Society, by common definition, is the aggregate of people living together for a particular purpose. A society also follows customs and rules in order to thrive towards a common goal. As “society” is defined in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries in American English:
Society (noun): a particular community of people who share the same customs, laws, etc.
However, society comprises of different types of people varying in race, culture, religion, financial state, etc. No two individuals are completely alike in all the attributes. They can certainly adhere to a common goal. But to assume everyone holds the same attributes is like assuming all the people in a society are identical and same. This cannot be any farther from the truth. The needs of the majority of a society do not reflect the needs of the minority. Focusing only on the majority is like not acknowledging the existence of the minority. This is even more important in education, where the goal is to provide every student the opportunity to learn.
Small Changes Make a Big Difference:
There are several small things that need to be considered for inclusion and diversity. Let me share some of my personal experiences. I come from Bangladesh, a country in Asia. Unlike the culture in the USA, I grew up not knowing the idea of the “office hours”. After starting my education in the USA, I quickly realized the effectiveness and the importance of office hours. Students could reach out to the instructors and the teaching assistants (TAs) and seek academic help outside of the classroom. In my experience of being a graduate teaching assistant (GTA), I met some students from the minority group who found it difficult to show up during my office hours. From their perspective, it was intimidating and/or demeaning to reach out for help. This is a very troubling situation. Because office hours are held with the primary notion of helping students; not to scare them away. Last summer, I took the opportunity of becoming a graduate instructor. I replaced the formal term “office hours” with a more friendly term “meet and greet hours“. Viola! I found a higher number of students were approaching me outside of the classroom. Many of the times they just showed up for a friendly chat with me. In some other cases, they were there to voice their concerns; concerns which only applied to a small group of students in the class. As Anthony Abraham Jack, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, mentioned in his TEDx Talk that some students misunderstood the term “office hours”. These students thought that office hours were the instructors’ personal time to work on their own projects, uninterrupted and undisturbed by any students. This is not always due to the language barrier; this is rather due to understanding the purpose of a particular term that expresses the activity or resource ambiguously.
New Challenges in Virtual Teaching:
Due to the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the educational institutions are moving towards emergency remote education. This means the educational system is heavily relying on technology such as Zoom for virtual classrooms. This creates a whole new challenge in diversity and inclusion. It is important to realize that diversity is not only about race, it is also about students with different abilities, disabilities, different financial condition, etc. Due to this sudden shift in the educational format, a lot of the underprivileged students find themselves in a dire situation. For example, underprivileged students have a hard time managing access to a digital device with camera and microphone, uninterrupted internet, electricity, etc. Some students might find it difficult to use the camera in virtual classrooms in the fear of exposing the financial condition of their household.
Education is an ever-changing process. Therefore, the method of teaching and learning needs to be updated to address the new challenges of its time. For inclusive pedagogy, it is imperative to be mindful of all the diverse groups of students in a class; not only the majority. The instructors need to make sure that students of all the attributes feel welcome and inspired to learn. As the great theoretical physicist and a great teacher of his time, Albert Einstein said:
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
A truly effective teaching is, thus, where every student is inspired by the creative joy of learning.
Thank you for reading!
Have a wonderful day!
~ Ri. 🙂
- Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries | Definition of “Society” | Link: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/society
- On Diversity: Access Ain’t Inclusion | Anthony Jack | TEDxCambridge | Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7w2Gv7ueOc
- Albert Einstein’s Quote | Link: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_einstein_122147
I particularly liked the part where you have brought up the question of ability/disability in the wake of online education at the time of pandemic. I have a numerous examples to present from India, where I am from, for the infrastructural disability of students in accessing the classroom. Actually pandemic gave rise to a proliferation of ‘disabilities’ in terms of physical (indeed), financial and infrastructural etc. This, however, resulted in multiplying and redrawing forms of privileges that we need to address.
Thank you so much for all the kind words, Shajahan!
I agree the current times have given rise to different challenges in education. Hence, the current format of education is termed by many as “emergency remote education”. I believe the education community is working tirelessly to address to overcome many of these challenges. We need to keep in mind that there are several disabilities that students have to deal with. The better we understand these disabilities the better we can act on them. It is high time we have discussions on these sensitive matters.
Again, thank you so much for your valuable input!
~ Ri. 🙂
Thanks, Ri! The ideas and points that you mentioned in your talk are very appealing to me. I liked the sentence “Focusing only on the majority is like not acknowledging the existence of the minority”. Some people might misinterpret the meaning of democracy to focus on the majority while it should not be the case if it is possible to simultaneously satisfy both majority as well as the minority groups. Moreover, the creative idea of changing the word “office hours” with “meet and greet hours” and your observation of the increase in the number of students that visit is very interesting. Sometimes, we might wrongly assume that something like the term “office hours” is common sense while it might not be for some people. We can increase the performance of our teaching if we have this awareness.
Hey Ali! Thank you so much for the kind words!
You brought a good point about the misinterpreting the true meaning of democracy. Tailoring the curriculum based on the majority only makes it more difficult for the minority. It unintentionally ostrasizes the minority and make them feel like they are welcomed to the education program. As education community, we need to be very careful in the actions we set to take. As I mentioned in my writing, I strongly believe small changes make a big difference. And the first step to it is to acknowledge these issues and spread awareness about it.
Again, thank you for your reply!
~ Ri. 🙂
Hi Ali, Ri–
Thank you for your thoughtful post this week, Ri. As I was reading your words (and again in this comment) about the minority voice, I was reminded of a scholar who I like a lot Jeannette Armstrong, she is an Indigenous scholar from British Columbia, Canada, and she writes about community collaboration. I wish I could find the quote I have in my mind–when I do, I’ll circle back with it–but for now, you may find her writing on the En’owkin to be interesting. They have a process for community collaboration that listens to all voices–especially the minority–because that’s usually the voice that’s going to be telling you what’s going wrong and needs to be fixed. Here is a link to some of her work if you were interested in exploring further: https://www.ecoliteracy.org/article/enowkin-what-it-means-sustainable-community
Thank you so much for your helpful comment. My apologies for the delayed response, I have been rather busy over the last couple of weeks. I absolutely loved the article on En’owkin and the culture of Okanagan community. I especially loved the notion: “Real democracy is not about power in numbers, it is about collaboration as an organizational system. Real democracy includes the right of the minority to a remedy, one that is unhampered by the tyranny of a complacent or aggressive majority.” This is so well put.
Thank you again for sharing the article.
Have a wonderful day, Sara!
~ Ri. 🙂