To focus on the main issue of cultural identity, the definition of culture has to be define. Culture is ‘the building block of identity’ and it necessary for one to feel like they belong (Educators Guide EYLF, 2010, 21). Many believe that children at a young age are blinded to race and difference however studies shown that during infancy children notice racial cues and by the age of 3-4 children are able to have a rough concept of race (Katz 2003; Ramsey & Williams 2003). Educators play a significant role in starting to teach tolerance, compassion and understanding that will affect the society in the future. Educators have to be conscious that through the curriculum choices, they may pass on their personal attitudes and values of cultural diversity. It is essential for all educators to reflect on their own values, beliefs, attitudes and experiences they may have on cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is overarching many fundamental principles such as trust, equity, social justice and fairness. Being culturally diverse is not about denying our own cultural or having to know everything about another culture. It is about the willingness to exploring the cultural identity of others in our community so we can use this knowledge to develop relationships, understanding different worldviews and most importantly to support and affirm each child and their family in a culturally appropriate manner (Educators Guide EYLF, 2010).
How does this affect educations and teachers? An important relationship is involved between culture and education. The culture of a teacher and their students affects the whole atmosphere of the classroom and the lived curriculum (Alsubaie, 2015). According to Witsel (2003), having to teach and learn in a classroom where everyone comes from the same culture, economic and societal background, is not an easy work. Classrooms today are far from single cultural, economic and societal status. Due to globalisation, teachers are faced with teaching all sorts of different children from various cultural background (Alsubaie, 2015). As mentioned above, culture is a huge part of identity and belonging. With such a great variety in culture, it is difficult to use a single approach in teaching. Witsel (2003) states using a single approach in teaching a multicultural classroom can negatively affect the academic levels of students. According to some studies done by Thomas (1995), students who are previously in a different education system from their culture might initially find it difficult to succeed in their new culture classrooms. An example is given of a Chinese student who was not comfortable in answering questions in a multicultural classroom in a Western education system. The student felt pressured when asked a question, he was afraid of giving the wrong answers. Direct questioning approach is often used in Western education however, such approach is not a familiar method to the Chinese (Thomas, 1995). Communication between cultures is also a very important factor. Teaching involves using communication to pass on knowledge and experiences to the learners (Alsubaie, 2015). However, communication is also significantly influenced by culture. In a context of a multicultural classroom there may be an array of communication techniques including verbal and nonverbal cues. Not having the ability to decipher these cues might cause the newly immigrant students to withdraw from their studies causing a decline in their learning (Alsubaie, 2015).
For the immigrants, cultural diversity will also lead to an adjustment to a new cultural environment. Immigrants go through a series of changes in order to integrate into their new environment. These changes brings an immigrant from being enculturated to acculturated meaning they learn to accept another culture. According to Bowes, Grace and Hodge (2012), there are three major changes that an individual encounters when they first enter another culture. The first change is in their sense of place this change refers to the way they belong into cultures. When immigrants first move from their home country to a new place, their sense of belonging still lies in their home country. However, as years past, they may start to realise that they do not feel like they belong as well in their home country but they still do not feel like they fully belong in their new culture either. This lost in sense of place can be referred to as cultural homelessness. For a child who has just enter into a new culture the process of cultural homelessness can be isolating. The second change is the change in sense of identity, this talks about their sense of self. Erikson’s theory the sense of self is strongly linked with the sense of being (Erikson, 1963). A person’s identity is retrieved from their ethnic and cultural life (Bowes, Grace and Hodge, 2012). However, culture is always changing and has dynamic it is not a fix thing. There are three main outcomes for children who go through a change in sense of identity firstly they may choose to stick with their old identity and not assimilate into the new identity. Secondly, they can choose to fully immerse into the new identity and forget their former identity and thirdly, they end up with a hybrid identity, this refers to the mix between their old and new identity (Hardy, 2016). The third change is the change in moving into specific parts of culture (Bowes, Grace and Hodge, 2012). Culture is not something we can just come in and out of. People may fine it easier to integrating into certain part of a culture than other. For example, one may find it easier to accept the cultural practices than to accept its ideology and beliefs. These three changes affects immigrant children in every part of their lives including their ability to learn in a new culture. Thus, teachers need to be able to observe these signs and equipped with strategies to be able to better support a child in that position because it is only when a child has a sense of belonging and strong relationships that they are able to engage and strive in learning experiences (Educators Guide EYLF, 2010).