Development Cooperation Handbook/Definitions/Interculturalism

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Interculturalism is the philosophy of exchanges between cultural groups within a society.

Various states have intercultural policies which seek to encourage the socialization of citizens of different origins. These policies are often ostensibly used as an instrument to fight racism.

Interculturalism requires an inherent openness to be exposed to the culture of the "other". Once a person is exposed to an element of a different culture, a dialogue will ensue, where everyone embarks upon understanding the culture of the other, and usually this involves comparisons. Thus, interculturalism breeds dialogue, in order to be able to look for commonalities between that element of one's culture and the culture of the other.

Interculturalism seeks to enhance fusion by looking for commonalities. Hence, various cultures merge. The differences that remain make up the subcultures of the world.

Within a country, a distinction can be drawn between interculturalism and multiculturalism. Indeed, multiculturalism is the ideology that postulates that all cultures and civilizations are of equal value and should be treated and promoted equally within the same nation. It is often confused with political pluralism, and with ethnic and linguistic diversity, or with interculturalism.

Interculturalism is a political ideology that does not place a priority for all cultures to be on the same level as a basis to organize a given society. Its main objective is rather to develop a common civic culture based on the values of freedom and liberty, and of human rights, as derived from the Western civilization, while encouraging interaction between the communities living in the same country. As such, Interculturalism requries democracy and full respect for universal human rights (whereas multiculturalism explicitly doesn't know this requirement).

Interculturalism promotes individual rights for everyone, with no discrimination. This means, in particular, that people have the right to maintain an affiliation with one's ethnic group and the right for cultural and religious differences to be displayed in the public domain. However, the entire society must adhere to the same constitution of fundamental rights and obligations, with no exception. It does not accept that cultural differences are used as an excuse to reduce the rights of certain groups. This approach leads to an ethics of maximum tolerance for an individual's choices and of minimum tolerance for totalitarian and theocratic systems of ideas that could undermine the very foundations of a democratic society.

Intercultural education cannot be just a simple ‘add on’ to the regular curriculum. It needs to concern the learning environment as a whole, as well as other dimensions of educational processes, such as school life and decision making, teacher education and training, curricula, languages of instruction, teaching methods and student interactions, and learning materials. This can be done through the inclusion of multiple perspectives and voices. The development of inclusive curricula that contain learning about the languages, histories and cultures of non-dominant groups in society is one important example.

The distinct aims of Intercultural Education can be summarized under the headings of ‘the four pillars of education’ as identifi ed by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century. According to the conclusions of the Commission, education should be broadly based on the pillars of:

1. Learning to know, by “combining suffi ciently broad general knowledge with the opportunity to work in-depth on a small number of projects”. The Commission further states that “a general education brings a person into contact with other languages and areas of knowledge, and… makes communication possible”; these results of a general education represent some of the fundamental skills to be transmitted through intercultural education.

2. Learning to do, in order to “acquire not only an occupational skill but also, more broadly, the competence to deal with many situations and to work in teams.24” In the national and international context, learning to do also includes the acquisition of necessary competencies that enable the individual to find a place in society.

3. Learning to live together, by “developing an understanding of other people and an appreciation of interdependence – carrying out joint projects and learning to manage confl icts – in a spirit of respect for the values of pluralism, mutual understanding… peace” and cultural diversity. In short, the learner needs to acquire knowledge, skills and values that contribute to a spirit of solidarity and co-operation among diverse individuals and groups in society.


4. Learning to be, “so as to better develop one’s personality and be able to act with ever greater autonomy, judgement and personal responsibility. In that respect, education must not disregard any aspect of a person’s potential…” such as his or her cultural potential, and it must be based on the right to difference. These values strengthen a sense of identity and personal meaning for the learner, as well as benefiting their cognitive capacity.