In this article you will read about why intercultural learning is a vital 21st century learning tool for school communities.

“Education gives us the chance to understand that we are all tied together as citizens of the global community, and that our challenges are interconnected.” 

— Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

Every day, international, national and local news confront us with a world where intolerance, preconceptions, ignorance and fear of differences sometimes are the common denominators. This is seen through violent attacks in Europe and Asia, the British vote to leave the European Union, and in our schools where we encounter families who dress, eat, think or pray in a way we aren’t used to. Children and teenagers, with their innate curiosity, ask who they are, why they act like that, and why these differences exist. In many cases they may laugh at those who are different, and in the worst scenario, they may isolate or discriminate against students who come from different backgrounds, cultures or religions. Teachers and parents face such situations more and more frequently — and they must be ready to provide answers and take actions to address these challenging situations.

That’s why educational institutions have a key role in developing intercultural and global competences of our students. These competences, explains Darla Deardoff, executive director of the Association of International Education Administrators, a U.S. professional organization based at Duke University, give individuals “the targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behaviour and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions.”

Here are three ways intercultural learning improve schools:

Intercultural competence helps students become more empathetic and flexible

Intercultural learning programs in the classroom allow students to seize opportunities that diversity offers and learn how to interact in a global, diverse and challenging world. Most programs focus on skills like empathy and flexibility. Empathy helps us understand others and see the world from their perspective, as well as to be sensitive to their needs. Flexibility focuses on knowing how to behave in changing environments, dealing with a wide range of social situations and being able to adapt using appropriate behaviors.

Intercultural learning also establishes a more creative and healthy learning environment where students learn to accept and respect differences, and work with and support classmates who are different. In these classes students also learn about themselves and their culture as a first step to comprehend cultural complexity.

To facilitate and teach intercultural learning, teachers must prepare themselves for the challenge

This means developing their own global competencies by first understanding their culture and themselves as a product of that culture. Globally competent teachers are more effective in establishing inclusive classrooms, and working with students and other teachers from different cultural backgrounds, countries, age groups, etc. Opening up the worldview and perspectives of teachers helps them lead interesting cross-cultural projects and generate a deeper impact in their local community.

Global classrooms helps prepare schools to be more collaborative in their communities

Empowering teams of diverse teachers and students to embrace intercultural learning bolsters a spirit of cooperation and harmony within any school. The entire school community is enriched when diverse cultures interact and learn from one another. And community minded educators often help students leverage what they experience in global classrooms to foster more meaningful connections and collaborations with the larger community where they live.


By Julia Taleisnik, Volunteer Development Director, AFS Programas Interculturales Argentina. Another version of this story was originally published on September 21, 2016 on the AFS Perspectives blog. The revised version is reprinted with permission.

Read more about globalizing classrooms in the latest issue of Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens, a digital magazine by AFS Intercultural Programs.