Constructions of cultural diversity and intercultural education: critical ethnographic case studies of Greek-Cypriot primary schools
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This thesis critically examines constructions of cultural diversity and intercultural education in Greek-Cypriot primary schools. Since 2008 the Cyprus Ministry of Education has officially adopted the Europeanized rhetoric of intercultural education and inclusion as the most effective approach to the increasing diversity in schools. As part of the wider reform of the education system aiming at the creation of the ‘democratic’ and ‘humane’ school, a new curriculum was introduced in 2010 to promote equality of opportunity for access, participation and attainment. Drawing on relevant key theoretical ideas, this study has developed a theoretical framework of intercultural education to assist the critical examination of constructions of intercultural education in Greek-Cypriot primary schools. For the purposes of this study, three-month long critical ethnographic case studies of intercultural education were constructed in three urban Greek-Cypriot primary schools with different profiles. Rich data was generated through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with head teachers, teachers and teachers of Greek as an additional language. The study also engaged in non-participant lesson and school observations, developed participatory methods with children, and undertook semi-participant observations of pupils’ play during breaks and of extra-curricular activities. Relevant policy and school documents were also analysed. The findings of this study reveal that constructions of cultural diversity and intercultural education in Greek-Cypriot primary schools are characterized by contradictions, inconsistencies and a lack of theoretical understanding of issues related to cultural diversity and intercultural education. Different cultures and identities were constructed in different, though mainly, essentialist ways by teachers from the dominant cultural group. This study argues that the concept of cultural diversity needs to be treated with some caution, as it tends to homogenise non-dominant cultures and thus, it may obscure the complexities involved in engagement with and recognition of different Others. Key differences between the two mainstream schools and the ZEP (Zone of Educational Priority) school which participated in this study in terms of the degree of autonomy and financial support officially granted by the Ministry; the school leadership style and the head teacher’s construction of diversity and intercultural education; the composition of the pupil population; and the dominant institutional discourses about diversity affected the extent to which and the ways in which teachers exercised their agency in relation to intercultural education. Moreover, the teachers’ positioning in the Greek Cypriot society and the extent to which they had developed a political literacy and critical consciousness through their life and professional histories also affected their constructions of cultural diversity and intercultural education and the extent to which they perceived and exercised their role as agents of change. In turn, the ways in which cultural diversity and intercultural education were constructed in each class influenced the extent to which and the ways in which bilingual and/or bicultural children used their agency and negotiated their cultural positionings. The findings carry implications for policy and practice. The study highlights the need for a coherent theoretical framework of intercultural education to enable schools and teachers to develop a theoretically-grounded understanding of intercultural education and move beyond fragmented practices that leave structural inequalities and barriers to educational achievement unacknowledged and unaddressed.