Cultural Competency in Education—a Policy Issue

With societies being more and more culturally diverse, the education sector faces a serious dilemma in terms of reaching to the linguistically and culturally diverse student population. The outbreak of moral seriousness and social consciousness was attributed to the “savage inequalities” encountered by poor children and minorities in American schools. This challenge faced by the education sector in terms of fulfilling the needs of culturally diversified learners was of highest importance.

Cultural competence must be integrated into educational programs as its absence could pose a risk of developing severe emotional disturbance amongst student groups. The development of cultural competence implies improvements in cross–cultural capabilities through the adaptation of services to the cultural context of children and families. Operationalizing cultural competence in the educational sector requires regarding diversity to be valuable, carrying out cultural self-assessment, comprehending cultural interaction dynamics, and systemizing knowledge of cultures and adapting to cultural diversity.

The cultural gap between educators and learners was recognized and attributed it to be a contributing factor in achievement gaps among various student groups. The Association further acknowledged the growing need for culturally competent educators with the growth in diversity amongst the nation’s students. It thereby considered cultural competence in education a key policy issue for the twenty-first century. The NEA stated that cultural competence in educational environments focuses on knowledge and skills for effectively serving diversified students. It further identified three critical policy levers namely pre-service education, professional development, and licensure for closing cultural gaps prevailing in the education sector.

Currently, not all states have requirements for teacher candidates to study some cultural diversity aspect and/or to attend a workshop in a culturally diverse environment. In terms of licensure and professional development, model policy development is under process by INTASC for aligning teacher licensing systems of different states. Amongst these model standards, one focuses on diverse learners and could contribute towards aligning the initial licensure of teachers with their teacher education programs approval and professional development required for relicensing. Moreover, these standards establish the knowledge and skills that should be acquired through pre-service education and ongoing professional development and must be displayed in the educational setting. The NEA has been supporting state affiliates’ efforts for enhancing cultural competence standards being implemented by states as such standards will require focusing on cultural competence by teacher trainers and license providers for educators.

For creating an environment that is culturally responsive, school districts and university faculty partnerships which nurture professional development must be established. Culturally responsive schools tend to view diversity as an asset and provide opportunities for teachers to collaboratively discover best practices that are culturally competent. Culturally responsive educational institutions immensely support their students and set high expectations. Such institutions provide direct instruction and foster culturally rich environments which facilitate connections amongst the teachers and students and eventually lead to the formation of a classroom community.

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