In Seeing Culture Everywhere, Joana Breidenbach and I painted a critical, perhaps even somewhat unkind, picture of the intercultural communication (IC) business, arguing that it often amounts to little more than ethnic stereotyping couched in pseudo-scientific terms like Geert Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions”. At the same time, we acknowledge that there is a useful kind of IC training, which focuses on making participants reflect on the inherent cultural biases of their own practices they might see as universal.

The VU is generally seen as the Dutch university with the most ethnically diverse student body, yet the students – despite certain tentative attempts at “internationalization” – are overwhelmingly from the Netherlands and most use Dutch as their first language. It follows that the tasks of “intercultural learning” will be different from the usual framework, which has been developed to deal with the learning habits of students from other countries who are non-native speakers of the language of instruction.

It is far from clear to what extent the ethnic background of the students’ families — as opposed to, for example, their class background or place of residence — will be the most important determinant of their learning habits. Yet the email from the Onderwijscentrum identifies “learning to stimulate the learning of students from diverse ethnic groups” as the objective of the training.

On the other hand, the elements of the training — making a videorecording of one’s own classroom teaching and then analysing it — are in the self-reflexive mode that we find useful.

It would be good if colleagues in anthropology followed this training and offered their views on its usefulness.

Pál Nyiri is Professor of Global History from an Anthropological Perspective at the VU University. See his earlier posts on Standplaats Wereld. He also writes regularly for the Culture Matters and China Can’t Stop Saying No weblogs.

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