- A study released Monday, commissioned by Round Square and led by a team of researchers from Research Schools International and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, ranks the best methods to nurture intercultural mindsets among U.S. students. Among the recommendations, volunteering ranked as the most effective practice by teachers surveyed (90%), and learning about different cultural perspectives ranked second (86%).
- The international study, which took into account views of 11,000 teenagers and 1,900 teachers from 34 countries on six continents, also ranked celebrating cultural diversity, discussing world events and learning how to solve conflicts among the top five approaches.
- Nine in 10 teachers and 76% of students surveyed agreed volunteering made them more culturally competent. Researchers found volunteering at soup kitchens, refugee centers and care centers, specifically, encouraged students “to empathize with communities and understand their needs" and promoted students' interest in different backgrounds.
While participating in events celebrating cultural diversity was a popular method among teachers (83%) to improve students' cultural competence, a smaller percentage of students (68%) agreed it was effective. But both groups (75% of students and 83% of teachers) agreed classroom discussions about world events could help.
"Students will need global competence to engage in international collaborations in fields such as science, health, and technology, navigate an internationally interdependent economic and political landscape, and tackle global issues like climate change," lead researcher Christina Hinton said in a press release.
And despite an increasingly isolationist sentiment growing in the country, educators also continue to emphasize a "whole-child" education that often includes cultural sensitivity, empathy, communication and other social-emotional and soft skills valuable in a globalized world.
Jack Davern, principal of Elon Elementary School, wrote last year a Spanish-language immersion program was an effective method in his school and reported students who took part in the program displayed increased cultural sensitivity.
There is also evidence to suggest students who study foreign languages for longer periods of time perform better on assessments, including the SATs, and can even boost scores in reading, math and language arts. Despite the proven effectiveness of foreign language instruction and the importance of harnessing a global mindset, only about 20% of students study a second language, and trends suggest foreign language classes are growing more scarce.
Notably, learning a second language was not ranked by students or educators as an approach to improving cultural sensitivity, but the report does show language learning can lend itself to "exploring global and cultural issues," which was among the most popular approaches for both students and teachers.
These findings come before the next round of PISA reports, which are based on tests conducted by the OECD every three years to gauge how students worldwide perform in key subject areas, set to be released Dec. 3.