One of the issues modern educators have to face is teaching children to be sensitive to culture and diversity. From an early age, students need to learn how to interact with people who come from different backgrounds and culture. They also need to learn how to respect the differences – otherwise they risk growing up with prejudices about other people. It is by teaching children the importance of diversity that a community can hope to raise a generation of mutually accepting individuals.
In line with this theme, the 3-seated Primary School and Kindergarten of Mikrokampos, Kilkis undertook a program that helped students develop the attitudes and awareness of the community’s diversity. The aim of the program was to help students develop cohesion and appreciation amongst themselves. Through presentations, theatrical performances, role playing sessions, discussions and involvement of psychologists, students were able to study the histories of individuals who made a contribution to society despite their diversity. For the students’ own benefit, the programme incorporated elements of sign language – crucial for communication with students with hearing disabilities.
The practical nature of the activities served to draw up the students’ interest on the topic of diversity. They understood that it was acceptable to be different, and that every individual had characteristics, which made them unique. Where individuals are given the opportunity to work on their uniqueness, the society thrives. In contrast, marginalizing people by nature of their diversity leads to a hostile environment that denies society a chance to tap into the creativity and talent of its people. For many students, the big takeaway was that it took mutual effort to look beyond individual differences and cultivate meaningful relationships.
The diversity programme was facilitated in large part by the generous funding efforts of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation. Established in 2005 by the family of the late John S. Latsis, the Foundation has worked tirelessly to enhance creativity and innovation at all education levels. In 2013, the Foundation introduced the Learning Together program, which was aimed at providing kindergartens and primary schools’ teachers with the opportunity to present proposals on innovative educational activities.
The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation is run by a Supervisory Board comprising of family members. Henrietta Latsis (wife to the late John S. Latsis) serves as the President, with Spiro Latsis, Margarita Latsis, and Marianna Latsis (the couple’s children) serving as Board members. The Foundation’s approach to providing grants ensures that requests touching on emergency relief, community and infrastructure development, and academic research, among others, are prioritized.
The human race is diverse in many aspects: Race, religion, gender, nationality, class, and lifestyle. Human beings differ in so many ways, yet at the basic level have the common feature of belonging to the same species. Diversity makes individuals unique, and ensures every person has their story to tell.
Appreciating diversity means respecting other people. A society is strong when it values the differences of its people. Being aware and accepting that people will view life, communicate, and define their environment in a different manner is a crucial element to a strong society. Committing to provide services to people regardless of their background ensures that people live in harmony and are happy to contribute to the growth and development of the community.
One way that educators have adopted to teach diversity has been to tackle the issue at early childhood. Naturally, children are curious and will want to define their identity by expressing what is different about others. Thus, children are more naturally inclined to raise questions regarding visible characteristics like skin color or dress code. For the most part, such questions bear no intent to cause offence and the child is simply making an observation. It is up to educators and parents to use such opportunities to convey an accurate message about backgrounds so that children can appreciate that diversity makes a person exceptional.
A good response in such a situation would first acknowledge that the child’s observation is valid. The educator/parent can then explain the reason behind the observation and most importantly, stress the importance of awareness and acceptance.
Some people fear diversity because it represents a deviation from the norm; change that might take time to become comfortable with. Others perceive diversity as a threat to their own power, as evidenced by people who challenge participation of marginalized groups. If left unattended, these fears can breed resentment and hostility. Tackling these fears through education helps to make for a better world.
Promoting cultural competence and acceptance can sometimes be challenging and take some time to implement. Apart from teaching awareness from an early age, educators are encouraged to take a proactive approach towards improvement. Identifying and countering negative influences at home, school, and in the society ensures efforts made have a positive and lasting impact.