The term multiculturalism refers to the existence and acceptance of various cultural or ethnic divisions within the same community. Many people often use the words multiculturalism and diversity interchangeably, however they do not have the same meanings. This is as such because diversity is defined as the differences between people such as race, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. Therefore, multiculturalism can be an issue of diversity.
Singapore, for example, is both (racially) diverse and multicultural as the citizen population is made up of ethnic Chinese, Malays, Indians as well as Eurasians.
However, to maintain peace amongst the different groups and strengthen the country’s sense of identity, multiculturalism education must be promoted and implemented. To ensure effectiveness, it has to be introduced at an early age and reinforced throughout the years in school. Therefore, it is crucial that early educators are knowledgeable, appropriately skilled, and have a positive outlook in order to support multiculturalism in their classrooms.
In the article written by Bortnem, (2008), is it seen that non-fictional books are the main sources used to teach pre-school children.
However, the problem with such non-fiction books is that touchy topics, such as gender bias, race, religion and multiculturalism and diversity is not strongly enforced in the books. Even if the books cover it, they are usually touch and go. In my own personal experience, I have not encountered a book on racial harmony for pre-school children.
This is further seen in the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), chaired by Chiang, (2018).
Out of all the programs available, only one was held to talk about reflecting about the multicultural fabric of Singapore’s society. There was no program on diversity as well. This goes to show how little importance Singapore places such topics. However, it is not without reason. Preschool children’s age ranges from 2 to 7 years old. In this cognitive age, the children’s mentally is not ready to comprehend such deep and complex concepts yet (Allen, 2015).
Based on my previous attachment experiences, the most prominent way preschools embrace multiculturalism in the classroom is through the celebration of different cultural festivals, such as Hari Raya or Deepavali. Lessons would become more interactive compared to their weekly curriculum, as they involved more tell-tale stories, which are able to intrigue the attention of the children, while also passing on historical cultural knowledge.
The host teacher from my last attachment centre noted that once the week of cultural celebrations was over, she would continue promoting multiculturalism in the classroom by getting everyone to add their own books based on their culture and background into the reading area at the end of every month. During their weekly storytelling sessions, one book would be chosen from that stack to be read. She added that having children bring books of their choice not only increases their interest and willingness to find out more about their peers’ culture, but also strengthens their own cultural identities. Though the reading of children’s literature is beneficial (in terms of building an understanding of and respect for people from other cultures), I believe that she could further involve children by perhaps getting them to do a show and tell on the book(s) they have brought in, inviting them to draw what they found most interesting about the culture they have just read about, or even allow them to role play a chosen story. These would definitely engage the children more and help them retain knowledge on the book or culture, especially since storytelling sessions take place only once a week.
A specific book to promote diversity in a child-friendly manner is titled, “It’s okay to be different”, by Parr, (2009). His book explains that people are different, and in simple terms and colourful mannerism in which children would know that, everyone is different, and that it is okay. Specific example includes the book mentioning that it is okay to be small, medium or large, etc.
Another book to promote multiculturalism is, “Ryleigh spreads love wherever she goes”, by Marshall, (2016). The book is a picture book that talks about multiculturalism, and similar to the book by Parr, mentions that everyone is different, and that it is not anyone’s fault.
The last non-fiction book is, “Whoever you are”, by Fox, (1997). Compared to the previous two books, this one is more realistic in its representation of culture and diversity, making it a good book for the slightly more adept children. It touches on topic such as skin colour, people coming from all around the world and are no different from each other. The most memorable phrase from the book goes, “we all laugh the same”. All books, new and old are good books to spread multiculturalism and diversity to children in an adequate and neutral way.
The two articles to recommend for greater learning and enhancing of teaching methodologies of teaching multiculturalism and diversity to pre-school children are Anguilla, Rabiah. (2017). Teaching Cultural Diversity and Sense of Identity in the Primary Two Social Studies Classroom in Singapore: Analysis and Critique and Tampaki, Eleni. (2017). Working in a culturally diverse preschool. These two articles talk about how to teach, and how to react to such questions when interacting with children. These are two useful articles in understanding multiculturalism and diversity better, and re-enacting them in simple words and lessons to teach to students.
The books are not aligned to non-fiction trend, as mentioned above in regards to AFCC 2018. However, they are important and useful in teaching children on certain aspects in life.