Diversity in Education

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Based on your experience as a participant in the Alternative Educational Experience explore the challenges presented by diversity to the 21st century teacher in the Irish educational system.

Based on your experience as a participant in the Alternative Educational Experience explore the challenges presented by diversity to the 21st century teacher in the Irish educational system. Over the years the traditional Irish classroom has undergone a significant change in terms of diversity. Due to factors such as immigration, economical changes, identification of learning disabilities, etc. the modern teacher has many more challenges presented to them by diversity than in previous years. We, as teachers, are given the task of “educating people to respect, celebrate and recognise the normality of diversity in all parts of human life.” (Lecture 2, Week 1.) But before we can do this as teachers we must truly understand what diversity is. The concept of diversity is quite broad but is commonly defined as having the following attributes: “Encompassing acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.  These include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual” (University of Oregon, 1999). Diversity in the classroom is of great importance in the development of a young person’s identity, learning and overall development into an independent individual but it also must be noted that problems such as racism, discrimination, learning disabilities in the classroom can be detrimental to the pupil. “Teachers are faced with the task to respond instantaneously to situations such as the above, but are also confronted with numerous obstacles to doing so appropriately” (Hanko, 1990, p1). Therefore as part as of my training as a student teacher I participated in the Alternative Education Experience (A.E.E.) programme. This saw me venture off to an alternative education establishment, my local community training centre, other than the traditional school setting to broaden my understanding of the challenges presented by diversity. The centre offers early school leavers to learn the necessary life skills such as mathematics, welding, woodwork, home economics, computer skills and so on. The centre employs 3 full-time staff and 7 other part-time teachers. It was while observing the various classes in this alternative education establishment I received a valuable insight to the many challenges that diversity presents to the modern day teacher. The first challenge presented by diversity that I would like to highlight is that of social class and the whole idea of being disadvantaged socially and economically, also known as the “socio-economic status.” As stated in our lecture notes the “socio-economic” status is the single most significant casual factor in relation to (both) achievement and underachievement, (a) stronger predictor of attainment than ability.” (Lecture 6, Week 3). During my A.E.E. placement, after getting to know some of the pupils, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the pupils enrolled in the training centre were from the semi-skilled or unskilled working class backgrounds. “Findings on socio-economic background indicated that from the end of primary schooling up to third-level education, the representation of students from the lower socio-economic groups decreased, while the representation of those from the higher groups increased” (Drudy and Lynch, 1993, p142). The pupils enrolled at the training centre were all male and between the ages of 17 and 28 years. They majority were early school...
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